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May 15, 2017

If you have trees, challenges will just keep coming

The Emerald Ash Borer has infested every county in Virginia.
By Adam K. Downing
Extension Agent

Whether you own a single tree in your yard or a whole forest, you should be aware of a few current issues. Depending on where you are and what kind of tree(s) you have, you may face an invasive insect problem, severe weather threats or timber theft.

Let us start with the invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). For the past several years, this non-native insect first popped up here and there throughout Virginia, and now it is known to be in nearly every county. If you have even one ash tree, you should decide now if you want to save it. Without preventative treatment, it will mostly likely succumb to the borer, which already has killed thousands of trees in Virginia’s cities and countryside and between.

For your yard
Step 1: Determine if you have an ash tree.

Step 2: Decide if you want to save it.

Step 3a: If so, contact a certified arborist for treatment options.

Step 3b: If not, make a plan to have it removed now or as soon as the first sign of decline is noticed.

Waiting to remove an ash tree once it is dead is risky and more expensive because of its extra brittle nature.

For your woods
While ash only makes up about 2 percent of the trees in Virginia’s forests, where present, it is often a significant component of the forest.

Step 1: Scout for single ash trees or a group of them. If you have one, you likely have more than one.

Step 2: If they are of merchantable size for either pulpwood or saw-timber, consider having a salvage harvest by working with a consulting forester.

Step 3: If there are not enough trees for a harvest, console yourself that these dead trees will be great wildlife habitat as standing snags and eventually woody debris on the forest floor.

For more information on ash identification, decision-making points and treatment options go to:

Moving on to severe weather. We are approaching hurricane season. Your trees and/or forests may lie in the path. What should you do before and after?

For your yard
Healthy trees with good branching structure are more resistant to damage than those with damaged roots (because of construction or compaction) and/or those with co-dominant stems and large branches.

Depending on the age of the tree and other circumstances, pruning can improve branch architecture and soil work can increase root health. These things take time and the experience of a certified arborist to address. Find a certified arborist near you through"> or

So what to do after a storm has damaged one or more of your trees? First of all, be safe! Be aware of downed powerlines and other hazards as you return home or venture out.

Second, take pictures and/or video to document damage for possible insurance claims and general recordkeeping.

Thirdly, plan the clean-up operation. Even though you might save money doing it yourself, unless you have the proper protective equipment and training, leave the chainsaw work to someone else. Following a storm, there are many dangers to include wood that is under pressure that makes chainsaw use even more dangerous.

Lastly, after the clean-up, contact a certified arborist to determine which trees are beyond help, which can be restored and which will be fine as they are. The arborist can present options for you to consider based on your budget and the value you place on certain trees.

For your woods
As with yards, a healthy forest is more resilient to hurricane damage, but it’s not a matter of working with individual trees but rather a history of managing your property for a diversity of species.

If your timber is damaged, work with the Virginia Department of Forestry to assess the damage and get recommendations for a possible salvage harvest to maybe recover some value but at least clean up the mess. This, like the yard, is not the place to practice your chainsaw skills. Downed trees will be under tremendous tension, torque and compression. Even professional loggers are hesitant to work in these situations. Safety first.

Lastly, timber theft. While stealing trees may seem like a farfetched idea to some, it happens far too frequently. There is no “for your yard” section here, so read on if relevant or curious.

While single high-value trees are occasionally stolen under the cover of darkness with muffled chainsaws, this kind of theft is rare. Most often timber is stolen as part of an existing timber sale arrangement. This can happen either unintentionally with poorly marked property boundaries or on purpose with property owned by absentee landowners who may not ever notice.

Increasingly unscrupulous timber buyers have become more sophisticated with cleverly written contracts that landowners sign which basically gives the buyer written permission to harvest the timber and not pay for the full value or amount harvested.

One trick is to promise final payment “upon successful completion of the job.” The crook will leave behind a junk piece of equipment or a few low value trees marked for harvest and, as such, “never complete the job” and not present the final payment. This is certainly not ethical, but neither is it illegal as the law is currently written.

The responsibility is on the landowner to carefully read the contract, have it reviewed by an attorney and work with a reputable timber buyer in the first place. Generally, most landowners are better off financially and otherwise to sell timber with the assistance of a consulting forester who knows the buyers and can steer around this and other potential pitfalls.

Loggers and timber buyers as a whole are honest, hardworking folk. Like any industry, there are individuals who cheat, connive and take advantage of the uninformed. If you are a landowner considering a timber harvest, your first contact should be to the Virginia Department of Forestry for assistance and resources to help you have a positive outcome.

Your trees, be they in the yard or woods, are an asset. An asset that continues to grow and increase in value. Like most assets, there is a certain amount of risk associated. With planning and management, these risks are reduced.

For more information on the general care of yard trees, contact your local extension office and for more on caring for your woodland, contact the local Virginia Department of Forestry.

Based in Madison, the writer is a Virginia Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources for the Northern District. You may contact him at 540-948-6881 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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