Blue Spruce Damage Indicates Elevated Risk of Douglas-fir Tussock Moth Outbreak

Douglas-fir tussock moth
Source: Forest Health Highlights in Washington, 2016, by DNR and U.S. Forest Service.

Recently I have begun to observe damage to ornamental blue spruce throughout the area of Colville, Washington. Upon closer inspection of these trees, I found that they are being defoliated by the Douglas-fir tussock moth. The Douglas-fir tussock moth is a native defoliator of Douglas-fir, true firs (such as grand fir) and spruce. For reasons unknown, a year or two prior to an outbreak of Douglas-fir tussock moth on forested land, we tend to see defoliation of ornamental trees such as blue spruce. Given the number and area of defoliated blue spruce I have been seeing, it is likely we will have an outbreak of the Douglas-fir tussock moth sometime within the next two years. Unfortunately, no relationship has been found between the location of the sentinel trees and the forested areas that will be defoliated in the future. In other words, we know that there will likely be an outbreak, but we do not know exactly where it will occur.

Outbreaks of Douglas-fir tussock moth are cyclical, typically occurring every 7 to 14 years. On average, outbreaks last 2 to 4 years. The last outbreak began in 2008 (Figure 1); therefore, we are due for another.

 

Lifecycle of the Douglas-fir tussock moth

The Douglas-fir tussock moth spends the winter months in the egg stage. Eggs are protected in gray, hairy masses that are approximately an inch in size. An egg mass can contain as many as 350 eggs. The eggs will hatch in late May or early June, depending upon temperatures.

The caterpillar (larvae) will be present from June through August. The caterpillars are quite hairy, with two long hairy tufts projecting from the head and the rear end. They also have four dense tufts of hair on their back, called tussocks, which are whitish in coloration with red tips.

The caterpillars pupate in July-August. Cocoons are grayish-brown, about one inch in size, and can be found on the foliage and trunk of trees as well as in the understory.

The pupae develop into moths and begin emerging in late July. They will continue to be active through November. The females are gray-brown, with large abdomens and are wingless. The males have gray-brown forewings and reddish-brown hind wings. They also have large, feathery antennae.

 

Damage: What to look for

The larvae feed on new needles in the upper crown first. These needles will turn an orangish-brown color (Figure 2). Overtime, the caterpillars will disperse to the lower crown and begin defoliating needles there. The larvae will feed on both new and old needles, sometimes completely defoliating the tree.

trees defoliated by the Douglas-fir tussock moth
Figure 2. Left: Ornamental blue spruce defoliated by the Douglas-fir tussock moth. Center: Ornamental blue spruce and white fir defoliated by the Douglas-fir tussock moth. Right: Close-up of blue spruce defoliation by the Douglas-fir tussock moth. Photos: Melissa Fischer/DNR.

In addition to defoliation, you may find the moth in one of its life stages, depending upon the time of year. Another thing to look for is silk and/or frass ( poop) on the branches (Figure 3).

Signs of Douglas-fir tussock moth
Figure 3. Left: Douglas-fir tussock moth caterpillars feeding on blue spruce foliage. Right: Silk and frass (poop) produced by the Douglas-fir tussock moth. Photos: Melissa Fischer/DNR.

Management

Defoliation by the Douglas-fir tussock moth can cause top and branch kill, which can lead to reduced vigor and growth loss. This can increase susceptibility to bark beetle attack or infection by diseases. Complete defoliation or several years in a row of defoliation can lead to mortality.

Douglas-fir tussock moth is usually controlled over time by natural enemies such as predators, parasites, viruses, cold temperatures, and/ or starvation (eating themselves out of house and home), but can also be managed through use of insecticide treatments.

Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Bt) is an insecticide that is specific to Lepidoptera larvae. Its specificity is advantageous because it does not affect other insects, such as the natural enemies that help reduce populations. Because Bt is specific to the larval stage, it would have to be applied when the Douglas-fir tussock moth is in the caterpillar stage.

In forested settings, severe damage can be prevented through thinning. It would be best to remove host trees (Douglas-fir, grand fir, Engelmann spruce) and favor the retention of non-host trees (ponderosa pine, western larch, lodgepole pine) thereby reducing the amount of food available. Additionally, thinning breaks the crown continuity within a stand, so that when the caterpillars disperse, many will fall to the ground and dessicate or be eaten by passing birds.

If you think you may have a sentinel tree on your property, I would love to know about it! Feel free to contact me via Melissa.Fischer@dnr.wa.gov.

By Melissa Fischer, forest health specialist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northeast Region, melissa.fischer@dnr.wa.gov 

Never Too Early to Plan for Late Fall-Early Winter Outdoor Burning

winter-time burn piles
Building these slash piles many weeks before burning allowed the materials to dry out and be almost fully consumed when eventually burned. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

With fall weather just around the corner people are starting to think of when and how they will burn this year’s silviculture (forestry-related) debris.

In this article I will focus on outdoor burning under Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules. The rules apply to burning silvicultural material (wood, branches, bark, etc., left after thinning, pruning or harvesting forest trees) on lands that are:

  • Under DNR wildfire jurisdiction (see insert below)
  • Outside of a designated Urban Growth Area (UGA).

Ten Tips for Success

Here are some tips to ensure you are successful and safe when burning silviculuture debris this fall and winter after temperatures cool and fire dangers recede.

  1. Know the rules – Visit DNR’s Outdoor Burning web page to see if you need a permit to burn. Not all outdoor fires require a permit. Whether or not you need a permit, be sure to call 1-800-323 BURN or check DNR’s fire danger web page before you burn. DNR monitors local fire dangers and air quality issues through the year and may need to restrict or shut down outdoor burning in some areas, even in winter.
  2. Locate the pile in a good place – Piles should be 10 to 20 feet away from trees. Larger slash piles may need to be further away from trees. If protecting your trees is a concern, make sure to burn on a calm day. Wind can easily push a fire’s heat sideways and scorch trees more than 20 feet away. Be aware of what is under your slash pile, too, because burning can damage soil as well as tree roots.
  3. Building tall piles are better – A taller pile is better because it often will burn cleaner and hotter. Just like building a campfire you want to form a pyramid of material. At that bottom of that pyramid you’ll need tinder and kindling to get the larger material above to burn. Needles and small twigs are excellent sources of tinder and kindling to get your slash pile burning efficiently.
  4. Start building piles in spring and summer – Building burn piles in the spring and summer allows them to dry out before fall. Dry material ignites easily and will burn cleaner and more completely.
  5. Cover piles before fall rains – When summer nears its end, cover between a quarter and a third of your slash pile so there will be a dry spot to ignite it. Pick the area you cover carefully; it should have enough dry, fine fuels to easily ignite. Tarps or plastic sold in large sheets make excellent slash pile covers. For a more economical solution, check with local lumber yards to see if they are giving away used lumber wraps — the materials lumber mills use to cover the loads of 2×4’s they ship to lumber yards and home improvement stores.
  6. Build a fuel break around your pile – Clear away all flammable debris for at least 24 inches around your slash pile to prevent the fire from spreading. If your burn is one that requires a permit, follow any special directions indicated on the permit.
  7. Burn with snow – If you live where it gets cold enough for snow to stick on the ground, wait until a couple of inches of snow have accumulated before igniting your pile. If you are not in snow country, burn after several good rains to insure that the ground and any nearby vegetation are moist.
  8. Burn in the fall – Fall or early winter are great times to burn because your material will be dryer than if you waited until spring. Fall burning also takes advantage of the approaching wet, cold winter weather that can help assure the fire stays out after the burn. Statistically, most wildfires caused by escaped outdoor burning occur in the spring, not late fall or early winter.
  9. Ignite your pile with a propane torch – A propane torch is a safe and efficient way to get piles ignited. Never, ever use gasoline to ignite a pile. To see what can happen if you use gasoline, visit www.youtube.com and type in “gas brush piles ignition” to see videos on the many things what can go wrong when you use gasoline to ignite slash piles. Now that you’re online, google “propane torch” for find places to buy a propane torch if you don’t already have one.
  10. Check your pile – Check your pile after you think it is out. Use a shovel to dig in the pile’s ashes to ensure that it is truly out. Numerous spring and summer wildfires linked to outdoor burning are started by slash piles that were burned the previous winter, some even with snow on the ground! What happens is that a pile may burn down and appear to go out but some of the material will get mixed with dirt underneath and smolder throughout winter and into spring. Then, with warmer weather, the ground dries out, the still-smoldering material finally gets exposed to air and nearby dry materials. The result? The next wildfire. No matter how sure you are that your wintertime slash pile burn is out, check the pile again — at last twice — when temperatures warm up in spring.

How do I know if my land is protected from wildfire by DNR? Look at your annual property tax statement. If it contains a charge for the Forest Fire Protection Assessment (FFPA) then your land is under DNR’s wildfire protection jurisdiction. Owners of private and state “forest land” pay this fee to help support DNR’s wildfire preparedness, education, training and other protection activities. FFPA rates are established in law by the legislature (RCW 76.04.610), and are assessed on the unimproved forested or partially forested parcels, excluding structures.


By Guy Gifford, landowner assistance forester & fire prevention and Firewise coordinator, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northeast Region, guy.gifford@dnr.wa.gov

Want answers to your questions about outdoor burning? Contact your nearest DNR Region Office, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Habitat Logs: How to Help the Creepy Crawlies on the Forest Floor

rough-skinned newt
Downed logs provide shelter to many forest species, including the rough-skinned newt, which sometimes overwinters in old logs. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

The forest floor is rich with life, largely unseen, largely small. Salamanders and small mammals creep and crawl about in the great struggle for survival that is nature. While battling with red teeth and claws, they need quiet places to rest, reproduce, feed and regroup. All of this drama quietly unfolds beneath our very feet, and downed logs play an integral role.

These creatures live beneath and within the rich decayed material that is derived from our forests. Wood and leaves break down mostly through fungus, enhanced by the actions of insects, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals that chew wood, and move spores about. Dead trees that have fallen over and become down logs offer some of the richest habitats in this universe of decay.

Many amphibians and small mammals make use of cavities in down wood for important life history phases. For example, many salamanders breed and feed in decayed wood and use spaces in rotting logs for critical cover. Red-backed voles and deer mice use interstitial spaces in dead logs and snags for cover and places to look for food. Douglas squirrels cache cones in down logs and use cavities large enough for them to enter. Pine marten and snowshoe hares covet large cavities in, and cover under, down logs.

Tim Brown and Tara Chestnut
Tim Brown shows Tara Chestnut, a landowner, how he is turning a recently downed log into a home for wildlife. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Yet, the down log can be a solid eminence for many years, and these animals sometimes have to wait for time to open up the logs to allow their entrance. Breaks, cracks and holes created by physical damage, animals or the action of fungus can take a long time to appear, or might never exist at all, before the log crumbles away into soil.

Can we help? Of course! Targeted management action can enhance this process and provide immediate habitat for these small, unheralded but essential organisms. The normal tools of forestry applied in the cause of habitat creation will suffice; in other words, a chainsaw and a thoughtful operator.

Tim Brown has been creating wildlife habitats out of trees for over 42 years. He got his start as a logger and firefighter, and progressed to become a nationally recognized leader in wildlife tree habitat techniques*. Tim recently spent a day with me in western Washington and we created a habitat log on a small forest landowner’s property near Mt. Rainier.

We located a recently toppled hemlock behind the home of Tara Chestnut, a local landowner, and with her permission we “worked it up” using Tim’s chainsaw and expertise. I asked Tim some questions as the work progressed.

What wildlife species will benefit from this work?

Lots. Including: salamanders, mollusks (snails and slugs), beetles and other arthropods, ants, spiders and many small mammals such as mice or voles.

What ecological process are you trying to imitate or encourage?

“I am trying to expedite the processes where the animals can get inside of the log to propagate, feed and hide.”

What species and type of log works the best?

“I look for logs that are still sound and not too soft. Any species is good, but in western Washington the best are, (in order), cedar, fir, hemlock and then any hardwoods like alder or cottonwood. Bigger is better, always.”

What about slope position or landscape location?

“Since many of these creatures we are targeting like moist places, the closer to the riparian areas the better.” Lying across, rather than down, a slope is preferred, as the uphill portion of the log will collect soil and moisture.

How do you make a habitat log?

Tim used his saw to cut into the log at various angles and provide entrances and cavities within the log for the use of small wildlife. He used his saw like a knife, plunging into the log at various angles. He prefers a 24-inch or larger blade for this kind of carving work.

“I make a series of slits and slashes into the log to allow wildlife to access the inside of the log right away. I put some cuts down low so that creatures on the ground can access the interior of the log. Slits should be about three times the saw’s width to be large enough for these small critters to enter.”

Making a habiutat log
Left: Tim Brown cuts a slab from a hemlock log. Center: Duff and vegetation are placed into chambers and slits carved into the log. Right: The finished product. Note the entrance on top. Similar slits on the lower edges allow for an alternate entrance.

Tim explained that the middle of the log was accessed by taking a big slab out of the top, about one-third of the way through, in an arc pattern. This works well, as it is a single cut, and then it sits back on top without having to fasten it on. Water will infiltrate and collect in the log along the cracks created by the cuts. Sometimes, people will nail the slab on. If you use steel nails make sure the log will never be cut up for wood; a heavy rock placed on top could do the trick.

After the slab is removed, slits and chambers are created in the center of the log. Chambers inside of the log are accessed by the slits that go all the way through, some out the bottom and side of the log. For small mammals, try to make the slits slightly wider by pushing the saw through three times or more.

Remove as much sawdust as possible so passages are not clogged.

For amphibians and mollusks, Tim adds soil and some organic material to give a jump-start to decay. He thinks small mammals prefer dry habitat, so try to keep the chambers clear for them; they will bring in nesting material.

“I often cut a suspended log so that it falls into contact with the ground. If it is hanging above ground, or there are branch stubs holding it up, decay won’t work as quickly. We want it to decay, and now we have instant habitat value from the entrances we created into the log.”

Tim has gone back and monitored logs like this one he has created over the years, and reports plentiful wildlife use of these created log habitats, including small rodents, marten and salamanders. He has even hollowed out larger logs to create bear dens. (Subject of a future article).

Down logs benefit many forest wildlife species, and provide opportunity for the small forest landowner to enhance habitats. Be creative. Use your saw to hollow out solid logs and help the little critters use them more, and sooner, in the decay process.

Let us know what you try, and send some pictures of your project!

There’s life in dead wood.

Contact us for more information or training on Tim’s wildlife tree techniques.

By Tim Brown, wildlife tree creation expert, 206-271-2020

and Ken Bevis, DNR stewardship wildlife biologist, Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov, 360-489-4802

*(Material used with copyright permission from Timothy K. Brown)

 

Citizen Science Tools for Washington’s Forest Landowners

Like many of you, my family treasures our four-generation ownership of a small patch of forest. Each summer, we watch a rufous hummingbird sitting on a lichen-cup nest, listen for the sound of squirrel-cut western larch cones bouncing off the roof, and await the July ripening of the first huckleberries, hoping we beat a bear to the crop. Our private stewardship also helps protect habitat and supports conservation beyond our property boundary. We actively work to maintain forest health that ensures the continuation of excellent habitat for nesting songbirds, burrowing mammals, and a host of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.

We live in an exciting time where the internet has birthed a new field: citizen science. The Oxford English Dictionary recently defined citizen science as “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.” Rapidly growing world-wide, public participation in research enables all of us to engage in the process of scientific investigation, right in our own backyards.

Citizen science tools allow observations made on private lands to aid the scientific community to learn about habitat needs and population trends of our native flora and fauna. People like us use websites or phone apps to collect and report data—easy as pie! In this article, I’d like to share several programs that can help Washington forest landowners identify and learn about plants and animals who share their land.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird makes it easy for citizens to report bird observations so scientists can analyze movements, distributions, and numbers of bird through time. Individuals can use eBird to view barcharts, range maps, and time period and location for any given species in a given region. eBird data supports Merlin — a bird identification learning app-that allows an observer to enter a few observations about an unknown bird and offers limited choices so the user can say “That’s my bird!” and immediately see its range map, photos, and key ID traits.

Similarly, the University of Washington Burke Museum Herbarium helped launch a low-cost phone app to help users identify Washington wildflowers. The app includes images, species descriptions, range maps, bloom period, and technical descriptions for more than 850 common wildflowers, shrubs, and vines that occur in Washington. To identify an unknown flower, users enter a series of observations and are then offered a small subset of possible matches, based on location. Getting to say “That’s my flower,” takes just a few minutes and doesn’t require an internet connection.

Have you ever seen milkweed or a monarch butterfly on your land? The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife invites you can join an exciting new citizen science project, the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper. This project is the first-ever effort to document locations for both monarch adults, larvae, and eggs found on milkweed, helping WSU researchers learn about monarch migration from Washington to coastal California over-wintering sites.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. They offer several citizen science programs for pollination species, including Bumblebee Watch. The website offers detailed species identification guides so the user can say “That’s my bee!”

The Xerces Society also offers landowners resources to improve habitats for native pollinators. Their book, Attracting Native Pollinators (2003), is packed with information about natural history of bees, butterflies, flies, beetles and wasps. Book Sections include ways to take action to create nest and foraging habitat in all kinds of landscapes. You can purchase and post their attractive Pollinator Habitat sign, to inform neighbors about your conservation efforts.

It is personally rewarding for me to share what I’ve learned on my own property with the wider community of scientists. The websites and phone apps make it easy and fun to both learn and share while I enjoy my family’s forest patch. Consider becoming a Washington citizen scientist today!

By Susan Ballinger, conservation fellow with the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, educator and active citizen scientist advocate. Her website is Wenatcheenaturalist.com

Announcements, Events and Other News

(If you are reading a paper copy of this newsletter, links for these events can be found at the WSU Extension Forestry website:  http://forestry.wsu.edu )

 

Forest and Range Owners Field Days

These out-in-the-woods, family-friendly events allow you to attend five or six different outdoor classes and workshops on topics like tree planting, weed control, thinning, tree diseases, mushroom-growing, and much more…

 

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning

If you own wooded property, our flagship course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own Forest Stewardship Plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

 

Invasive Forest Weed Control Field Practicums

  • Arlington (Snohomish County) September 30, 2017

Save these dates for an upcoming practicum near you:

 

Red Alder Management Workshop

  • Arlington (Snohomish County) October 6-7, 2017

  

Farm & Food Expo, November 3 & 4 at Spokane Community College

This event offers more than 75 classes to choose from in a wide array of topics for every farmer, gardener or foodie. It also has an entire track of forestry classes on forest health, wildlife, fire ecology and more. More information, opportunities for vendors, and tickets sales are online at www.FarmAndFoodExpo.org.

 

Succession Planning TIES TO THE LAND workshops

  • Ilwaco (Pacific County) October 21, 2017

Note:  Dates and locations for Ties to the Land workshops are determined by community interest. Contact Andy Perleberg at WSU Extension, 509-667-6540, or email andyp@wsu.edu for more information and to campaign for us to hold a workshop near you.

Few challenges that family forestland owners, farmers, ranchers, and other land-based family businesses face are more important than the issue of passing the business and its land base on to the following generation. Many small landowners want to preserve their family lands but don’t know how to involve family members in ownership and operation of their small land-based businesses.

This facilitated workshop focuses on ways to maintain family ties to the land from generation to generation, and is a mix of presentations and practical exercises to help families address tough issues. Each family will receive a copy of the Ties to the Land workbook which is designed to help families continue to improve and direct their communications at home. Topics covered will also be relevant to professionals working with landowner families. More information is available on the Ties to the Land website.

Can’t find the event you were looking for? Visit http://forestry.wsu.edu or contact: andyp@wsu.edu