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May 2012

Several Huge Wildfires Make Spring Fire Season Memorable

With more than 43,000 acres burned since January 1st, officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), the US Forest Service and the National Park Service are grateful for the late April rains and are looking forward to the official end of spring fire season.

Seven large wildfires on National Forest System land began Easter Sunday and Monday and resulted in much of the burned acreage. The VDOF responded to 355 additional wildfires that burned 6,556 acres since January 1st. The National Park Service had a total of 10 fires that burned on 11 acres on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Shenandoah National Park.

“This was definitely an interesting spring,” said John Miller, VDOF’s director of resource protection. “We had quite a few very large fires and several of them we suspect are arson. There are a lot of people around the state who hope that we never see so many large fires in one week again. And, just because the ‘official’ fire season has ended, we remind Virginians to still be aware of the wildfire threat that exists throughout the year.”

State Forester Carl Garrison said, “VDOF employees protected a total of 544 homes and other structures (barns, garages, sheds) during the first four months of 2012. That’s a lot of lives and property saved.”

Arson Suspected As Cause Of Wildfires in Page, Patrick Counties. Up To $2,000 Reward Offered

As firefighters contained the wildfires in Page and Patrick counties, wildland fire investigators from the Virginia Department of Forestry began to unravel the cause of the blazes.

Investigators suspect that the 4,000-acre Shipwreck Fire that burned in Page County was ignited by one or more arsonists. In addition to the six fires that were likely set Easter Sunday on First Mountain, more than 20 other fires had been set. These additional fire starts complicated the already dangerous and difficult effort of the firefighters who worked day and night to suppress the large blaze.

Wildland fire investigators also suspect that a 125-acre wildfire that burned in Patrick County was ignited by one or more arsonists. According to officials with the VDOF, the fire started on Poorhouse Creek Road in Stuart between 12:30 p.m. and 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10th.

“When a wildfire is intentionally set, it endangers lives and can cause unbelievable destruction to land, trees and homes,” said John Miller, director of resource protection for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “In addition, when firefighters are working an arson fire, they and their equipment are not available to suppress other wildland fires. This depletion of resources puts even more people and their property at risk.”

The VDOF needs citizens to be vigilant in the fight against arson. If you believe you have information relating to the cause of the Shipwreck Fire, call the Page County Crime Solvers office at 540.743.3272 and report it. If you believe you have information relating to the cause of the fire on Poorhouse Creek Road, call the Virginia Department of Forestry office at 276.694.2282 and report it.

Your help may be worth up to $2,000 – the reward offered for information that leads to the conviction of an arsonist. For other emergencies or to report a new fire, call 911.

Woods arson is the common term for deliberately burning forests, grasslands or brush without the owner’s permission. The VDOF and other law enforcement officials are concerned with the number and frequency of these dangerous, destructive and senseless criminal acts. Woods arson is a felony in Virginia and, when convicted, the guilty person could serve up to five years in prison, pay a fine of $2,500 and be liable for the cost of suppressing the fire.

If you see any fire where firefighters have not yet arrived on the scene, make note of the following:

  • Location and time of the fire
  • Description of persons observed in the area
  • Description of any vehicles observed and the license plate if possible
  • Any other pertinent information

Early Fall Cankerworms Attacking Richmond Area Trees

Fall cankerworms are native insects that usually go unnoticed in the forest, but occasionally  develop into large outbreak populations that can strip trees bare by feeding on all parts of the leaves, leaving only the midribs or larger veins behind.For the second year in a row, the suburban Richmond area, including the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover,Powhatan and Amelia, experienced an outbreak of fall cankerworm – a native insect pest that defoliated many forested areas.

This year is complicated by the fact that the cankerworms were at least a few weeks early due to warmer temperatures and leaves on many trees were just emerging -- typically when fall cankerworm outbreaks occur most leaves are already fully emergent.

Though these insects presented no health problems to the public, some homeowners with heavy defoliation around their property were distressed by the sudden appearance of defoliation; the large degree of webbing, and the insect excrement (called frass) that fells from the trees and covered everything.

VDOF’s Forest Health Specialist Dr. Chris Asaro said, “As for the trees, even those that were completely defoliated usually recover by leafing out again. Since fall cankerworm is an early spring defoliator, trees that are otherwise healthy will have time to refoliate and green up again by mid-summer.”

Cankerworm outbreaks can re-occur over several years, but typically populations crash on their own as they are attacked by numerous insect predators and parasites. Most trees with only one year of defoliation or less than 50 percent defoliation over multiple years will recover – provided that drought or some other environmental stress factor is not also present.

“In most circumstances, spraying an insecticide, such as B.t., is not desirable or practical over such a large scale, although some communities with chronic fall cankerworm infestations have opted to have trees treated,” Asaro said. “With the current outbreak, however, most of the feeding had already occurred so spraying at this point would serve no purpose.”

Fall cankerworm caterpillars hatch in late March or April over their range, and in eastern Virginia will quickly be approaching full size.

“While cankerworm outbreaks are unpredictable, they generally recur in the same areas,” Asaro said. “It is difficult to predict how this year’s outbreak will play out given the unusual timing of things. Hopefully, not enough emergent leaf material will be present to support these populations and many caterpillars will starve. Either that or it will be harder for them to find food, and by spending more time searching for food they further expose themselves to the elements and natural enemies such as birds and other insects.”

VDOF’s forester presentations complement award-winning Project Plant It!

VDOF’s Lisa Deaton, forestry education specialist and Project Learning Tree coordinator, conducts a forestery presentation at Byrd Elememntary School.Dominion, the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power, is being honored with a national award from the Arbor Day Foundation. Project Plant It! is receiving the Public Awareness of Trees Award in recognition of its success in elevating the public awareness and understanding of the importance of trees.

As part of Project Plant It!, VDOF’s Lisa Deaton, forestry education specialist and Project Learning Tree coordinator, conducted high-energy and interactive forestery presentations at three elementary schools in Central Virginia.

During the presentations, Lisa shared a wealth of knowledge about trees, including fun facts about tree products. Also, she led the students in several exercises to act out the life cycle of a tree and also to help them understand what a tree needs to grow and thrive.

“Teachers are so appreciative of these enriching sessions that Lisa provides for the students,” said Irene Cimino, manager-corporate public relations for Dominion. “All of the Project Plant It! materials align with state learning standards, so Lisa’s presentations are helping to prepare the students for their upcoming SOL tests. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

VDOF is proud to partner with Project Plant It! to educate children, plant trees and improve the environment. For more information, visit www.projectplantit.com.

Workshop for Women Landowners Planned

Women who own, co-own or manage forestland or farmland on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are invited to participate in a Women and Land workshop.

Created by women for women, the interactive workshop will be held May 10 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Workforce Development Center at Eastern Shore Community College in Melfa.

Workshop creator Heather Dowling of the VDOF said, “This is a great opportunity for women to learn about proper management techniques for their property in a casual and welcoming environment.” Female natural resource professionals from the VDOF, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Appomattox River Soil and Water Conservation District will be the presenters.

All registrants will receive a three-ring binder packed with valuable information and tips to take home. In addition to the presenters’ organizations, the workshop is made possible by the support of Eastern Shore Community College and the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District.

To register, send a check for $12 (payable to Eastern Shore SWCD) to Heather Dowling, Virginia Department of Forestry, 13209 Courthouse Road, Dinwiddie, VA 23841. Registration is due to Heather no later than May 3, 2012. For more information about this workshop, contact Heather at heather.dowling@dof.virginia.gov.

New Tool Helps Virginians Evaluate Forest Cover Benefits

A new tool is available for free to anyone with a computer and Internet access who is interested in learning about the effects of changing land use on a particular tract of forest or farm land in Virginia.

The free software program, called InFOREST, allows users can do basic mapping and view various layers with InFOREST. These layers include: aerial imagery; topography; streets and roads; watershed boundaries, and a forest conservation value layer. In addition to mapping, users can estimate various ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration from forests and nutrient and sediment runoff from various land covers.

“InFOREST will enable city and county planners, landowners or anyone interested in understanding how land-cover changes impact nutrient and sediment loading to our streams and rivers,” said Buck Kline, director of forestland conservation at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Until now, this kind of information has been available primarily to individuals who are savvy enough to run models. InFOREST is a user-friendly software tool that enables many users to access and run the various models that estimate ecosystem services.”

The program was developed by the VDOF in partnership with Virginia Tech and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with funding from Dominion Virginia Power and a U.S. Forest Service grant.

To learn more about InFOREST or to use the program, go to http://inforest.frec.vt.edu/.