Welcome Leif Riddervold to VA Forestry and Wildlife Group

We are proud to announce that Leif Riddervold has joined the team at Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group. Leif is well known and respected in Central Virginia from his recent work as Natural Resource Manager for Bundoran Farm where he wore many hats. Leif has an extensive background in environmental science, geology, agriculture, conservation biology and even mycology (he is a serious mushroom hunter and expert). Leif is a long time resident of Albemarle County and currently lives on a farm in Covesville. We are very excited to have Leif as part of the team and look forward to all the great things he will bring to the company.  Leif is a wealth of knowledge, so feel free to contact him through our Contact Page with natural history questions.

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Spring Fire Season Winds Down

Spring came about 3 weeks early this year, and had us scrambling to squeeze all of the burning we had planned in before things got too green.  We were mostly successful, but a few projects will have to wait until next year.  With a little luck and decent weather, we hope to do some burning in the mountains into the middle of May.  It has been a challenging season with mild weather causing a very early green up.  This was then followed by Red Flag days with very low humidity and high winds that caused lots of wildfires all over the state.  Most notably were the fires in Rockbridge and Allegheny counties that burned thousands of acres.  Needless to say, this put a halt on our planned burns for over that way.  Even with all the recent rain, there are numerous burn bans still in place in certain counties and on all Department of Game lands.

So given all the obstacles, we accomplished quite a bit.  Most of our recent burning has focused on native grass meadows, primarily for northern bobwhite habitat.  We burned over 100 acres of grasslands in Virginia in 2012. See some pictures of a few of these burns below.

If you haven’t seen it yet, pick up the latest issue of Virginia Sportsman magazine (April/May issue) and browse through it.  You will find an interesting article written by Brian about prescribed fire and it’s role as a land management tool.   www.vasportsman.com

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USDA Inititative for Grasslands and Wetlands

Please visit the link below from our friends at the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative to read about further efforts to promote grasslands and wetlands.

http://bringbackbobwhites.org/newsroom/in-the-news/225-usda-initiative-for-grassland-and-wetlands-commended

In Virginia, there are tons of programs to protect forested land, but outside of the Farm Bill programs, grasslands are virtually ignored. New to the grassland scene in Virginia is the Smithsonian, which through their Virginia Working Landscapes (www.vaworkinglandscapes.org) program advocates for native grassland and meadow restoration.

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First burn for 2012

Burn season has officially begun here at Virginia Forestry and Wildlife. We were able to sneak in a field burn just before the snow started falling on Friday night. This particular burn is part of a quail habitat restoration project that we are working on in the northern Piedmont. The 30 acre field has begun its transformation from a recently abandoned fescue pasture to quality wildlife habitat. Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a cool season pasture grass introduced from Europe and is one of the most common species seen across rural Virginia. Although it makes a beautiful blanket of green in the spring and fall, fescue has had disastrous impacts on our native wildlife, including Northern bobwhite “quail.” By forming dense mats of vegetation, fescue blocks the growth of other plants (one reason it is so popular in pastures) and forms a monoculture of grass. Quail chicks are unable to run through this dense grass and chase insects. Also, there are few insects to be found as no flowers or broadleaf forbs are typically found. There are very few things that like fescue in our natural world. Walk across a fescue pasture and insects are tough to find let alone birds like quail or even rabbits. The first step in bringing wildlife back to rural Virginia is to eliminate this noxious weed. In the fall of 2011 we sprayed the fescue in this 30 acre field using a glyphosate based herbicide.

Our recent prescribed burn removed the dead vegetation, helped control invading woody plants and added nutrients back to the soil. This coming spring there will be a nice, clean, fertile seedbed ready to plant our native grass, forb and wildflower mix. We also plan to plant shrubs and nut and fruit bearing trees in certain areas to further enhance diversity. Within a few years this former fescue pasture will be a thriving wildlife haven full of pollinating insects, songbirds and with a little luck, whistling quail. White-tailed deer and wild turkey will be more frequent visitors of the property to take advantage of the excellent cover for fawning/nesting and the diverse food resources that currently do not exist on the farm. Another recipient of this restoration project will be the resident barn owl that currently uses the old barn. With the creation of the native meadow, there will be a significant increase in deer mice, meadow voles and short-tailed shrews which are preferred foods of the barn owl.

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Burning in the New Year

Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group wishes everyone a happy holiday season and hope you are enjoying the milder winter weather this year to get out afield. We are excited for a new year and have lots of great projects lined up fro 2012 already!

If you live in the Keswick area of Albemarle County, be sure to pick up the November and December issues of Keswick Life magazine. VFWG contributed a two part article on bobwhite quail for the magazine. Also, join Brian on January 21st in Front Royal as part of a roundtable discussion on native grassland management. Brian will join a panel of experts to answer questions about native meadows, wildlife management and ecological restoration. Here is a link to the sponsoring organization, VA Working Landscapes: http://vaworkinglandscapes.org/

We have already begun planning for the spring 2012 burn season and hope to get lots of prescribed fire on the ground this year. We will be maintaining native grass/meadow stands as well as upland oak restoration work in the mountains using fire. If you are interested in having us burn for you this year, be sure to contact us soon in case we need to apply for an exemption to the burn ban, which is in effect beginning mid-February and lasting through April. You may contact us at: info@vaforestwild.com or at bwmorse@gmail.com
IMPORTANT: The deadline for exemption applications is February 1st, so contact us ASAP for prescribed fire work this spring. The spring time is the BEST time to burn native meadows and for controlling unwanted hardwoods in forested systems.

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Hearing “bob-white” There is hope!

After years of wallowing in the saddening despair of the bobwhite decline, this summer has given me glimpses of hope. For those that need catching up, here is a brief summary of what is has happened to quail populations in Virginia and across the Northern Bobwhite’s range. This is taken directly from the Northern Bobwhite Quail Action Plan for Virginia. The entire pdf can be found at www.dgif.virginia.gov/quail
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“Populations of northern bobwhite quail and other bird species with related habitat requirements have experienced severe long-term declines in Virginia over the past 50 years. In colonial times, farming created habitats that began to favor quail. As land was cleared and farmed, quail populations flourished. For perhaps 200 years or more, quail were one of the most common birds of the rural Virginia landscape. During the first half of the 20th century, as a shift from a rural-farm to urban-industrial economy began, idled and abandoned farms continued to support quail populations. However, since then major land use changes have taken place. Virginia’s agricultural landscape became dominated by large, intensively managed crop fields, fescue pastures, and hayfields.
Total farmland acres declined. In 1900, approximately 80% of Virginia’s landscape was in open agricultural land. Today agricultural lands make up only 34% of our landscape. Many of the formerly open farm fields are now dominated by intensively managed pine forests. While cut-over timber lands still provide some early-succession cover, plant diversity is low and productivity for quail is poor. The loss of early succession habitat, particularly nesting cover and brood range, has been identified as the most significant factor limiting quail populations. The bobwhite is a legacy species in Virginia and their decline has led to concerns about ecological, economic, and recreational impacts throughout rural Virginia. Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) indicate that quail have declined 4.2% annually between 1966 and 2007.”
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I have spoken with lots of different people regarding these iconic birds, from birdwatchers to farmers and the common theme is that quail have pretty much disappeared from much of the Virginia landscape. Fortunately, there are folks here that are determined to see this trend reversed. Comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders, the Virginia Quail Council hopes to stop the decline and begin to build quality habitat in the hopes of helping these birds and other early successional habitat dependent wildlife species. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has stepped up their efforts as well. Under the leadership of Marc Puckett, our state wildlife agency has made saving quail one of its top priorities.

As members of the Virginia Quail Council, Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group is passionate about quail and the restoration of quality habitat. We currently have several habitat restoration projects in various stages of establishment. One of our first projects to create quail habitat was to eradicate fescue and plant a mixture of native warm season grasses and forbs at Castle Hill in Albemarle County. This will be the second growing season for the planting and we have been keeping any eye on progress throughout the spring and summer. While standing in chest high grasses and wildflowers back in June I heard a whistle. Stopping to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, the “bob-white” range out. Needless to say I was ecstatic. Bobwhite were heard on the next several visits to the farm as well. There is still a lot of fescue on the farm, but this is a promising start. Within the past month we can report quail have been seen and heard at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, an organic farm in Rappahannock County as well as on a few orchards in Nelson County.

We have momentum, but we need more habitat, more people to become aware and educated, more fire on the landscape and the continued work of the Virginia Quail Council. It is my hope that one day my future child (he/she is on the way!!!) will be walking through the fields with me and when I get excited about hearing that bobwhite, he/she can say “Jeez Dad, it’s just another quail, we hear them all the time.”

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Spring Fever

Starting in the middle of February, I really get sick of winter.  I doubt I am alone in this sentiment.  In our neck of the woods in Virginia we had a cold winter, but little snow compared to last year.  The spring fever is setting in.  Luckily, just as I am starting to get antsy, the natural word starts to show signs of life again and provides that touch of optimism that we need to see us through these last few weeks of winter.  Here are a few observations from the past two weeks.

Skunk cabbage

While strolling through the beautiful forests at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County, Ches and I came across this unusual plant just starting to poke through the leaf litter.  Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one of the first woodland plants to emerge in the year popping up its characteristic hood just a few inches above the ground.  Skunk cabbage grows in wet soils preferring creek bottoms and wetlands.   Skunk cabbage produces a pungent odor resembling carrion used to attract pollinating insects such as beetles and flies.  Another interesting and unusual characteristic of skunk cabbage is its ability to produce heat (thermogenesis).  This allows the plant to melt the often frozen ground that it grows through in February and possibly assisting in scent movement.  If you are walking through wet areas, keep an eye to the ground for these unique plants.

Woodcock

Last week I was at the bottom of my driveway at dusk and heard the amusing peent of the American woodcock (Scolopax minor) across the road on a neighbor’s property.  A male woodcock was in the throws of one of the most amazing courtship rituals in the avian world.  If you have never witnessed this display in early spring, then you are missing out.  The male’s crepuscular theatrics begins with choosing an open field or even dirt roads to begin.  He then ascends into the air seemingly going straight into space making little twittering noises with its feathers.  Near the top of its ascent the male begins to circle, and then out of nowhere tumbles to the earth with nasally calls of peent. Amazingly the woodcock will land exactly where it started, and begin the ritual flight all over again.  If one is reverent and remains still and hidden, the woodcock will gladly entertain an audience into the dark.  Woodcock prefer open habitats such as grassy and brushy fields, wet meadows, and alder thickets.  Just one more reason to manage for early successional habitats!

Other signs we have observed of Spring’s imminent return are the swelling of maple and plum buds, bluebirds investigating boxes, songbirds practicing their art, and the sweet night chorus of spring peepers.  With the recent rains, we are headed out to find forested wetlands with the hopes of getting a glimpse of spotted salamanders.  And pretty soon the woods will be echoing with the gobbles of wild turkeys with only one thing on their minds.  Get outside and go find spring for yourself.  I promise it will brighten your day.

Let us know what you find!

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Tree planting: Chestnuts and Orchards

Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group has had a busy winter with several planting projects.  Though we have had to dodge snowstorms and lots of really cold weather, we have trees and shrubs in the ground becoming acclimated to their new environments.

Here is a glimpse of what we have been working on…….

At VFWG, we are dedicated to restoring the American chestnut to our eastern forests, and we are happy that our clients are too. For more information about American chestnuts and the blight that has decimated them check out the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation website at http://www.ppws.vt.edu/griffin/accf.html or the Link from our website.

We have established two experimental chestnut plantings this winter in Virginia, one on either side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The seedlings are from either hybrids comprising 15/16ths American chestnut genes or 100% American chestnut from blight resistant parents.  While there is no guarantee that these seedlings have inherited the genes needed to resist the blight, we are optimistic and crossing our fingers.  It will likely be several years before we can determine whether our planted seedlings will become resistant, mature trees.  We have done everything we can for them by planting on good sites and providing protection from browsing wildlife (deer, rabbits and voles can all damage new seedlings).

Chestnut seedlings

Planting Wildlife Orchards

An often overlooked aspect of wildlife habitat management are the various species of fruiting trees that produce what we call soft mast.  Soft mast is generally considered the fleshy fruits such as apples, persimmons, grapes, etc.  When wildlife folks say hard mast, we generally refer to the nuts (acorns, chestnuts, hickory nuts, etc.).   The dormant season is a great time to plant trees and shrubs because they are not actively growing and the shock of transplant is less.  Nurseries usually sell trees as either bare root, container or ball and burlap (B &B). Containerized trees and shrubs can be planted at any time, but bare root seedlings won’t be available until they are dormant.

We like to start planting as soon as the trees loose their leaves and go into dormancy.  In our part of Virginia this usually occurs by the middle of November.  Early winter is a great time to plant.  The weather is (usually) pleasant, the ground is not yet frozen and it gives the trees a chance to settle into their new homes and establish some roots over the winter months.  This is important when the hot, dry summer arrives and gives those early winter planted seedlings a better chance at survival than those planted in the spring.  The last few summers in Virginia have been hot and dry, and the new seedlings will parish if not watered and nurtured through their first summer.

That is not saying you won’t run into difficulty planting in early winter as we found out last December (2010).  Abnormally early cold weather and precipitation caused a few headaches as we tried to get bare root trees in the ground and out of the freezing elements.  With the help of an auger we were able to get everything into the ground!

One of these orchards in the Shenandoah Valley was planted with a wide variety of soft mast producing trees and shrubs.  We carefully chose varieties that would grow in the Valley climate and would also be disease resistant.  After carefully choosing a site with adequate soils, sunlight and drainage, we planted apples, crabapples (including a native variety), chickasaw plums, mulberries, pears, apples, elderberries and persimmons.  This diversity will provide fruit to wildlife throughout the summer and into late fall with different fruits being available at different times.

We will be actively planting trees during warmer days until the buds begin breaking in March, and look forward to seeing our seedlings come alive with a burst of green this coming spring.

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Welcome to our blog and 2011

This site will serve as Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group’s blog and news page.  It is linked  to the homepage and should be easy to find.

We had a great year in 2010 and accomplished a lot in our first real year of business.  With many habitat and forestry projects up and running we are excited to move into 2011 with lots of momentum.

This blog will serve many functions.  We hope to keep visitors updated on our what we are up too and provide educational posts about our natural world.  The blog will also let visitors know about seminars, conference and other happenings as well as provide a forum to exchange information with other nature and outdoor enthusiasts and professionals.  So feel free to ask us any questions from plant and animal identification to habitat management to timber values.

Happy New Years and we look forward to hearing from you in 2011.

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Writings of Ches Goodall

Check back soon for writings authored by Ches Goodall, Consulting Forester and co-founder of the Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group.

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