What is Forestry? By: Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

Many consider the word forestry to only mean growing trees to cut for lumber, and in the old days that may have been true.  But the forest is much more than a place to produce wood fiber and has multiple uses it can be managed for. Many of these uses can be managed simultaneously with proper planning.  Here is a list of the major uses.

Wood:  The forest does supply a raw material that society depends on.  We each use wood fiber almost hourly.  Managing for wood involves encouraging the desired trees to grow at their fastest growth rate until mature, and then properly harvesting them in a way that is not detrimental to the soil and water.  Once harvested, the woodlands should be properly made ready for the next generation of trees.


Wildlife: The forest contains many species of wildlife, some hunted for sport, others not.  The forest can be managed to encourage individual species or a variety.  Management involves seeing that desired species have what they need to survive and reproduce, things like food, water, and protective cover.  Some wildlife can be managed along with timber and other uses, but it requires planning.


Recreation:  Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding, nature viewing, picnics; the list is long.  Management here includes proper trails layout, preserving special areas, protecting streams and vistas, etc.


Aesthetics:  The love of the sights, smells, and sounds of a forest is deeply entrenched in the human soul.  Management involves keeping the natural setting intact.  Other uses can be carried out with proper precautions.


Water Quality: In the mountainous terrain of our area, the forest has the important function of keeping soil from eroding into rivers and streams. Trees can be harvested without causing undue soil loss, but it must be carefully planned with properly laid out roads and protection of stream-sides.


There are other uses of the forest such as medicinals, fruits and nuts, and craft materials.  Whatever use you have in mind for your forest, it’s best to have a management plan and to properly implement it.  For more information on forest management, contact your local state forestry office.


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Hornets and Dirt Daubers By: Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

An earlier article covered wasps and yellow jackets, so here is a couple more stinging cousins.  All of these insects are in the insect family Vespidae, and are called Vespid wasps. 


Hornets: The most common one is the bald face hornet (Vespula maculata).  They have black and white patterns on their face, thorax and abdomen, and are around ¾ of inch long.  Adults drink nectar, fruit juices, and occasionally eat other insects.  Larvae feed on insects provided pre-chewed by adults.  In the spring a single female chews wood to build a small, pendant nest out of gray pulp.  The first generation includes only female workers, which bring food to the growing larva population and expand the nest.  The nest is usually constructed in the open and consists of many layers of cells that are covered to form an egg shaped shelter that can be over 2 feet long. The doorway is located at the bottom which is fiercely guarded, so beware.  They can sting repeatedly.  I’ve noticed that when a hornet gets after me, it tends to go for the head and face.  I’ve had them slam into my hat or forehead but not sting, sort of like a warning shot and I quickly get the message.   In late summer males mature from unfertilized eggs and mate.  They die along with old queens, workers, and any immature young.  Only young, mated females overwinter in soil or leaf litter.


There is foreign hornet in our area that was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s, called the European hornet. It’s quite large with a 1-1½ inches long body that is reddish brown on the front, and a yellow abdomen with dark cross-bands.  Its lifestyle is similar to other hornets, but they are carnivores, preying on other insects.  While not known to be aggressive, I have been stung by one and it was very painful.


Dirt Daubers: Also known as mud daubers or organ pipe mud daubers (Sceliphron caementarium).  These insects remind you of waspers, but have a thread-like waist that is longer.   Daubers are around 1-1 1/8 inches long, and usually appear black or bluish with a metallic sheen. They twitch their wings constantly.  Adults drink nectar, while larvae feed on spiders provided by the adult.  Dirt daubers are the loners of the Vespid family, forming no social colony. Using her mandibles (jaws), single female shapes moist mud into small balls and transports them to a vertical surface, where she builds tubular cells.  Into each cell the mother dauber stuffs 1 paralyzed spider immobilized by venom, lays 1 egg on the spider, then closes the cell with mud.  Additional cells are built parallel to the first.  Each larva feeds on its spider until adulthood, and then digs out to start life.


A good book on insect identification is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. 


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News Bees By Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

I’m sure you’ve been outside and a yellow and black bee-like critter flies up to your head and just hovers in midair, staring at you.  Growing up I was told they were “news bees” and they were trying to tell me something.  Another name for news bees is hover fly, and as the name suggests these creatures have an amazing ability to hover perfectly still like a hummingbird or helicopter


I’ve seen 2 different kinds of news bees, one that looks sort of like a yellow jacket only bigger, and the other is much smaller with a skinny body.  Both have yellow and black markings and both belong to a group of insects called “flower flies”.  They are not bees and so cannot sting, but they do mimic their appearance for protection.  If you ever see one sitting still you will note that they have only 2 wings instead of the 4 that all bees, yellow jackets, etc. have.  There are over 900 species of flower flies, and most of them have the yellow/ black markings.  As their name suggests, flower flies feed on flower nectar as adults, while the larvae feed on dead plant material.  Some are beneficial by preying on destructive aphids.


According to mountain folklore, news bees are an omen.  If the bee hovering near you is mostly yellow, it means good luck, especially if you can get one to light on your finger.   If the bee is mostly black, and it flies into a window and back out again, it means bad luck, perhaps even death.  If a news bee is buzzing close to your ear, it is a sign that important news is coming your way. My mom said that as kids they would talk to the bees while they hovered close by.


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Wasps, a Summer Time Caution By: Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

Everyone knows and fears wasps or waspers as my family calls them.   What you may not know is that the wasp family includes other stinging insects in our area, including yellow jackets, hornets, and dirt daubers.  They are all in the insect family vespidae, and are referred to as vespid wasps.


Some vespids like dirt daubers are solitary, while others live in colonies and show some degree of social behavior.  This ranges from groups of cooperating fertile females, to a caste system in which there is a single fertile queen and a large population of smaller female workers.  Here is a short discussion of the two most common Vespid members


Paper Wasps:  There are several species in our neck of the woods, but all of them have long legs, a very narrow waist, and are mostly reddish brown to black, with one having yellow stripes. Adults feed on nectar and juice from crushed or rotting fruit, while the larva feed on insects provided pre-chewed by adults.  The paper wasp lifestyle goes like this: In the spring several females work together to construct a paper nest made of wood that is chewed and regurgitated. It consists of a single circular tier of cells attached by a narrow stalk to the undersurface of a ceiling.  One female becomes the dominant queen.  The first few generations of eggs are all females, cared for as larvae by unmated female workers.  Unfertilized eggs produce fertile males, which mate with females in late summer. Only mated young queens overwinter under leaf letter or stone piles.  Old queens, workers, and larvae all die. Paper wasps are more tolerant of people and minor disturbances than are hornets and yellow jackets, but sting they will and it is pretty painful. It seems to me they get meaner the hotter it gets.


Yellow Jackets: Our variety is the Eastern yellow jacket.  These mean little guys are ½ – ¾ inches long with black and yellow bodies.  They usually nest in the ground or at ground level, constructing a multi-tiered, covered nest of paper. Adults feed on nectar, while the young larvae feed on insects pre-chewed by the adults.  In the spring a mated female constructs a small nest and daily brings food to the larvae until the first all female brood matures and serve as workers, extending the nest and tending the young.  In late summer, males develop from unfertilized eggs and mate. With winter, everybody dies except mated females, who overwinter under leaf litter and in the soil.  Yellow jackets can be pests at picnics, being attracted to food and sweet beverages.  Females sting repeatedly at the least provocation, and will chase you great distances.


Wasp stings normally just involve pain and some swelling, and can be treated with an ice pack, and perhaps taking an antihistamine for the swelling. If you develop abnormal swelling, difficulty breathing, or other unusual symptoms, you may be having an allergic reaction and seek medical treatment immediately.


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The Why of Wind By Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

We’ve had some pretty blustery weather lately, demonstrating how powerful wind and weather can be.  Maybe you haven’t thought about it since 8th grade science, but it might be interesting to review why we have wind at all.


Wind is movement of air molecules, which like other particles in nature, always move from high concentrations to lower concentrations, seeking equilibrium.  The Sun warms the atmosphere, unevenly. Some parts of the Earth like the equator receive more direct sun rays and are always warm.  The further north you move the sun’s rays are more indirect (at an angle) and the atmosphere is cooler.  The warmer air has fewer air molecules in it and so is lighter in weight, and is called a low pressure area or system.  Air in a cooler atmosphere has molecules that huddle closer together, thus making the air more dense (higher pressure), and is called a high pressure system. So basically wind is air molecules moving north and south to try to equalize the air pressure between high and low pressure areas.  This north/south movement is dragged towards the east by the Earth rotating under the atmosphere, and so the prevailing winds in our area are more or less out of the west.  That’s how your average everyday winds come about.


What causes wind to get lively and change direction is when those warm and cold air masses move around and bump into each other.  These bumps where the two air masses collide are called fronts.  TV meteorologists are always talking about either cold or warm fronts moving through our area and bringing some changing weather, rain usually, but always with increasing winds that change direction as the front passes.


A warm front is a warm air mass moving into an area with a cold air mass, and as they collide the warm air rises over the cooler air in a slow gradual incline.  As the warm air rises and cools, moisture in it condenses to form flat looking stratus clouds that may eventually drop low intensity rain that can be long duration. As the warm front approaches winds are generally out of the east (high pressure to low pressure remember) and as the front passes the wind will shift to coming from the south/southeast.  Wind speeds are higher but usually not enough to cause concern. So think of an approaching warm front as the warm and cold air masses greeting each other with a slow kiss.


An approaching cold front on the other hand is more like a punch in the mouth.  Here a cold air mass moves into an area with a warm air mass.  The cold air has a steeper slope in front of it, so when it collides with the warm air mass it pushes the warm air up very fast and clouds develop as tall puffy cumulus and can go to stormy cumulonimbus size in a hurry.  This rapid rise of air causes very unstable conditions that can form violent weather, including  short duration heavy rains, hail, high winds, even tornadoes.


Paying attention to the wind was how people predicted the weather before satellites and such.  So if you’re attentive, wind can tell you things as well.


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Dealing With Blisters By: Steve Roark Tennessee Division of Forestry

A blister is your body’s way of telling you to ease off on what you’re doing, whether it’s a long hike or chopping wood.  They are of course the result of too much friction, possibly from poor fitting shoes or not wearing work gloves.  There are several opinions on how to treat them.

The first thing to decide is whether or not to drain the fluid from the blister, which depends on its size and location.  If the blister is small and not located where it will cause discomfort, you could just leave it alone.  If the blister is causing some pain, or if there’s a chance of  breaking it through use and perhaps causing more pain and injury, then you may want to drain it.


One way to do this is to prick the side of the blister with a sterilized needle.  Another way is to use a sterilized razor blade to carefully make an incision just deep enough and wide enough to squeeze the fluid out.  Either way, it is very important to sterilize the instrument.  The simplest way is with alcohol, but you can also heat the needle or blade until it is red hot and let it cool.


A mistake often made after draining a blister is to remove the skin over it.  This will leave a raw, very tender area that will take longer to heal, so leave the skin on to protect the wound.  It will eventually dry out and fall off on its own.


Next, treat the area with an antibiotic ointment.  A dressing to protect the area while it is healing is a good idea.  A Band-Aid is fine if it’s big enough, but if not use sterilized gauze pads.  Give the blister some air nightly by removing the dressing when you’re inactive.  Be alert for signs of infection:  redness, swelling, heat, and increased pain.  Other danger signs are that the fluid coming out of the blister is not clear, or has some odor to it.  If any of these signs are present, head for the doctor.


Preventing blisters is the best way to walk that extra mile or hoe that last row.  If you’re prone to get blister on your hands, wear gloves.  For your feet, always wear socks when wearing shoes.  Applying baby powder to your feet before putting on socks can help reduce friction.  Also, petroleum jelly applied to blister prone areas such as the heel is also good.  Fitted socks (those with a heel) are recommended rather than tube socks.


If you hike, hunt, or do any activity that requires a lot of walking, carry some moleskin with you.  This is a thin pad with a real sticky back that you can apply to areas that may be rubbing and hopefully prevent blisters from forming.  It can be cut to size and is available at the drug store.


A good book on first aid is “Home Remedies”, published by Rodale Press.


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Fear of Snakes By Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

I don’t know of anybody that doesn’t respond in fear when they stumble across a snake in the woods or the tool shed.  The usual reaction is to jump back and express a four letter metaphor.  I do it myself, even though I know that snakes are mostly harmless, and the poisonous ones rarely strike a human unless really provoked.  But all that logic goes out the window when I first see a snake, and I’m instantly in a “get out of here” mode.

So what is it about snakes that generate such a universal fear?  There is endless debate on the subject in the science world, and it generally comes down to two thoughts: is the fear a learned response, or are we genetically hard wired to fear slithery things?  There’s been lots of research trying to figure this out, and the results are pretty gray.  My best spin on the matter is that it may be a little of both.  Very young children usually do not fear snakes at first, and yet they can pick out a snake in the background of a photo quicker than anything else.  And they show a predisposition to learn to fear snakes from a bad experience or being exposed to other people’s fear reaction.   Wild-born monkeys fear snakes, while those raised in a lab do not. They’ll reach over a life-like rubber snake and get a peanut without a second thought. But when the lab monkey is shown a video of a wild monkey reacting in fear to a snake, the lab monkey then became afraid.  Sounds like snake fear is learned.  But when the video was altered to show a monkey reacting in fear to a flower rather than a snake, the lab monkey (who had never seen a flower or a snake) did not develop a fear of flowers.  So now what?  The answer may be that fear of snakes is instinctive, but must be triggered by something… a bad experience, being told scary snake stories, or television/movie drama.   And once triggered, the instinct is locked in.


The strangeness of a snake probably has something to do with fearing them.  No legs, cold blooded, scaly skin, beady eyes, tongue lashing out; they’re unique creatures.  In a survey the two things people fear most about snakes is that some are poisonous and that they are able to remain unseen.  That pretty well sums it up.  We do have poisonous snakes in our area (copperheads and rattlers), and they are excellent in the art of camouflage and stealth.  I rarely see snakes in all the stomping around I do in the woods, but I have almost stepped on a copperhead a couple of times because it blended in so well with the leaves on the ground.


Snakes do not live up to the hype often given them. They are not out to get us; the vast majority are not poisonous; the poisonous ones only strike as a last resort (usually being stepped on); if you are bitten, only one in 1000 snake bites result in death.  They play an important role in keeping mice and rat populations down.  My wife has told me that she would tolerate a snake in the house if they would get rid of mice.  So go ahead and fear snakes a little, you can’t help it. But don’t let that fear grow to where it prevents you from enjoying the outdoors.  If you see one, wait for the adrenaline rush to settle and simply give them some distance.  Don’t kill them just because they are snakes, as they belong here too.


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