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.

The Many Products from Trees

The late John W. Koning Jr. was a much-beloved person at FPL. He joined the staff at the Forest Products Laboratory in 1961 and conducted research in paperboard packaging. Following retirement in 1986, he joined the Engineering Professional Development Department in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked with industry in developing educational courses. He published articles on a range of subjects including research management and corrugated containers.

Koning’s greatest publishing accomplishment may have been the massive book that he compiled and edited: Forest Products Laboratory, 1910-2010: Celebrating a Century of Accomplishments.


One tree can yield countless products.

In that book, Koning reminds readers that while we all celebrate the beauty of forests and their value for recreation, forests also provide wood that is used in thousands of products ranging from components of housing to paper to chemicals. Speaking about the Forest Service in 1998, then Chief Mike Dombeck stressed, “The basic point of our sustainable forest management strategy is this: not only do economic stability and environmental protection go hand in hand, economic prosperity cannot occur without healthy, diverse, and productive watersheds and ecosystems.”

The public’s 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands are now recognized for their multiple uses and are under management to continuously provide a broad array of benefits:

  • Clean air and water
  • Natural flood control
  • Timber, forage, and non-wood products
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Endangered species recovery
  • Scenic beauty
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Food
  • Community revitalization
  • Improved human health
  • Carbon sequestration

Wood Shake and Shingle Siding Tips for the Homeowner


Example of shingle siding after many years of service.

The classic FPL publication Installation, Care, and Maintenance of Wood Shake and Shingle Siding answers many questions homeowners have about natural wooden siding.

Co-authors Jack Dwyer, Tony Bonura, Arnie Nebelsick, Sam Williams, and Christopher G. Hunt explain that wood shakes and shingles have been used for centuries as a siding material. Western redcedar, Alaska yellow-cedar (also called yellow cedar), and redwood are the most commonly used wood species for manufacturing shakes and shingles. Shakes and shingles from these species are included in the building codes for the United States and Canada. To meet these building code requirements shakes and shingles must meet specific wood quality standards.

Eastern white-cedar (also known as northern white-cedar, Thuja occidentalis) is also currently used for shingles, and grade rules are established for this species. The Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau (CSSB) has specifications for shakes and shingles. Shingles from this species are not covered under CSSB stan­dards and their quality is not certified through third-party inspection; therefore, their use on roofs is not authorized under United States and Canadian building codes. They are approved for use on sidewalls, however. Check with local code officials for details. Other species have also been used for shakes and shingles, including white oak (Quercus alba) and southern pine (also called southern yellow pine, Pinus spp.). The quality of white oak and southern pine shakes and shingles is not assured through CSSB inspection; therefore, check with code officials in your area for acceptance of these products.

Wood shakes or shingles, if properly installed, finished, and maintained, will age gracefully and provide a long service life.

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.

Making the Most of Beetle-Killed Trees

Some 20 billion cubic feet of beetle-killed timber now stands in 12 Western states, according to Forest Service estimates. The New York Times was recently in touch with FPL to see what, if anything, could be done with the swaths of dead trees stretching across 23 million acres of U.S. forests.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

The resulting Times story highlights one landowner, Larry Lipson of western Montana, who was determined to find an opportunity within such massive destruction.

Lipson and his family own 37,000 acres of land, including a resort area and ten miles of Blackfoot River shoreline. When the mountain pine beetle began killing trees on this land four years ago, the Lipsons took steps to stop the infestation.

The treatments were effective but the pest still left them with more than 10,000 dead trees. Faced with disposing of thousands of tons of wood, Lipson got creative. His entrepreneurial spirit spurred the launch of Bad Beetle, a company now making accessories for Apple computers, tablets, and phones out of beetle-killed wood.

FPL researchers have been working to find uses for trees killed by invasive insects for more than 50 years. Recently, two useful guides for addressing the issue were published,  Economic Uses for Beetle Killed Trees and Wood Utilization Options for Urban Trees Infested by Invasive Species.