Risky Business: Pest Task Force Protects Forests

A forest, like many places on earth, is an ecosystem that is kept in check by its various constituents. Trees, plants, and animals work together, each playing a role in their common home to ensure that the forest is healthy and productive. When organisms from outside the forest are allowed to enter however — for example, an invasive insect — the balance can be upset and the health of the forest, and its trees, placed in jeopardy.


The Emerald Ash Borer is just one invasive pest endangering our Nation’s forests.

Because of this ever-present danger, there exists a major Forest Service research program to identify and contain pests that could invade the United States. The team, whose main charge is performing risk assessments of imported pests to the United States, represents many disciplines, and has included researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Working with colleagues in other countries, the team identifies potential pests, evaluates their threat to the United States, and explores methods of mitigating the threats they pose. Without this scientific oversight, invasive pests can become a real problem for our most treasured resource — forests.

One historic example of such a threat developing into a serious problem was the importation of the Asian longhorn beetle on wood pallets. The beetle is native to China, Japan and Korea but was discovered in America in the late 1990s. With no known natural enemy in the United States, the beetle swept across the nation, and destroyed thousands of trees until researchers devised a massive clear-cutting operation in infested areas to contain it.

Another pest that researchers are intimately familiar with is Lymantria dispar, the gypsy moth, one of North America’s most devastating forest pests. The species originally evolved in Europe and Asia but was accidentally introduced near Boston in the late 1800s. For more than 100 years, the moth has defoliated acre after acre of forest from New England westward, while at the same time, invasive pests found in the great lakes region, like the emerald ash borer, have continually expanded from Midwestern states like Michigan.

Both of these will continue to test the skills of researchers, who are hard at work developing effective control measures and furthering our understanding about the life cycles of these insects.

In 1910, when FPL had just opened, there was little understanding about the pests that destroy wood. Consequently, few control methods and treatments existed. Because of the hard work researchers do every day, understanding of wood-destroying pests over the last century has greatly improved, along with effective lures, treatments, and control procedures.

It is a battle worth fighting, and although this team of researchers has their work cut out for them as they continue to asses and develop strategies to combat pests, the fate of our forests rest on their hard work, as the Forest Service realizes its mission of Caring for the Land and Serving People.

Throwback Thursday: 65 Years, 77 Degrees Difference

It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that it’s been an unseasonably warm winter in the Midwest. Sometimes, all you need is a photographer.


View from the top of the FPL January 30, 2015. The temperature reached 40 degrees that day.


The same view from the top of the FPL January 30, 1951. The temperature plunged to -37 degrees that day.

True to tradition, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) photographer Stephen Schmieding, ascended to the top of the laboratory Saturday to capture this striking image of a warming Wisconsin. Comparing the 40 degree weather to the -37 degree bone-chilling temperatures of winters past is a striking reminder of the roller-coaster weather our nation has, and will continue to experience.

Cottage Conundrum: FPL Fields Cleaning Question

All of the research and expertise of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) is in vain if we can not use it to better the American people. Our lab receives many questions for our researchers, and recently, we received a question regarding T1-11 cedar siding.

Dear FPL,

I have a problem with the T1-11 Cedar Siding (plywood) that was installed on my cottage back in 1986. There is a black fungus on all sides of the cottage, even where the front is exposed to the direct sunlight most of the day. I would like to have a vinyl siding installed over the T1-11, but am not sure if I should have that done without washing the siding first. I have washed the siding in the past and the fungus has returned! I would appreciate any advice you can provide to me.

Cottage Conundrum

Luckily, Mark Knaebe, a Natural Resources Specialist with the Forest Products Marketing Unit, had the answer!

Dear Cottage Conundrum,

The most important question here is what do you really have?  If you used what is commonly called a “wood bleach” which is oxalic acid, and it brightened up, then you have iron stain. Iron stain is not a fungus.  


Although it leaves wood black, iron stain is not a fungus. The above example was caused by corroded fasteners.

If you used a chlorine or oxygen bleach and it brightened it up, then you have mildew, which is a form of fungus, and it may not be a huge problem except it that it can keep wood wetter for longer periods which can promote decay fungus (rot) in very wet areas.

I would not give up on the T1-11 just yet.

If you are set on putting vinyl over it, and it is iron stain, you can ignore the black. If you have mildew, you should find out why first, and if bleach cleans it up, you could just bleach and put up the new siding paying special attention to proper flashing. Traditional penetrating coatings contained oils which are food for mildew so as soon as sunlight destroys the mildewcide, mildew can quickly return, so that might be what you’re experiencing.

The bottom line is find out what it is first, and take the next steps from there. Thanks for your question!



Happy Birthday Forest Service: 111 Years Strong


Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot conversing on the deck of the Mississippi.

Today, the Forest Service celebrates its 111th birthday! Although the Department of the Interior’s Division of Forestry (later the Bureau of Forestry) had existed since the late 1800s, the Transfer Act of 1905, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, transferred the responsibility of maintaining the nation’s forests to the Department of Agriculture.

With this, the Forest Service was born, and Gifford Pinchot was appointed as the fledgling organization’s first director. Although the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) wouldn’t open for another five years, Pinchot would lend his name to FPL’s current street address.

Transfer Act of 1905 Act of February  1, 1905

“Establishment of Department  There shall be at the seat of government a Department of Agriculture, the general design and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture, rural development, aquaculture, and human nutrition in the most general and comprehensive sense of those terms and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.”

But perhaps more important than the actual legislation signed by Roosevelt is a memo from the office of the Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson. This memo, dubbed “The Wilson Letter,” is considered by many to be one of the most important documents in American Forestry. It expertly outlines the charge of the new public service.

“In the administration of the forest reserves it must be clearly borne in mind that all land is to be devoted to its most productive use for the permanent good of the whole people; and not for the temporary benefit of individuals or companies.  All the resources of forest reserves are for use, and this use must be brought about in a thoroughly prompt and businesslike manner, under such restrictions only as will in-sure the permanence of these resources. 

The vital importance of forest reserves to the great industries of the western states will be largely increased in the near future by the continued steady advance in settlement and development.  The permanence of the resources of the reserves is therefore in-dispensable to continued prosperity, and the policy of this Department for their protection and use will invariably be guided by this fact, always bearing in mind that the conservative use of these resources in no way conflicts with their permanent value…

In the management of each reserve local questions will be decided upon local grounds; the dominant industry will be considered first, but with as little restriction to minor industries as may be possible; sudden changes in industrial conditions will be avoided by gradual adjustment after due notice; and where conflicting interests must be reconciled the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

Although the Forest Service has grown significantly in scope, and today manages 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico, the words of the Transfer Act, and Wilson Letter, still resonate today. It is this vision, providing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run, that more than 34,000 employees around the country, and world, work to fulfill every day.

We look forward to the next 111 years.

Throwback Thursday: Statistics Program Transcends Decades

The following blog is from the book Forest Products Laboratory 1910-2010, Celebrating A Century of Accomplishments.

This major study, preformed in the 1980s, is referred to as the “in-grade testing of structural lumber program,” and is one of the largest cooperative research programs ever undertaken by the North American wood engineering community.

It included universities, the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau, the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau, the Western Wood Products Association, a number of companies, and the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Failure of a piece of structural lumber that was subjected to bending forces to help determine allowable design properties for structural lumber.


Physical and mechanical properties information was obtained on 33 species or species groups of visually graded structural lumber. Over an eight-year period, nearly 70,000 pieces of lumber — approximately 1,000,000 board feet — were tested to destruction in bending, tension, or compression.

The information provided the basis for more accurately estimating mechanical properties of lumber and revising allowable design properties.

Thanks to FPLs statistical design for selecting the wood samples, testing them, and analyzing the outcomes, the results from the study were useful and applicable to structural lumber in general. The data garnered from this research is now part of the National Design Standard, and is still used today.