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August 15, 2014

White Oak defoliation in Northern Virginia counties

A very tiny insect known as a gall wasp appears to be responsible for defoliation of white oak trees in six Northern Virginia counties.Six Northern Virginia counties are experiencing defoliation of white oak trees. Officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) have conducted aerial and ground surveys and determined that, while this occurrence is fairly widespread, it is concentrated in and around the hills of western Fauquier County and adjacent Loudoun County. Portions of Prince William, Culpeper, Orange and Rappahannock counties are also affected.

The culprit appears to be a very tiny insect known as a gall wasp. This type of insect injects eggs into plant tissue, which forms a swelling or ‘gall’ around the injection site. Inside a hollow space within the gall, the developing egg hatches into a larva, and ultimately emerges from the gall as an adult wasp. Gall wasps are generally kept under control by other insects. However, in rare instances they can become so abundant that their galls can cause noticeable damage.

“While the current defoliation may seem alarming and sudden to many folks, the good news is that most trees will recover without too much long-term damage,” said Dr. Chris Asaro, VDOF forest health specialist. “A tree that is otherwise healthy will normally start to produce new leaves and survive, even when defoliation is near 100 percent.”

Homeowners should not panic, though, if their trees look bad during the summer months due to brown leaves or defoliation. Northern Virginia Senior Area Forester Terry Lasher said, “Even if an oak tree looks bad for the rest of the year, it’s best to wait until the following spring to see if it leafs out normally. This usually indicates the tree is doing well.”

If there is any concern for a tree’s health, especially a large tree of any type that is near a house or other structure or is potentially hazardous to pedestrians, it is recommended that the homeowner contact a certified arborist for an evaluation.

VDOF firefighters combat wildfires in western states

During recent wildfire activity in the Western United States, 20 VDOF full- and part-time employees assisted with suppression efforts in California, Oregon and Washington.

Individual resource assignments such as Firefighter, Communications Technician and Safety Officer were deployed. Assignments lasted from a few days to two weeks; additional assignments are expected for the rest of the month.

Original Smokey Bear artwork on display at Chrysler Museum

As part of VDOF’s 100th anniversary, we partnered with The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk to hold an exhibition of 19 original Smokey Bear paintings by artist Rudy Wendelin.  This is the first time the paintings, which are on loan to us from the National Agricultural Library, have ever been on public display.  The exhibit opened Saturday and will run until February 1, 2015.  Admission to The Chrysler Museum is free.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a proclamation declaring August 9th as Smokey Bear Day in Virginia in honor of Smokey turning 70 years old that day.  While Smokey looked on, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam presented the proclamation to State Forester Bettina Ring at an exhibition preview reception hosted Aug. 8 by The Chrysler Museum.  Special guests that evening included numerous family members of the famed Smokey painter, including Rudy’s widow and daughter.

To officially open the exhibit, called “Celebrating Smokey Bear: Rudy Wendelin and the Creation of an Icon,” The Chrysler Museum hosted a Family Day.  More than 2,000 people came out to sing “Happy Birthday” to Smokey, eat birthday cake, make paper at VDOF’s booth, create their own Smokey out of modeling clay, color Smokey pictures, write letters to Smokey, take “selfies” with Smokey, listen to readings of the Smokey story and to view the art.

“It was a terrific celebration,” said State Forester Bettina Ring.  “The folks at The Chrysler Museum know how to throw a 70th birthday party!  The public really responded, and all enjoyed their time at the Museum.  We are so fortunate to be partnering with The Chrysler Museum and the National Agricultural Library on this art exhibit.  And we’re especially grateful to Governor McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Northam and his wife, Pam, members of the Wendelin family and the folks from the Smokey Bear Association for their support this weekend.”

Carbon storage helps in fight against climate change

For those of you interested in the effects of forests (and other ecosystems) on current and future carbon sequestration, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of California, Berkeley's Geospatial Innovation Facility have completed a carbon assessment for the lower 48 states. 

The report shows forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2 equivalent). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates this figure is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions.

Forests accounted for more than 80 percent of the estimated carbon sequestered in the eastern U.S., confirming the critical role of forests highlighted in the Administration’s climate action initiative. The report is available on line at

The USGS also released an online tool that enables users to look at current carbon sequestration in their area. Users can also examine carbon fluxes under different climate change scenarios up to the year 2050. A tutorial for the web tool is available on YouTube.

Earthquake safety

Virginians can practice “Drop, Cover and Hold On,” the safe response to an earthquake, during the Great SouthEast ShakeOut earthquake drill set for Thursday, Oct. 16, at 10:16 a.m.

During the ShakeOut, people will practice these actions that are recommended when earthquakes occur:

  • Drop to the ground where you are
  • Take Cover under a sturdy table or desk if possible, protecting your head and neck
  • Hold On until the shaking stops

If there isn’t a table or desk near you, drop to the ground in an inside corner of the building.  Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.  Do not try to run to another room to get under a table.  Trying to run in an earthquake is dangerous because the ground is moving and you can easily fall or be injured by falling bricks, glass and other building materials.  In the U.S., you are much safer to stay inside and get under a table or desk.

New method to treat Ash firewood from Virginia Tech

The emerald ash borer (EAB), a non-native wood-boring insect, has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. Ash trees are important both economically and ecologically. They comprise about seven percent of the trees in eastern U.S. forests. In urban areas, ash trees make up about 50 percent of street trees.

EAB can infest new areas of ash trees when wood containing the insect’s larvae is transported to un-infested areas. To reduce the spread of emerald ash borer, sanitation procedures have been established to help reduce their spread.

Having an effective treatment would allow people to transport ash firewood outside of existing quarantine zones. Researchers at Virginia Tech investigated using a vacuum and steam treatment to kill the insect in ash firewood. Current USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service treatment standards require ash firewood to be heated to a core temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 60 minutes.

Treatment of the samples took less than five hours. After treatment, researchers inspected the firewood for live insect larvae. All emerald ash borer larvae in the treated samples were dead. Treatment using a vacuum and steam process uses 25 percent less energy and takes less than half the time of current hot air treatment methods alone. The process can effectively treat irregularly shaped materials, such as firewood.

Board of Forestry appointees

D. Keith Drohan and James Harder have been appointed and J. Kenneth Morgan Jr. was re-appointed July 25 to the Board of Forestry.

DOF personnel news

Steve Counts, assistant director for operations for the Resource Protection Division at Headquarters, has been appointed to the Public Safety Memorial Commission. Virginia's Public Safety Memorial will recognize all public safety officials who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Public safety officers include firefighters, conservation police, state park rangers and forest wardens. Virginia is one of only six states that does not have a statewide Public Safety Memorial.