The 753 Mile Journey into Fire

“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”

A dear friend gifted me a frame with this quote on it as I was leaving Michigan and beginning my 753 mile journey  back to Minnesota. While I did not look back, I will never forget the memories and accomplishments I had while being in Michigan and the friends I made along the way.  From the exciting adventures with my landowners (you know who you are!), all the crazy phone calls and the many laughs among colleagues and friends Michigan will be in my heart.

While letting landowners, colleagues, and friends know that I would be leaving they question did arise if I would continue to blog.  Well my friends, the definite answer now is YES! This post is just a basic update and then we will get back to the “good stuff”… TREES!

It has been over two months now at my new position and so far so good- a bit crazy at first.  I arrived and by the end of my first week I was out on a fire! A WILDLAND FIRE!!! Fire season should have been over by the time I started mid-May but things were so dry with the lack of rain it extended on and on and on!  That first weekend I was here, I was given fire gear, a radio, and reminded that I was on call to have phone near me.  Saturday afternoon, I see my co-workers name come up on my phone and my heart starts racing, it was time to face my first wildland fire.  Racing down the highway, looked at my co-worker in the truck next to me and said “Fun Fact: Fire is one of my biggest fears, but let’s do this”! Shaking in my boots as we pull up, I see the smoke, the fire creeping along the field, firefighters on the ground and a helicopter in the air I thought to myself what did I get myself into? I used to just hug trees and now I am going to fight fire, WHAT?!  We went to asses the situation, where it started, how it started and rate of spread. Once we had that information, I was handed a bladder bag (backpack with a spray nozzle full of water) and proceeded to march through a cattail slough.  Hip deep in muddy water surrounded by cattails and other tall grasses I struggled to get myself to higher ground!

When I got back to my place that evening, my body and clothes were black from the ash, my legs tired from the weight of the pack and hiking, and was blowing black snot (yes gross but so true) and I thought to myself, why?  Why am I fighting fire?  After much thought, I compiled my best answer for this, Mother nature- trees.  I do it to protect our natural resources.  Fire is a good tool for management- but that is when it controlled and not threatening anything (people, structures, critical habitats).  Fire can help fight invasive species, promotes regeneration of native plants and shrubs.

Anyways, all ended well- I managed to make it through first fire and was sent to the fire academy the following week and am officially certified to fight fire.

More updates to come…and good information of course!!

“Always look forward- Condensed advice from trees –> Be Strong, Be Solid

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Side view of fire- from outside the hardwood forested area into field
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The Big Debate

Don’t judge a tree by it’s bark.

Winter months can be difficult when trying to identify trees, many of us rely on leaves to figure out the species.  When you get really good you can tell by the bark, buds and branching.  I will be the first to admit, and I have been doing this for some time, I am not always 100% confident.  Relying on bark alone in the dormant periods of deciduous trees can be deceiving; depending on their site conditions they can sometimes have varying bark.  Aspen on a nutrient rich site can be a bit different than an aspen on a wet or poor site.

I was out on a site visit hoping not to freeze or get stuck in the snow!! I know this landowner well so it was an enjoyable game of who can stump who the most! We would find trees that didn’t look like their typical format and quiz each other.  Seeing how it was his property and he was very knowledgeable of trees he did most the quizzing.

A couple hours into our stroll we came across this grey, smooth, hard bark of a tree…I said hey what’s this (thinking I know exactly what it is) he hadn’t a clue so I said ironwood.  Immediately, he disagreed and began to correct me! We then came across his idea of and ironwood tree  in had to laugh not actually knowing get the species he was pointing out! Mine being smooth tight grey bark and his light brown shaggy bark, one of us was terribly wrong!  We analyzed both put trees up and down, taking photos, noting the catkins on the one, the branching…all bets are on!!! We finished out stroll, hugging trees of beauty and made it back to truck.  This was not over, after carefully looking our trees up in the several books in my car we discovered we were both correct!! What?!  Both trees part of the birch family are considered ironwood- American Hornbeam with smooth bark and Easter Hophornbeam with the shaggy bark!

 

Children + Earth Day

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.”   -Richard Louv

That quote is from the author of the book “Last Child in the Woods”.  The book was given to be by another nature lover and educator. Although I have not finished the book, it is an inspirational.  It is a book to remind us that our children are the future and education and nature for them is vital.  I do not have children of my own yet, but in my position as a forester for the Conservation District…education is key!  This past Saturday, I was asked to host an educational table for 4-H children.  I will also in the next week be at two more educational “Earth Day” events for young children to teach them about trees, the importance of trees, and to love this Earth for everything it can give us.

When planning what I was going to do, I picked the brains of folks around me and decided to go with a way children can connect everyday things they see with trees.  I also learned through the experience and sharing this project with those around me that even adults do not understand the basics of trees, I was not shocked! We see trees on a daily basis, but we do not know the basic functions of a tree.  I’ve blogged about the benefits of yard trees (clean air, reduction in stormwater runoff, energy savings) but today I am going to blog about what I told and will tell lots of children this month in honor of Earth Day!

Trees are a renewable resource that give us basic essentials; to those materialist products we enjoy.  They literally give us everything we use.  Do you know how difficult it is to find something not made from a tree??!  I am telling you right now, my friends, it is not an easy task!!  I wanted to make a fun quiz for the children, so I started filling a box with products made from a tree and products not made from a tree.  It was super easy finding those items made from a tree, I could have put my whole darn office in that box, but I did not!! Instead I researched and researched and researched for things not made from trees.  This is what I came up with…a magnet and a plastic bottle.  I am not even 100% sure if I am correct on these items!!! Here I thought Crayons were tree free–NOPE!!!  Gum extracted from trees helps make crayons! Mind BLOWN! 

When I asked an 11 year old boy to pick out an item from the box that he thought was not made from trees, his first choice was a sheet of paper that said “Ice Cream” on it.  This one was my curve ball!  Yes, ice cream contains cellulose from trees to give it texture.  He dug around some more, looked at the tooth paste, the band aid and finally grabbed the magnet! I yelled Yahtzee! With a little extra thought he was able to find the rare item not made from a tree.

It is important not only for adults to be educated on trees but to connect our children in unique ways to the earth, I primarily focus on trees, because it is my job but I try to tie it all in together in the end.  After going over the tree parts, deciduous vs. coniferous trees, and tree harvesting the children were able to connect themselves to trees and find what is and is not made from a tree.  We need to keep making these connections and getting children outside and educating them, they are the future stewards of this Earth and they need to learn now to love it and respect it.  I know, when folks ask me why I became a forester…I tell them about my childhood.  Growing up with a woods in my backyard I was never inside (yes I know times have changed) but I still was outside more then I was inside.  At a young age I created that bond with nature that carried into my career.

Get outside, bond and love the Earth!  Earth Day April 22nd.

Tree Cookies!!!
Tree Cookies!!!
White Pine Stand...
White Pine Stand…

Path of Least Resistance

What if we did not always take the “easiest” path??

As I was driving back to the office after a site visit I stopped a couple times to over look some beautiful sites.  One was a bog like site, then a lake, and then I stopped and looked at a small stream flowing.  Well actually I stopped at the small stream site because I am on a steering committee for a watershed and was checking out the culvert and erosion of the site.  But regardless it was an inspiring stop.  Sometimes I can not explain why certain things pop into my head at any given moment but as I was looking down the stream, I started to think about water and how it always takes the path of least resistance.  Which is part is why water ways do not flow a straight line.  Instead, it all starts with the water taking the easiest path.  Then I continued on driving “Waldo” (that’s what I named my vehicle) down the wet, muddy, gravel road.  Again, as my car is swaying back and forth following the tracks of the previous vehicle I was thinking again, even my car without having a mind is taking the path of least resistance.  My wheels are automatically following the already made tracks; meanwhile I look like a crazy driver all over this small gravel road trying to stay away from the huge pot holes and trees the run along side it.

Subconsciously, everything takes the path that was already paved for us, water, wildlife, my car, and we as humans can admit to taking the already paved paths.  But why do we? What would happen if we didn’t? If we challenged ourselves to at least once a day to take the path of most resistance or the more difficult path, would we accomplish more? If we challenged ourselves to this…at the end of the day would we feel more accomplished and satisfied, would it make us “more happy”?  I know we cannot challenge wildlife, water, or our cars to this task but we can challenge ourselves.  We can challenge ourselves to not be afraid of what we do not know- but rather face it head on and find that less beaten path to make ourselves more knowledgeable and hopefully more successful.

Now, I know this is a forestry blog–so here I will relate it back in a couple ways.  After I had this mind shaking thought, I was thinking about the daily things I do…and how when I am out on a site visit with a landowner we are usually following a trail through their forest, but often in order to see more and get more of an idea of what they have I take off into the forest, off the trail.  After I get a few feet in I look behind me and they are usually with me (haven’t met a scared landowner yet)! In order to get the full effect of the land and see more you have to dive in, get smacked in the face by branches and trip over sticks to really experience it!

Another way to relate this revelation back is…through my position I provide a lot of education to my communities, landowners, children and other professionals and sometimes the topics I choose are controversial.  Now, if I took the easy way out, would that be fair to myself, would I really be succeeding at what I am trying to fulfill?  If I did not bring up topics like climate change, the newly endangered Northern Long-Eared bat, or fighting against subjects like hinge cutting or letting invasive species grow because one persons view is different than mine- is that cutting myself short?  I say yes I am cutting myself short.  So, I continually keep taking the path of resistance and not putting my views onto someone else but rather get the education out there, so hopefully one day folks will have that knowledge to not be “scared of the unknown” but rather face it head on!  I continue to pave my own path in forestry and life.

I challenge you to not take the path today–but rather pave your own path. If it fails today-take it tomorrow and you may succeed in ways you never imagined!

Stream "inspiration"
Stream “inspiration”
Cruising through the white pines
Cruising through the white pines
Hello- White Pine!
Hello- White Pine!

What do you do? I am a Forester…

I am a forester.

When I visit home and run into old friends or when I meet new people at events and they ask what I do, I respond with I am a forester.  What follows my response is often one of the many misconceptions folks have about foresters.

1. The number one misconception is “oh so you’re a park ranger”! No, I am not a park ranger.  A park ranger is a job where a person(s) is in charge of maintaining and protecting a national, state, county, city park.  A forester is someone who actively manages forests both private and state. Yes, we both typically work outside–but doesn’t mean we are the same profession!  I am a District Forester for Conservation Districts, I help private landowners with land management.  This can range from wildlife, tree plantings, disease and infestation control, harvesting and management plans.

2. Secondly, the misconception of clearcutting a forest. Clearcut harvests are a common practice in forestry, but hello as foresters we love and want to sustain our lands for optimum growth! We are not trying to “screw” anyone over by clear cutting- in most cases the forest needs to be clearcut due to disease, poor quality of forest (best to start fresh), or the species present requires a clearcut for optimum growth.  For example- Aspen Trees- now they need to be clearcut once they hit harvesting age in order to open up the ground.  Aspen trees stump sprout and when clearcut come back like WEEDS and its great! They need that full sun and full water potential which is why “foresters” recommend clearcut, and aspen grows back so fast you will only have the eye sore for a short time.

3. Third, No I do not “chop down trees”. There is a difference between a logger and a forester, our jobs are very different but both work towards a common goal of forest management.  A logger actually does the cutting or harvesting of a forest where the forester can be the one to administer the sale and mark the trees but they are not the ones cutting trees.  A forester is all about the best management a logger takes the wood off the ground and gets it to the mill (buyer).

4. We wear the orange vest only during hunting season. Oh no no NO, the vest is a foresters #1 tool in my opinion, its an everyday fashion STATEMENT! (I know my friends back at the University would agree, if you had the vest you were in!!!)  The vest the beautiful vest carries all our tools and everything we will need for our visits.  In my vest for site visits I have so many things in it.  I have an angle gauge (to get the basal area), a clinometer (tree height), compass, gps, clipboard, knife, magnified scope,  pens/pencil, tree id book (I do not know everything!!), small notebook, and usually my phone to take pictures! There are so many things in a foresters vest- helps us be prepared and look super great 24/7!!

5. This weekends misconception….so you watch for poachers? This weekend while watching my Wisconsin Badgers win, I met some new folks and again when asked what I did, I responded with I am a forester and his response was “so you go out and catch poachers”!? Again, no.  I do not regulate what folks do on their properties or state lands- I leave that up to the conservation officers, not a foresters job!

So next time you meet a forester..thank them for actively managing lands for future generations and not jumping to one of these 5 conclusions right away!

Ash Tree
Inside the “mind” of an Ash
White Pine, Red Oak, Aspen, Paper Birch (L to R)
White Pine, Red Oak, Aspen, Paper Birch (L to R)
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Black Ash on Left

Wonders of the TREES

Ever walk through the forest and see something, stop, and go hmm?

Yesterday I was out on a 120 forested property with a landowner.  We were just cruising along, when we stopped and both looked up and went hmm.

Often when I go to properties with a lot of acreage to cover the landowners drive me around on 4-wheelers or gators so we can cover all ground and see EVERYTHING! So here we are vroom vrooming along when we had to hit the breaks.  Up above us was unlike something I have never seen before.  The tree branch was literally curling around making a doughnut shape! I thought perfect placement for a bird or squirrel nest.  Now, I have seen a lot of trees that grow around things, like a sign or nail or something like that. Trees have incredible strength to grow around inanimate objects in order to survive.  I have also seen trees that grow slanted to try and catch as much sunlight as they can, but never in all my days of hugging trees have I seen one curl around like this.  It is quite odd to me actually; what in the world  this tree branch thinking to grow like this?!

All Natural Curl Tree

To my next wonder of trees…the other day I was sent an article about trees and communication.  Whether or not trees communicate in ways underground through their root systems.  Now part of me is like yeah okay makes sense what she is saying and part of me is thinking no, competition and Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”.  Survival of the fittest is not saying the strongest always survives. It is often misinterpreted or maybe I am the one who misinterprets it but I believe it means the ones willing to change or adapt and the ones that are “smarter” are the  ones who survive. I am no expert on this!  So when I was listening to this forester talk about the communication with trees I obviously got to thinking about her theory.  When I was at this site visit he had a lot of regeneration. BABY TREES!!!! EEEE!!! Anyways, so I looked around at these baby trees and her theory did not sit right with me..if a “mom” tree is supposed to reach out and provide for the baby trees by giving nutrients then why are there a bunch of baby spruce trees growing under oaks? Does the “mom” not have to be the same species of tree?  Are the mature oaks providing for these white spruce trees?  Now I know, seeds travel by all sorts of ways but it was just a thought I had.  I like the concept of trees working together to survive…but I also believe in competition and space with trees all the trees are out to get the amount of sun they need, water, nutrients–why would it compromise its livelihood for a baby tree that may not make it? Her theory is valid and she has much more experience and knowledge then me, but I love the passion others have about trees and learning new things…its all a learning curve for the constant change and new discoveries people uncover!

It is all just so crazy to me, but I love the constant wonder…

Baby Balsam Fir Tree
Baby Balsam Fir Tree
White Cedar
White Cedar Horizon line 🙂

Farm Show

A bunch of people packed into a small arena….hmmm!!!

So one of my many things I do besides site visits is outreach type things.  I have been to a few venues where I have a table or booth and talk about forestry.  Today, I was at a farm show in one of my counties I manage and let me tell you it was good but a bit crazy. I was not sure what to expect because in the past these shows were never in any of my counties, but this was!  I did not plan this but it happened to work out that this show was right after the day my article on why we should plant trees, had hit the papers.  So needless to say I felt kind of like a local celebrity.  I had folks coming up to the table asking for me by name or mentioning my article.  I got a lot of smiles and introductions walking through the arena not knowing them before hand.  Felt pretty neat but at same time very overwhelming.  I had one gentleman walk up to me, who I did not know, and say “hey its our forestry celeb”.  Awkward!!

Anyhoot, back to the farm show!  It was a great experience- I was able to meet lots of new people and talk to a lot of local landowners about the different invasive species and diseases they need to watch out for and be concerned about in our area.  It was the perfect time and place to raise awareness for whats coming ahead.  I had lots of handouts on Oak wilt, Beech Bark Disease, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and Thousand Cankers Disease.  These few handouts do not begin to cover the issues we are facing in the forests or with trees today but they are major alerts that have not destroyed all of our forest yet so to bring it to high attention is key to me and other foresters, to try and keep on top of it.  I had many questions about Emerald Ash Borer- folks wanting to know what they can do with their dead standing trees or if I could give them answers to projections on what may happen with the new growth they have from seeds of trees before the death.  I have no answers for this and I don’t think many do but I guess for now I say let it grow and when time comes where we can start to see the outcome we will go from there.  As far as the dead standing ash, I had a local logger tell me he is still cutting it and if viable using it otherwise its turned into firewood.  But because of the damage done by the borer if not taken care of the wood turns punky and loses is value for even firewood quickly.  Now I mentioned Asian Longhorned Beetle, this is not in Michigan yet, but I am trying to raise awareness on it when ever I can because it has been spotted in Ohio, just below us so we need to be aware and possibly prepared.  If landowners know what to look for hopefully it can be caught early and eradicated and stopped.  It affects the maple trees and maple is another huge market in Michigan so we need to know its out there.  I always love the looks I get when I tell folks it hits the maples…it allows me to know they care and are listening because the fear and shock is shown all over their faces.  This way I know they are listening and are scared with me!  Michigan already lost all their ash trees, we do NOT need to lose the maples too.  Oak wilt is already spread through most the state and is taking out great quantities of oak trees.  Soon there will be nothing less.  I remember back in college my disease and insects professor used to say the “forest is dying and dead” no hope in that statement and being out in the field and seeing properties decimated by various things, has me thinking he was onto something!

Number one question asked at this show “what to do with dead ash”.

Just another plug for forestry–plant trees this spring to help preserve our forests. 

Table At Farm Show  MY FAP BannerView of Farm Show Vendors

Two Brothers – One Property

Have you ever shared something with a sibling and it turned out good??

On one of my first site visits I went out to a property that two brothers shared and it was quite the talk. The front half ones one brothers (We will call him Ned) and the back half was the others (we will call him Fred).  So Ned and Fred!  Ned’s half was this gorgeous red pine plantation mostly.   Perfect placement of trees for optimum growth, tall, no major die back or disease.  Then we walked back to Fred’s part…Uffda! He also had a red pine plantation but the rows were all funny, there was too much competition due to poor planting and not enough pre-commercial thinning and he had all these straggly choke cherry trees taking over large parts of the canopy cover.  Then it tapered off into a maple oak stand where there was little to no regeneration and all the trees were past their prime.  Now here in Clare county pretty much all the soil is SAND (Yuck!) so when you get a tree as large as an oak can get growing there it begins to uproot itself because the soil cannot support the root system.  I explained to them that they need to open up this stand to allow for sunlight to promote regeneration and this is their response.  “Can we bring in hogs to rut up the land”?  I looked at the landowners–pondered a minute to try and grasp what exactly he was asking.  Hogs?! You wanna bring in hogs?!  Well yes, they will rut up the land and open up the soil.  But I advised them that this was not a good idea.  They had already expressed that they wanted regeneration of the oaks for deer management…well folks hogs will take away that regeneration.  Let me tell you why.  Hogs are kind of lets say destructive, they will rut up the soil and eat the organic materials, eat up the little acorn seeds in their area then when they are moved they will eat and rut up all that.  And if they destroy too much and take away too much seed source and your oaks are already not producing enough seed, there is no room for regeneration.  The forest will eventually decline and be left with nothing.

In hardwood stands the best thing to do where there is a lack of regeneration is to open up the canopy to allow for ample sun and water for regrowth.  To do this a crop tree is chosen.  A crop tree is one that is relatively straight and still productive and can be promoted to keep growing.  Then around the crop tree you take out any other competitors, take out those competing above (canopy space) and below to open up the ground.  Then you move on to another crop tree and do the same.  Eventually you have marked your crop trees and cleared all around them and regeneration can happen.  Now this might scare a lot of folks but its the best management for hardwoods, it might look bare at first but after a few years, that regrowth will begin and you can have the pride of being a good steward and forest owner.  Who knows maybe those crop trees will grow to be veneer logs!

Although the brothers had two very different plans for their “parcels” of the property- the fact they were trying to be proactive in their management is the key here.  Not just being reactive, when things get bad!

Learning experience from this site visit- no to hogs!!!

Red Pine Canopy Red Pine Plantation

Not from this site visit–but still beautiful Red Pine

What Tree Would You Be?!?

“What tree would you be”?  “Really, are you really asking me that”?

Way back at the beginning of October I was interviewed for my current position.  I had been through so many interviews and after so many I never thought I would actually be asked the one question I always hoped would be asked- what is your favorite tree and why.  Well at the interview for this job it was a little bit different, if you could be any tree what would it be and why.  I think my jaw literally dropped, I looked at the gentleman asking me the question and said “really, are you really asking me that”? He smiled and said yes and repeated the question.  I smiled so big and with great confidence said the Ginkgo tree, because I feel that I am a unique, strong and independent women just like the Ginkgo tree is all of these attributes.  Needless to say I think that one answer got me the position!

Ginkgo biloba trees are a very unique tree.  They are considered a living fossil tree that can date us back into the Dinosaur age. They are the oldest living species and are rare now to find in wild but thrive in Michigan given the right sun, soil and water requirements.  They are dated back to some 280 million years ago with fossil records; Now that is old!! They are one of a kind- the only one in their family.

Ginkgo’s are not susceptible to diseases; they are actually used by humans for medicinal purposes! I mean yeah there is leaf spot that can affect the tree- but it does no real damage.  All other trees are threatened due to all the different bugs and diseases spreading so quickly–but the Ginkgo stands tall and lives long.  The leaves on a Ginkgo tree are unlike any other tree with their smooth fan-shaped leaf.  In the fall the leaves turn a stunning bright yellow color.  They are amazing trees for university/school lawns, streets, or building green spaces because they are low maintenance and great shade trees.  Low maintenance meaning they require little to no pruning and they drop their leaves all at once- so one rake and done–Sweet Deal!!! Okay-there is one draw back here- the female tree! Yes, I know I said I would be a Ginkgo but ignore that for this next moment.  Ginkgo trees are dioecious meaning they have a female tree and a male tree.  The females are planted less often because their fruit–it stinks!!! But other than that minor detail–amazing tree!

If you could be a tree, what tree would YOU be?

Ginkgo Leaf
Ginkgo Leaf

Embrace

There is something magical about hugging a tree.  I often get funny looks or people thinking I am down right crazy…but in reality, they are the ones that are crazy.  Hugging a tree for a forester is beyond just hugging it because I can.  Its respecting the one renewable resource that we can use for multiple different products, its about respecting the life of the tree that gives us cleaner air, cleaner water, reducing humidity and heat, and protects us against soil erosion and flooding!  When I hug a tree I am thanking it for lining and shadowing our streets and making the neighborhood a better safer place for children and for the economy.  Trees are proven to reduce crime in neighborhoods and they reduce electric bills, energy costs and stormwater run off in yards.  Trees are just looked at like a large inconvenience sometimes and tree huggers are stereotypical people who don’t want trees to be cut down.  But this isn’t always the case.  Just because I hug trees- doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in cutting them down.  We just have to be smart..cut a tree plant 2 more.

So, if your tree is feeling blue from this cold winter…hug it real tight!!!

Hug a Tree Today!
Hug a Tree Today!