Invasive Insects Threaten America’s Pastime: But FPL Steps Up to the Plate

What’s next for baseball bats if the emerald ash borer decimates America’s ash forests?

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(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Smithsonian Magazine recently published an article looking at the challenges baseball bat manufacturers face as the invasive insect continues to spread and kill off ash trees — one of the preferred woods used to make the bats. The emerald ash borer has already killed 50 million trees in North America.

Forest Service research is doing its part to stop the spread of the pest. Here at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), with funding from Major League Baseball (MLB), we are helping find alternative species suitable for bat manufacturing. (Find out what they are in the full article from Smithsonian Magazine.)

The work is a continuation of FPL’s long-term partnership with MLB that has made America’s pastime safer for players and fans alike by reducing the number of shattered bats by more than 50 percent.

As Axes Fall, Local Economy Rises: Cutting Costs While Cutting Trees

Taking care of urban forests may include the removal of diseased and damaged trees. Sometimes, the axe must fall, and professionals must be called in to remove trees due to storms, disease, or invasive insects. The removal costs can add up quickly — in some cases, to the tune of several millions of dollars. Through careful planning however, researchers, marketing teams, and industry professionals can find more affordable solutions — ones beneficial to the forests, the bottom line, and the local economy.

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Trees harvested from Kenosha County, in southwest Wisconsin, will benefit several communities around the area.

Kenosha County, Wisconsin is ground zero for a large-scale urban wood utilization project where a mechanized cut-to-length (CTL) tree harvester is removing 5,400 trees that have succumbed to Emerald Ash Borer. These trees are located across the community, including in county parks and golf courses — but despite the scale of this operation, the cost to remove them is relatively low — just $13 a tree.

For the removal operation, Kenosha County enlisted the help of Don Peterson, Executive Director of Sustainable Resources Institute, and an important Forest Service program delivery partner. To keep costs down, Peterson sought out local businesses wherever possible — the winning bid for the harvesting, for example, went to a logger from nearby Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Use of the CTL harvester provides usable wood for a variety of local industries, too, and the actual tree removal is not the only part of the project to benefit local business. Several entities plan to reuse the removed wood locally. Recovered products (pulpwood, sawbolts and hardwood sawlogs) all went to local Wisconsin forest products companies. By ensuring the diseased trees have a future before the first cut is made, the forest to market supply chain is kept intact.

The Forest Service hopes to apply what they learned in Kenosha County to tree harvesting operations across the United States.

In addition, Kenosha County hosted a workshop for city arborists and others interested in urban wood utilization. The day-long event was partially funded by the US Forest Service’s Wood Education Resource Center (WERC) and the Forest Products Laboratory’s Forest Product Marketing Unit (FPMU). Through this workshop, the public was able to learn about the operation, and see first-hand the methods employed to manage our urban forests.

The Forest Service hopes learn a thing or two from the Kenosha operation too. FPMU believes that the project demonstrates the effectiveness of “forest to market supply chain” thinking. Similar efforts could efficiently remove and utilize woody biomass from land restoration and fuel reduction projects in our clogged forests — particularly in the western United States, where fire danger continues to climb.

As researchers continue to find new uses for low-value wood through emerging technologies like nanocellulose, the demand for such material will only increase. Keeping costs low will be important for making urban wood utilization operations attractive. The tree removal project in Kenosha County shows that by considering the supply chain, utilizing local businesses, and educating the public, tree removal can benefit the local communities as we cut costs and trees alike.

Heat Treatment of Firewood for Emerald Ash Borer: Case Studies

The emerald ash borer—most of us have heard of this exotic species that is killing so many of our beloved ash trees. The Forest Service and others are working hard to stop its spread and the recent article, Heat Treatment of Firewood for Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire): Case Studies by Xiping Wang, Richard D. Bergman, Brian K. Brashaw, and Scott W. Myers, provides current research.

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Emerald ash borer

The movement of firewood within emerald ash borer- (EAB) infested states and into adjoining areas has been a contributor to its spread throughout the United States and Canada. In an effort to prevent further human-aided spread of EAB and to facilitate interstate commerce, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and cooperating states in the EAB quarantine have established a heat treatment process to be used as a mitigating treatment to allow movement of firewood from EAB quarantine areas.

Firewood producers have since been faced with challenges implementing heat treatment processes and meeting the treatment standard for firewood. This article presents four case studies, conducted at firewood heat treatment facilities, with the aim of addressing these challenges. Different heat treating strategies were used in each of these facilities to meet the particular needs of the operation. A step-by-step operating procedure was developed for heat treatment operation and temperature monitoring of both kiln and firewood samples during the heating process.

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Firewood baskets are placed into the kiln. The monitoring firewood samples were placed in the three baskets of the back row in the lower level. One instrumented piece was placed into each basket.

This study, published in the Journal of Forestry, July 2014, evaluated different types of temperature sensors and probes and data loggers for their applicability in the heat treating process and constructed easy-to-install temperature monitoring systems suitable for field heat treatment operations of different scales. Through the four case studies, the study demonstrated the effectiveness of a step-by-step operating procedure for conducting heat treatment runs and monitoring the temperatures of both the kiln chamber and firewood samples during the heat treatment process.

The case studies also revealed some potential errors when the operating procedure was not carefully followed. These include the following: not selecting the largest firewood pieces for temperature monitoring; inaccurate or inappropriate temperature sensor installation; and monitoring samples not allocated at the cold spots. Each of these issues could potentially compromise the effectiveness of the heat treating process and result in an underestimation of the time required to achieve the treatment requirements. Further research is needed to examine the possibility of developing generic thermal verification guidelines that are primarily based on kiln conditions (dry-bulb and wet-bulb temperatures of the heating medium), thus eliminating the need for physically monitoring the core temperatures of the firewood samples.