Tennessee Forests

Forests are complex ecosystems. And threats from invasive pests, drought and disease are to be expected, though not accepted without a fight.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry (TDF) is at the forefront of the effort to protect the health of the state’s rural and urban forests.

Its well-known services include fighting wildfires and protecting water quality on logging jobs, but the division also provides another primary service, the Forest Health Program. “We’re focused on preventative, proactive ways to protect our forests,” says Heather Slayton, forest health program specialist.

One key way to be proactive in protecting the state’s forests is early detection. To that end, Tennessee has an extensive monitoring system statewide aimed at identifying the presence and movement of invasive pests, such as the emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid and others.

“Our area foresters, who provide landowner assistance, know their regions very well,” Slayton says. “Not much gets by them, and they are our first line of attack.”

The monitoring system will get a boost in 2013 from a mobile app for early pest reporting available to citizens.

Tennessee Trees

TDF foresters respond to landowners’ reports to conduct inspections, set traps and look for triggers that indicate forest health is at risk. That information is reported, tracked and analyzed by Slayton and her department and then distributed to other landowners, communities and regions that may be impacted.

“An informed and educated public is extremely important,” Slayton says. “Maintaining healthy, sustainable forests is something we can all be a part of, and it starts with being informed.”

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An example of the role the public can play in protecting forest health is the campaign to prevent the movement of firewood. Emerald ash borers, walnut twig beetles (which spread a fungus creating thousand cankers disease) and other potentially dangerous critters typically reside under the bark of a tree. When the tree dies, is chopped into firewood and then transported – sometimes hundreds of miles – it moves those pests to new locations where the adults emerge from the bark and infest a new crop of trees. The TDF campaign focuses on educating the public to stop the spread of this disease.

The Forest Health Program also identifies and recommends treatments for tree pests, provides treatments where applicable and evaluates exotic and/or invasive pest threats. Slayton points to success with the state’s hemlock trees, which are under siege by the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Photographer NOTES!!! more the better!

“We have an excellent partnership in place with all the main players, including the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and the US Forest Service,” Slayton says. “We’ve been able to pinpoint areas across the state where we have concentrated treatment, and that’s resulted in saving a few trees in some areas and up to 600 acres elsewhere. This is a proactive effort and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished working together.”

TDF shares that success and the methods used to identify trees and acreage for treatment with municipalities around the state to further protect the hemlock tree population.

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Meanwhile, TDF has partnered with the University of Tennessee, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the Nature Conservancy looking for new and effective ways to combat these pests. There is reason to be hopeful.

“Our forests are resilient,” says State Forester and Assistant Commissioner Jere Jeter. “Change in the environment is inevitable. Two-hundred years ago, the Appalachians were filled with American chestnuts, which lost their dominance. Oaks and hickories took their place. Ash and walnut might drop out the same way, but something else will take their place. Meanwhile, TDF will continue to conserve, protect and enhance the forest resources of Tennessee with the help of its partners and residents.”

For more information on forest health issues in Tennessee, visit www.protecttnforests.org.

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