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I have been reading a book by professor Tom Wessels of Antioch University, entitled Forest Forensics: A Field Guide To Reading The Forested Landscape. Within the book, Professor Wessels goes into 3 common types of disturbance, and how to detect evidence of them in the northeastern landscape. The book is a field guide written as a dichotomous key, to help users pick between agricultural impacts, old growth impacts such as wind, ice and fire, and human impacts such as logging. He argues that every action that takes place in a forest is written into the landscape, and if we learn to read that language, we can come to readily see that history. “The new language has nouns, verbs and adjectives just as a written language does,” he writes. “But its words are things such as small stones in a wall, a hollowed-out stump, or a basal scar on a tree trunk.”  These things, in their place, are all telling of the significant activity the forest has experienced.


Using his guide, I decided to survey the woodlot behind my house. The wood lot abuts a field that, in my lifetime, has been used to grow corn… Given the history of the Lehigh Valley, it is likely that it has always (since the time of white settlement), been in production for either corn or wheat, or some other grain. The wood lot, however, does not show signs of agriculture, such as stones brought to the surface by the freezing and thawing cycles, and the lack of perennial root systems. Furthermore, it shows the signs of what Wessels calls pillows… “When live trees are toppled by wind or by snow-or ice- loading, their roots rip out of the ground, excavating a pit or cradle. As the tipped-up roots decay they drop the earth they excavated, creating a mound or pillow adjacent to the cradle.” Wessels suggests this is the first piece of evidence we should look for, as it is telling of  an agricultural past. In my wood lot, the pillows are gently rolling and not overly defined. This, Wessels suggests is a sign of trampling by animals (if it had once been a pasture), but it could also be from human activity. Nevertheless, I cannot find significant evidence of agricultural (there are no stone walls, though I remember there used to be a wire fence) or commercial logging impacts (none of the trees have opposing basal scarring, evident of machinery and there are only a few, recent, small diameter stumps with flat, cut tops), and the trees which I aged using his approximation method, are of mixed ages, with the oldest ranging about 150 years old. This evidence taken together, would suggest a mature, but not old growth forest. Likely it was disturbed by light personal use timbering of dead and down wood, maybe an occasional standing tree dropped, but never clear cut. Of the tress oaks and ashes of 2 feet in diameter dominate.


There is one tree, however, which I found broke with the rest… A triple Chestnut Oak, with all three trunks about two and a half feet in diameter. Taken together, and taking into account that trees with multiple trunks take longer to grow, I would estimate the tree to be 300-400 years old. The tree shows none of the signs of being a pasture tree, as it has no outward growth on the lower section of the tree. It grew up straight and tall, right to the canopy. It is now standing dead.


Using the method Wessels details, I was able to estimate that there was a disturbance  that caused the tree to grow in three sections, when the tree was about 125 years old. There were no signs of basal scarring (neither on that tree or any near by), which would suggest timbering in the area, or a fire. There was no clear evidence of timbering in the rest of the stand, besides what has been done recently for campfires, by local teenagers. The tree presents somewhat of a mystery. Something, it seems, caused the tree to  break off, and to separated into three trunks. It is certainly possible that the tree was timbered, as part of the small scale timbering that likely occurred in the wood lot. If a tree is cut at the stump, there is a possibility for it grow new trunks. Multitrunk trees “are trees and shrubs that have more than one stem growing from a single root mass. These trees have a fused base area that consist of multiple piths at ground level. These generally form when the original stem of the tree was damaged, broken, or browsed by animals, damaged  from falling (natural or man-caused).  This results in a new stem sprouting from the root mass.  In general these stems are all of similar age and size, but will often reduce to developing one, or a few dominant stems” (http://www.nativetreesociety.org/multi/index_multi.htm). It is possible, as it is at the edge of the forest, that severe weather took the initial trunk out, causing the tree to separate into three… But there is no evidence in the rest of the stand to confirm this. What seems more likely is that the tree was timbered at one point, but has recovered threefold, only to die at the upward limit of that species.


In any case, the mystery is part of the enjoyment, and I feel Wessels guide has given me a greater perspective on the land in my area. I am hoping to further use the book in my boundary work at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, when attempting to age timbering and other tree cutting and resource disturbing encroachments. I feel Wessels guide is a must have for all those who wish to mix ecology and history, and especially those wishing to forge a better understanding of land use. He promotes and understanding of how truly intertwined we are with the lives of our forests. We can do nothing that does not show itself in the land, and how can the forest but help to leave its mark on us.

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2013 Birding List

Finally got a chance to compile my 2013 year list.

1. Slate Colored Junco
2. Tundra Swan
3. Canadian Goose
4. Northern Cardinal
5. Red-Tailed Hawk
6. Bald Eagle
7. Northern Harrier
8. Eastern Phoebe
9. Common Pintail
10. Redwing Backbird
11. Bluejay
12. Sharp-shinned Hawk
13. American Kestrel
14. American Robin
15. Turkey Vulture
16. Tree Swallow
17. Chimney Swift
18. Mallard
19. Great Cormorant
20. Great Blue Heron
21. Song Sparrow
22. Wild Turkey
23. House Sparrow
24. Rock Dove
25. American Crow
26. Dark-eyed Junco
27. White Breasteed Nuthatch
28. Purple Finch
29. Mourning Dove
30. Chipping Sparrow
31. White-Crowned Sparrow
32. Orchard Oriole
33. Pileated Woodpecker
34. Common Loon
35. Cedar Waxwing
36. Pine Siskin
37. Pigeon Guillemont
38. Red-troated Loon
39. Mute Swan
40. Snow Goose
41. Harlequin Duck
42. Black-legged Kittiwig
43. Glaucous-winged Gull
44. Arctic Tern
45. Black Oyster Catcher
46. Roughed Grouse
47. Merlin
48. Osprey
49. Black Vulture
50. Northern Goshawk
51. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
52. Gyrfalcon
53. Yellow Warbler
54. Blackburnian Warbler
55. Black-billed Magpie
56. Hermit Thrush
57. Wilson’s Warbler
58. Lark Bunting
59. Fox Sparrow
60. Tufted Titmouse
61. Cliff Swallow
62. White-winged Scoter
63. Red-breasted Merganzer
64. Peregrine Falcon
65. Pine Warbler
66. Eastern Pewee
67. Barn Swallow
68. Black-throated Green Warbler
69. Black-capped Chickadee
70. Yellow-throated Vireo
71. Cooper’s Hawk
72. Red-shouldered Hawk
73. Red-eyed Vireo
74. Philadelphia Vireo
75. Golden Eagle

More updates to come soon.

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Within the last 20 years or so, the deep green movement has pushed people to recognize that wooded ecosystems have value intrinsically, that is not bestowed upon them by what humans get from them (be it wood products or recreation). However, it is still difficult to  justify to the average Joe, that a wood lot should remain a wood lot, and not be sub-divided or sold for timber… Or at the very least, opened up to trail users… Yet all of these things are impactful, in that they effect the way the ecosystem functions. Trails, when used responsibly can help to concentrate use, and ultimately are a best case scenario for many woodlands… Yet, many people have convinced themselves that trails are a net positive for a forest. They are not. They remove biomass for the benefit of human recreation. At best, they keep people from going out  into the woods and impacting a greater area.

That said, the other two typical alternatives, both subdividing and timbering, are surely more impactful to a mature forest, than trail building. Nevertheless, a deep green philosophy would generally argue in favor of wilderness areas, where man is just a visitor (if that), and some would go further into the realms of primitivism.

In this day and age, it hurts the cause of conservation to be anything but pragmatic. We can have our ideals, but we must recognize other interest, and negotiate for the best possible outcome in a given circumstance. Thus we must understand, the least common denominator positives of preserving our neighborhood wood lot…

*  *  *

Recently, it was announced by the South Whitehall Township Board of Supervisors that the cornfield behind my house was to be sub-divided, but the wood lot that I grew up playing in, and came of age as an ecologist by studying, was to be spared. While part of me is sad to loose the farmland, I am at least relieved to be keeping the wood lot. I have always appreciated it aesthetically, and I have always appreciated what it gives us, but more than that, I see it as a home to a Red-tailed Hawk and a Great Horned Owl. A fox and a family of deer. I visit it from time to time. Each year, I measure the diameter of the two greatest Chestnut Oaks. But, I fear that the neighbors view it as a nuisance. They see wildlife as pests, and overgrowth as a tangled mess. Yet, there is a least common denominator, that rests on the tip of everyone’s tongue in this age of super-storms… Climate Change… Carbon Emissions especially.

Last year, the world emitted 35 million tons of carbon. The United States contributed 5.2 million tons of carbon. Or 16.4 tons per capita.

Why is this important? The vast majority of climatologists believe that climate change is happening, and that it is anthropogenic. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found there to be a 90% chance that humans are contributing to climate change. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6321351.stm). Even Fox News reported on the panel’s claim that an estimated sea level rise of 7-23 inches would be likely. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/02/02/un-report-global-warming-man-made-basically-unstoppable/). In 2013, Environmental Research Letters found that amongst abstracts discussing Anthropogenic Climate Change, 97.1 expressed agreement with the consensus that human activity is a contributing factor.

Still, I can understand skepticism. I have never been the sort of person to take a consensus at face value. After all, one only need look back through history, and the ridiculous beliefs that have been considered a consensus are immediately apparent. So, lets go into the basic logic that goes into conclusions favoring climate change.

Scientific Fact: Carbon is an unstable element. When exposed to radiation (i.e. light from the sun) it releases heat to stabilize. This is undisputed.

Scientific Fact: Temperature data indicates a net increase in average yearly temperatures, and suggests that individual climate zones are changing as a result.

Logical Reasoning: If Carbon releases heat when exposed to radiation, it will inevitably release some into space, and some back down to earth. Thus, the higher the concentration of Carbon in the atmosphere, the more heat will be released down to earth. Since burning fossil fuels, and wood, releases carbon that had been trapped and stored in organic material, and humans burn fossil fuels on a constantly increasing basis, humans can be said to be a contributing factor to high carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. This, not climate change in and of itself (which is almost universally recognized to be occuring, since that is what 100 years of data plainly spells out), is what is debated.

If we accept this hypothesis, that the world is warming on the whole, and that is causing climates to change, and that is resultant of greenhouse gas concentrations, and the concentrations are largely a result of releasing CO2 and hydrocarbons, we come back to the main point, the importance of the neighborhood wood lot.

*  *  *

As discussed in the previous entry, the wood lot behind my house contains a biomass of 582.4 (tons per hectare). Since the lot is approximately 1 hectare, we can say the biomass is 582.4 tons. Approximately 50% of biomass in a forest ecosystem is made up of Carbon, much of it stored in the plant as Carbohydrates, formed during photosynthesis. Given that fact, the wood lot contains 291.2  tons of Carbon. Considering that there are about 75 homes in the neighborhood, with an estimated 4 people per household, there are about 300 people living in my neighborhood. Since the per capita production of tons of Carbon in a year in the United States is about 16 tons, that means that the people in my neighborhood produce roughly 50 tons of Carbon in a year.

Thus our wood lot is important in its role of mitigating the amount of carbon we produce in a year.

Admittedly I did not calculate the forest’s respiration levels, and that would likely bring us pretty close to being a net zero effect… Which, at the end of the day, is pretty good.

If we could have a hectare of forest for every 80 people in this country, we could go a long way to bringing our carbon footprint down.

If for no other reason, that is why our wood lots are important.

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I established a test plot today. I plan to measure both biomass of the plot in general and the diameter and height of a currently healthy White Ash, to try and understand forest growth. It is a hobby I have taken up, to ensure that my skills stay honed, for the next time I am out in the field.

Biomass and Carbon Sequestration:

It has long been known that plants take in CO2 gas, during photosynthesis, to create carbohydrates for the plant to use. Plants also release CO2 during respiration, but the net uptake exceeds that released during respiration, meaning that the plant stores carbon. It is said that up to 50% of a tree’s mass is carbon, and much of that carbon is stored in the extensive root systems. In order to calculate how much carbon a tree contains, first we must find out the total mass of the tree.

Mass=Volume*Density, so to find the biomass of a tree, we must first find the volume of the tree.

Since, for our purposes, trees are cones, we would find Volume with the following formula (many of you remember from geometry).

Volume=1/3*Basal Area*Height




Height can be found by taking a tape measure, and by standing back approximately as far as the tree is high, you use the tape measure to find the point on the tree that is about 10% of the tree. You then measure the height of that point and multiply by 10.

Basal area is found by first measuring the diameter of the tree at breast height, which is considered to be 1.6 meters. Then you plug that into the following equation (DBH/200)²  * π.



You now have volume, but you still need density. To find density, you first must identify the tree. You can then use the following site to find the density (http://www.csudh.edu/oliver/chemdata/woods.htm).

Finally your biomass equations should go as follows: Biomass(kg)=stem volume(m³)*density(kg)+40% of the answer to factor in other biomass such as roots and leaves.

If for instance, you take the White Ash from the test plot, which has a volume of 17.8 m³ and has a density of 650 Kg/m³, you get a stem mass of 11,570 Kg.

11,570*.4 = 4,628.

Total mass = 16,198 Kg or 16.2 tons of biomass.

About half of that is made up  of carbon, so about 8 tons of carbon.



For the entire wood lot, the equation looks like this.

126(m2/Ha) * 15.24(m) * 1/3=640(m3/Ha)

640(m3/Ha) * .65 (t/Ha)=416(t/Ha) * .4=166.4

416+166.4=582.4(t/Ha) of Biomass of which 291.2 tons are made up of carbon.

Just in my little wood lot (about 2.5 acres,  or 1 hectare) alone, the trees are  sequestering nearly 300 tons of carbon. When we consider carbon’s role in the greenhouse effect, (being an unstable element, it releases heat to stabilize, thus, the more carbon in the atmosphere the more warming will be expected) we can see that even a small forest can help to make a big difference.

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AT Mid-Atlantic Encroachments Map

Appalachian Trail Monitoring

Over the last three months, I have been working for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, as a Corridor Steward. Prior to the position, I did not fully appreciate what goes into maintaining the AT boundary. It is an easy thing to take fore-granted, and is just one of many invisible tasks that goes into preserving the trail for future generations. Many of those who have thru-hiked, have never seen the yellow blazes marking the boundary, and many regular trail users have little idea that it is there. Nevertheless, the yellow paint and the small metal monuments affixed to rocks and planted into the earth, mark the boundary of National Park Service fee land, that represents the corridor protecting the trail. Not all of the land is fee land. The AT is a checkerboard of easements and rights of ways, as well as forest service and state-owned land. But the trail is managed by the NPS at the top level, and much of the land is owned outright.

Fee land means you own the whole pie, (mineral rights, timber rights, etc.), and where this is the case the boundary is marked in yellow paint, and with monuments. With how closely guarded these monuments are, you would almost get the impression that they are holy items. But, with the NPS paying several thousand dollars a day to survey a tract, the monuments reflect some of that cost. They are plotted in lines, that when following the compass bearing between them, make up the property lines that separate AT lands from privately owned lands. There is a reason this is all important…

When private land owners over step their property lines and wind up on park service fee land, it is called encroaching. Often times the encroachments are minor, as in brush piles, or over-mowing… Other times, we have found bulldozers and illegal structures on fee land. It is important to remember that AT land is protected for its wilderness quality, and while that is not always the case in reality, that is the goal. It is important for the boundary techs to mitigate encroachments, to maintain the wilderness quality of the land. This, unfortunately, puts us in direct conflict with many land owners who consider forests to be very untidy places. They often feel that we are contributing to nuisance wildlife, or landscaping issues. They often take these matters into their own hands. Other people feel that as public land it is their right to hunt the land, even though the park service strictly prohibits it. As a boundary tech, I often serve as a sort of detective into these issues, gathering evidence that is then used to persuade trail neighbors into reforming their behaviors… This, believe it or not, is a huge problem, in the mid-Atlantic region. ArcGIS Map of Hunting Tower Encroachment.

Myself and another field tech working on the boundary.

Myself and another field tech working on the boundary.

Encroachments make it important to keep a well marked boundary. By doing so, we ensure that the trail remains intact in the future, despite efforts to fragment it. It is not as though there is some existing conspiracy against the trail, but there is a lingering discontent about the way land was procured for the trail (often through condemnation). Though the trail is meant to serve the people, there was undoubtedly a human cost to creating it. There is also a common misunderstand with neighbors about what public land means, and what uses are permissible. The more clearly a boarder is marked, the easier it is to push back against these issues.

While much of this work is done by paid professionals, most of it is done by trail club volunteers. Each fall they come out, when the vegetation has started to die back, to search out each monument, and to paint the blaze trees, to ensure that our lines are clear. Next time you hike the AT, remember them, and thank your local volunteers. Without them, the trail would not exist.

Encroachments Map

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Another article of mine on hydrolic fracturing has been featured on SyndicatedNews.NET


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Drilling In Loyalsock Beset By Protest

Glenn Nelson


Lycoming County, Pa: Following the Loyalsock Trail, in the midst of a potent, mid-summer heat wave, it is refreshing to at last come upon the creek for which the trail is named…. Cascading through freestone, cold even in July, it runs through the 114,494 rolling, green acres of Loyalsock State Forest, from Wyoming County to Montoursville, where it flows into the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Until recently (2005) the forest was known as Wyoming State Forest. Spanning across the northern tier of the Kittatiny Mountains, so named by the Lene Lenape natives for its “endless” expanse of green rolling hills. Loyalsock is a pristine piece of what Pennsylvania once was…. That is, before industry… before logging, before coal mining, before natural gas.

Loyalsock was bought from the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in the early 1930’s, meaning that much of the park had been clear cut at one point. Considering that fact, 80 years has made a world of difference. Much of the biodiversity has recovered, and where once there were sawmills and railroads, there now stands much of the mixed hardwood forest that initially covered the endless mountains. You can still see places where there were logging roads covered in corduroy, and open fields of brier patches still in successional stages. But the fact that there is a forest here, that is something remarkable.

By all accounts, Loyalsock is a success story for the second-hand wilderness movement. After nearly a century of extraction, from coal and lumber, to oil and natural gas, forest cover in the northeast, and especially Pennsylvania had been diminished by a staggering margin. But, while initially taken for granted, forests like Loyalsock have made a comeback. Often preserved for watershed protection or economic purposes, more than wilderness ethics or aesthetics, 2.2 million acres of forest have been protected in Pennsylvania, and Loyalsock is amongst the larger and more significant. Yet, despite the forest’s second-hand success, Loyalsock is again under threat, this time from controversial hydrolic fracturing, or “fracking.” As State Impact reports, the forest “is now the site of a tense three-way dance among energy companies, environmentalists and state regulators over whether, where and how drilling should be allowed in this state forest,” (Lovers of Pa.’s Loyalsock Forest Fight to Limit Drilling There).

In Pennsylvania natural gas production on the Marcellus Shale has expanded by 678 percent, between 2005 and 2011 (http://www.sbecouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BenefitsNGPennSummary.pdf). According to State Impact, there are now 8,982 operating wells in Pennsylvania, under 74 operators, with 3,025 regulatory violations recorded (http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/drilling/). There are already 846 wells operating in Lycoming County and 211 in Wyoming County, the counties where Loyalsock resides.


Many environmentalists in the state see the planned drilling as a failure of long-term memory. As the blog shaleshockmedia.org argues, “The lumber companies did not pay for reforestation, the lumber companies were not held responsible nor called to account. Pennsylvanians paid for it. Now it is under threat of devastation once again. This time by the natural gas industry, and the same old set of circumstances – lack of meaningful and enforceable regulation, lack of foresight, and blindness due to all that shiny gold.”

Anti-fracking activists were further outraged when the DCNR agreed to hold a “local stakeholders meeting, regarding mineral extraction issues in the Loyalsock State Forest,” by invitation only (http://blog.shaleshockmedia.org/2013/04/02/tearing-down-trees-putting-up-gas-rigs/yaw-invite/). Again, shaleshockmedia.org notes, “Although the state forest is owned by each and every Pennsylvanian, we are not invited.”



The situation in Loyalsock is precarious, from a legal standpoint. While the state owns the surface rights, the mineral rights are owned by Anadarko Petroleum. The rights were transferred to Anadarko and Southwestern Energy Company, from the original landowner, the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company. Anadarko essentially owns the natural gas lying beneath 25,000 acres in the Loyalsock, much of which are some of the most prized sections of the park. Sections such as Rock Run and The Old Logger’s Path would be effected by Anadarko’s plan to open the forest to drilling. However, as enviropoliticsblog.blogspot.com reports, “the state maintains “above average” surface rights on about 18,000 of those acres, meaning Anadarko has to negotiate with DCNR for access to drill.” So far, Anadarko has offered $15 million, while the DCNR countered with an offer of $22 million. A deal has yet to have been struck between the two parties (http://enviropoliticsblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/focus-of-fracking-fight-shifts-to.html#.UcPv8c4Uw9c).

Responding to increased pressure, the DCNR finally agreed to a public meeting, scheduled for June 3, 2013. During the meeting, the DCNR admitted that the project would certainly be impactful. The plan includes 26 well pads, 4 compressor stations, 34 miles of new pipeline, and 15 miles of new roads per well pad. The DCNR promised no open waste impoundments, but did not specify whether gas flaring would be allowed.

Over 400 people packed the hearing in Lycoming County. Testimony was heated, and lasted for several hours. During the hearing, not one citizen spoke in favor of drilling. Niether Anadarko, nor any other natural gas industry representatives were present at the meeting.


The stakes are high in Loyalsock. The natural gas industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Pennsylvanian economy. Between 2005 and 2010 employment in the oil and gas sector grew by 80.8 percent. With LNG exports expected to increase, as more infrastructure comes online, the industry is only expected to grow. However, Pennsylvania does not tax the industry, and revenue for the state only comes from the one time, per well, Impact Fee and from regulatory violations. Furthermore, It is said that nearly 30 percent of Pennsylvania’s economy is based its forests (http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_005564.pdf). Much of that comes from outdoor recreation. With tourism in the state accounting for 6.4 percent of all employment in the state, it begs a question of economic fundamentals. Can Pennsylvania have it both ways?

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