Tag Archives: forestry

Fighting Wildfires with Inmates

This New York Times article explores a trend in some States for using inmates to fight wildfires.  They cost less than free firefighters. In some states they earn $1 per hour, much less in some. They are happy to be outdoors and doing something constructive.

Yet, this idea leaves me feeling uneasy. Firefighting is a hazardous job. Workers should do it of their own accord and be fairly paid. Isn’t there a professional element involved, too? Inmates labor should not be used to undercut other workers, even if it saves money.

We should also ask questions about why we have so many prisoners in the US. That’s a more urgent problem.

Use GIS to study cover type changes

The Penn Pilot web site provides historical aerial photos for most of Pennsylvania. You can either view the photos on the site or download them to use with other applications. Recently, in GIS class we used ArcGIS 9.2 to position the old aerial photos from 1937 over a current map of the southern portion of the Waynesboro Watershed using a process called georeferencing. Much of the area that is now the reservoir and its watershed was actively farmed. Here is an image of the map layout showing the farm fields outlined in green. (Click on the image to see a full screen version.)


When we remove the overlaid aerial photo we can see what the land looks like today with just the bouhdaries of the old fields. It’s evident that when forestry students in the 1950’s started working in the watershed they put the pine plantations on the old fields. This makes a lot of sense considering that it is much harder to put a plantation in existing forest.
historic_watershed2.jpgFor instructions of how to perform this operation click here. To use Penn Pilot click here.

New Jungles Prompt Debate on Rain Forests

This article in yesterday’s New York Times highlights debate over the importance of regenerated or new forests in tropical rainforest conservation. The article concentrates on a farm in Panama that has since regrown into what appears to be a tropical forest.

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

The debate among scientists is whether the new forests can be considered as replacement for old growth forests that are ecologically richer. Some feel that new forests can mitigate deforestation in other areas. Others believe that the new forests can’t support all the endangered species that an undisturbed forest can. Once scientist characterized the new forests as a “caricature” of a real forest.

In the US virtually all the existing forests are regenerated forests. Many of them are indistinguishable from the original old growth forests. It is likely that over time the new tropical forests will be just like the old ones. Of course, this doesn’t mean that existing rainforests shouldn’t be protected as zealously as possible!


Photo credits: Tropical rainforest in Honduras Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Free Source of Forestry Photos


Forest technology students often need images for reports, presentations, and web pages. Sometimes it’s hard to find a picture that you can legally use due to copyright issues. One great source of images is Forestry Images. It seems to be housed at the University of Georgia. Most images can be downloaded in a variety of sizes. For the larger sized you need to sign up for a free membership.

Then all you need to do is cite the image according to the recommendations on the page. For example, this black walnut image: 
Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulurist, Bugwood.org

Eucalyptus Genome

Look here for a major announcement from CSIRO (Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization), the Australian research organization about an international effort to sequence the eucalyptus genome. Eucalyptus is prized for its high quality fiber for paper production, fast growth, strong wood, and medicinal properties. There are over 400 species of eucalyptus in Australia!

The species I worked with in Africa, E. camuldulensis, had a large number of varieties and hybrids. The French researchers I met in Burkina Faso had a map showing hundreds of distinct races of river redgum, as camaldulensis is also know. With a species this variable, knowledge of the genome will make it possible to breed for very many characteristics. The announcement says the genome will be made publicly available.

E.camaldulensis was chosen by aid organizations and scientists to plant in west africa countries as a fast growing fuelwood species in the arid Sahel. Ironically, when the plantations grew, many villagers didn’t want to use the wood as fuel or charcoal. Instead they prized the long, straight poles for construction, both for roofs for huts and as supports for molds for concrete structures. They also valued the leaves for medicinal use; homemade Vicks Vaporub. If you think about it, there choice made sense. It is a waste to burn high quality timber.

Anyway, this is an amazing project, well worth watching.