Spectroscopy Research Challenges a Deadly Tree Fungus

Loblolly pine ranges from Georgia and the Carolinas to Texas but a destructive fungus is threatening this common southern softwood. Fusiform rust, Cronartium quercuum f.sp. fusiforme, is one the most destructive forest diseases in the South. With its complex life cycle, this fungus infects both loblolly and slash pine causing canker formation that frequently kills the infected branch.

The pine infection cycle occurs in Georgia in April and early May. Elongated swelling of the branches is the result of individual attacks on different parts of a tree. Many of the infected trees are unsuitable for later use as forest products, causing millions of dollars to be lost annually. Trees with large galls on the main stem are also unsuitable for many products.

Most of the photos in the above slideshow are by Robert L. Anderson, US Forest Service.

Changes in wood chemistry resulting from fungal decay of Scots pine have been studied directly using spectroscopy, the study of interactions between matter and radiated energy. A 2003 study by Pandey and Pitman exposed Scots pine sapwood to brown rot, selective white rot, and nonselective white rot fungi. In this study, the decay process was followed using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR). After 12 weeks, the wood exposed to the brown rot fungus resulted in progressive increase in lignin content relative to cellulose and hemicellulose, whereas the lignin content of the wood exposed to the selective white rot decreased as decay proceeded. For the wood exposed to the nonselective white rot wood, both occurred.

A recently published FPL study applied both FTIR spectroscopy and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) to determine whether the pathogen caused any structural modifications to the chemical composition of lignin. A new FPL paper, Effect of Fusiform Rust (Cronartium quurcum f.sp. fusiforme) on the Composition of Loblolly Pine Lignin by Roderquita K. Moore, Allisha N. Blood, and Cherrelle I. Esekie discusses the results.

The Promise of Wood-Based Nanotechnology

The concept of nanotechnology can be a tough one to grasp, and making a connection between wood-based nanomaterials and forest restoration might seem like a stretch.


Close-up of cellulose nanofibrils.

But a recent article in The Consultant, an annual magazine published by the Association of Consulting Foresters, provides a clear and comprehensive look at the science that is often deemed the way of the future and how it relates to forestry.

In short, “finding new, high-value, market-based outlets for excess forest biomass is vital to forest restoration.” Cellulose nanomaterials, with unique and desirable properties applicable across many industries, have the potential to provide solutions to costly forest restoration issues.

Forest Products Laboratory Director Michael T. Rains, Assistant Director Theodore Wegner, and Supervisory Research Chemist Alan Rudie co-authored the article. Topics covered include an explanation of wood-based nanomaterials and their properties, the scope of necessary forest restoration and the related costs, applications for nanocellulose, and how FPL and the Forest Service are working to move this promising technology forward.


A “Nexus of Innovation” for the U.S. Forest Service


FPL Director Michael Rains

In a recent feature story from xconomy.com, FPL Director Michael Rains describes the Forest Products Laboratory as “a one-of-a-kind resource at the intersection of many Forest Service goals.”

Rains, who is also director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, covers many crucial Forest Service R&D mission areas addressed by FPL research. Top among them for Rains includes getting “low value, crummy wood” out of dangerously overcrowded forests through accelerated restoration efforts to make “better use of woody biomass.”

The article, written by xconomy.com editor Bruce V. Bigelow (@bvbigelow on Twitter), also addresses new FPL developments in cellulose nanotechnology,  advanced composite materialsadvanced structures, using trees for bio-based fuels and chemicals, and public-private partnership projects through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements.


Forest Restoration: The Best Defense Against Wildfires

As wildfires rage across the western United States, firefighting crews work tirelessly to contain the blazes while costs to control the fires skyrocket. During these tough times, which now seem to occur without fail year after year, it becomes increasingly evident that our nation’s forests are in dire need of extensive restoration.wildfire2

A recent Forest Service article explains that properly managed forests – those free of underbrush and ladder fuels – serve as the best defense against the ravaging effects of wildfire, especially in an era of longer and more severe fire seasons associated with climate change.

Accelerated forest restoration activities promote forest health and reduce wildfire intensity by removing hazardous fuels.

FPL research demonstrates that low-value materials thinned from overgrown forests can be converted into products such as biocomposites, engineered wood products, bioenergy feedstocks, and cellulosic nanomaterials. The high value of these advanced materials can help offset the cost of restoration activities and promote economic growth.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has made accelerated restoration a cornerstone of his priorities during his tenure.

“Accelerated restoration efforts demonstrate a shared vision where environmentalists, forest industry and local communities are working together to build healthier forests and contribute to local economies,” said Tidwell. “The increased restoration work will benefit the environment and people, with more resilient ecosystems, improved watersheds and wildlife habitat, hazardous fuel reduction, and outputs of forest products. We hope accelerated restoration activities will bring all of our partners together, working as allies for forest conservation.”

Chief Tidwell Cites Conservation Opportunities, Challenges in Senate Hearing

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell addressed the challenges and opportunities facing the agency’s forest management efforts in testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“We must manage and restore more acres to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, to address insects and disease, and to restore the ecological health of forests for the benefit of all Americans,” said Tidwell. “We know we cannot achieve all of this without a strong integrated forest products industry that can use all parts and sizes of trees to help us accomplish our restoration work.”

Tidwell said the Forest Service continues to explore new and existing tools to become more efficient on the 193 million acres it manages. This exploration includes a review of business practices around timber sales, becoming more efficient in its environmental review processes, and implementing a landscape-scale adaptive approach to treating existing and new pine beetle infestations, among other tools.

Restoring the health and resilience of the nation’s forests generates important amenity values. For example, through implementation of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program – which relies heavily on stewardship contracting – projects on national forests and grasslands maintained 4,174 jobs and generated more than $147 million in labor income in fiscal year 2012.

Wood energy projects also make forest harvests more economically viable by providing a productive use for previously undervalued woody biomass. The USDA Wood-to-Energy Initiative combines programs from the Forest Service and USDA Rural Development to expand renewable wood energy use, from rural community schools, hospitals, and National Guard facilities across the country.

This Forest Service press release expands on Tidwell’s testimony.