Muddy forests, shorter winters present challenges for loggers

While many of us welcomed this recent warm spell, it’s also a reminder about a long-term weather trend that’s causing problems for Wisconsin’s loggers. As described in a UW-Madison news release earlier this winter, loggers can’t count on as many days of frozen ground as they used to, with a lot of negative consequences for the industry.

Here’s how the release starts:

Stable, frozen ground has long been recognized a logger’s friend, capable of supporting equipment and trucks in marshy or soggy forests. Now, a comprehensive look at weather from 1948 onward shows that the logger’s friend is melting.


Photo courtesy of DNR

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Environmental Management, finds that the period of frozen ground has declined by an average of two or three weeks since 1948. During that time, wood harvests have shifted in years with more variability in freezing and thawing to red pine and jack pine – species that grow in sandy, well-drained soil that can support trucks and heavy equipment when not frozen.

Jack pine, a characteristic north woods Wisconsin species, is declining, and areas that have been harvested are often replaced with a different species, changing the overall ecosystem.

The study was an effort to look at how long-term weather trends affect forestry, says author Adena Rissman, an assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “When my co-author, Chad Rittenhouse, and I began this project, we wanted to know how weather affects our ability to support sustainable working forests. We found a significant decline in the duration of frozen ground over the past 65 years, and at the same time, a significant change in the species being harvested.”

Read more here.

New CALS-PEOPLE program video highlights food systems diversity

This fall leaders in CALS, the PEOPLE program and the Community and Regional Food Systems project partnered to produce a video highlighting the diversity of careers—and the diversity of stakeholders involved—in agricultural and food systems.

“We plan to use it to recruit young people to consider careers in the agricultural and food industries,” says Tom Browne, CALS assistant dean for minority affairs.

CALS has been partnering with the PEOPLE program for many years to provide summer educational opportunities for PEOPLE students. In recent years, this educational collaboration has evolved to include the Community and Regional Food Systems (CRFS) project, a NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative-funded partnership between academia and community organizations led by project co-directors Steve Ventura, CALS professor of soil science, and Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power. A major outcome of this three-way partnership was the creation of the Urban Agriculture track within the PEOPLE program science curriculum, which was launched in 2012.

The new video is another important piece. It includes interviews with people working in different facets of the food system, including farmers, food scientists, policy staff, professors, community activists and more.

“It’s designed to provide a broad picture of opportunities and success so students can start to form and codify their opinions on where they fit into the food systems equation,” explains George Reistad, communications coordinator for CFRS and a PEOPLE alumnus, who helped plan and oversee the creation of the video. “And the broader the look, the more chances there are to spark inspiration among students. That’s what we were trying to accomplish with this video.”

Partners plan to share the video, produced by contractors Anna Aragon and Ryan Dale, through a variety of channels such as YouTube, websites, social media, and during in-person presentations.

Photo courtesy of CFRS. For more, see the CRFS Flickr page

Clearing the fog about the impacts of emissions trading

In March 2010, southern Wisconsin had the worst particulate air pollution in the nation, and many counties in the southern part of the state routinely exceed the national standard for ozone concentrations. “Wisconsin is unique in that that much industrial activity in the state is centered in small towns or rural areas (such as Wausau or the Fox River Valley) and not necessarily in large urban centers,” notes Corbett Grainger, who has launched a new project to learn more about the impacts of clean air regulations, especially emissions trading.

He will track changes in the spatial distribution of air pollutants that result from industries selling their pollution allocations to those firms that find it more expensive to reduce their emissions. “It’s likely that cap-and-trade programs will continue to proliferate, so it’s important to understand how such policies affect different stakeholders in Wisconsin and elsewhere,” says Grainger.

Market-based efforts to reduce pollution — such as emissions trading — have long been criticized by members of the “environmental justice” movement and others because of concerns that uneven distribution of pollution adversely affects disadvantaged communities. For example, such concerns delayed California from implementing a statewide cap-and-trade program.


Corbett Grainger

Grainger’s current project builds on his earlier work studying the distributional effects of such diverse topics as fisheries management, air quality in housing markets, and political re-districting.

Because greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are often emitted jointly with other pollutants, some benefits of emissions mitigation come from health impacts of co-pollutants. “In the case of climate change, the source of carbon emissions is less important, because those gases combine globally to cause climate change. For other pollutants like particulates, the source and transport is critical because of effects on human health,” Grainger explains. “The fact that co-pollutants are emitted with carbon makes the distributional impacts of carbon markets more complicated.”

He proposes to combine emissions data with demographic data and models of atmospheric pollutant transport to examine the impact of carbon trading on final exposure to air pollution. The analysis will attempt to find whether emissions trading has led to relative co-pollutant hotspots and, if so, which populations are vulnerable to these changes.

“What remains to be seen is whether pollution reductions and final exposure will differently affect rural or urban, poor or rich areas,” Grainger concludes. “There have been so few studies of the effect of carbon trading on the distribution of co-pollutants that any finding in this area would help us inform policy on emissions trading.”

This story was originally published on the Agricultural and Applied Economics website. More information about this project is available in this podcast

Grace on the lakes: Q&A on the tundra swan stopover

If you’ve passed by open water on the Madison lakes in the last few weeks, you’ve likely seen a bevy of swans. They’re stopping over in Madison on their annual migration from the Yukon en route to either the Chesapeake Bay area or the Gulf of Mexico, and we’re likely to keep seeing them until the lake ice closes over. That’s according to Matt Hayes, a large bird expert and PhD student under Mark Berres in the Department of Animal Sciences. Hayes provides a lot of interesting information about these graceful visitors in this Q and A with University Communication’s Kelly April Tyrrell.

Pecatonica without the P

Conservation experts and farmers alike are pretty pleased with the news from Pleasant Valley.

A seven-year pilot project in this 12,000-acre sub-watershed of the Pecatonica River showed that it’s possible to significantly cut phosphorus and sediment losses from agricultural land by zeroing in on problem areas.

Changing farming practices on selected fields on just 10 of the valley’s 61 farms reduced the amount of phosphorus entering the Pecatonica from Pleasant Valley during major storms by more than a third. Steps such as reducing tillage and planting crops that leave more residue to protect the soil caused estimated average annual losses of phosphorus and sediment entering the stream to drop by 4,400 pounds and 1,300 tons, respectively.

The project partners—UW scientists, public agencies, local farmers and The Nature Conservancy—began in 2006 by collecting baseline data on water quality in the Pecatonica below Pleasant Valley and below a nearby watershed that served as a control. From 2010 through 2012, conservationists worked with farmers to implement new practices. Data from 2013 showed that those efforts paid off.

“We can say with 90 percent confidence that this project made a real reduction in the phosphorus losses,” says CALS soil scientist Laura Ward Good. “Farmers who changed their management practices reduced their estimated phosphorus and sediment losses by about half.”

A key tool in the research was SnapPlus, software developed at CALS that estimates each field’s potential for phosphorus runoff under various management scenarios.

“In many cases the higher risk areas were fields on steep slopes, where silage had been grown in consecutive years so there wasn’t much crop residue to hold the soil, and where soil phosphorus levels were high—possibly because past manure applications had supplied more phosphorus than crops required,” Good says.

Once they’d identified high-risk fields, team members worked with landowners to assess the likely impacts of switching practices on that land—not just on runoff, but also on yields, expenses, feed supplies and other factors that govern the success of the enterprise.

Results to date indicate that farmers can make the needed changes without reducing their bottom line if the practices are tailored to the needs of the farm and growers can proceed gradually.

“No tilling is very good for the environment, for example, and you can get high production,” points out UW-Extension specialist Jim Leverich, the project’s on-farm research coordinator. “But you have to pay close attention to the details. You don’t have as much latitude. You can’t make any mistakes.”

“The trick is to give farmers the time to adapt, to search among the best management practices to see how they fit into their systems. If they have time to utilize the practice on a small scale first, they’ll start to see the advantages and maybe start to use it on more acres,” Leverich says.

SOIL FORENSICS. Sediment is sediment to you and me, but not to Jasmeet Lamba PhD’14, who as a graduate student worked with CALS biological systems engineering professors Anita Thompson, K.G. Karthikeyan and John Panuska. Lamba was able to “fingerprint” sediment suspended in the stream and figure out where it came from. Lamba analyzed soil samples from throughout the Pleasant Valley watershed for naturally occurring metals and radioisotopes. Soil from different types of land—stream banks, woodlands and farm fields—has different concentrations of these telltale markers. By comparing those samples to others collected from the river, he determined that about 70 percent of the sediment exiting the Pleasant Valley watershed in the stream originated from farm fields, while about 30 percent came from stream banks.

SOIL FORENSICS. Sediment is sediment to you and me, but not to Jasmeet Lamba PhD’14, who as a graduate student worked with professors Anita Thompson and K.G. Karthikeyan and soil and water conservation engineer John Panuska (all in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering). Lamba was able to “fingerprint” sediment suspended in the stream and figure out where it came from.
Lamba analyzed soil samples from throughout the Pleasant Valley watershed for naturally occurring metals and radioisotopes. Soil from different types of land—stream banks, woodlands and farm fields—has different concentrations of these telltale markers. By comparing those samples to others collected from the river, he determined that about 70 percent of the sediment exiting the Pleasant Valley watershed in the stream originated from farm fields, while about 30 percent came from stream banks.

Fox news: What’s up with the campus canids

Haven’t spotted a campus fox in awhile? You’re not alone, says David Drake.

Last spring there were as many as 17 foxes on campus—including the highly visible (and adorable) Van Hise foxes as well as a second litter of kits in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve—but urban foxes have a high mortality rate, mostly due to cars. Four or five campus foxes were found dead in parking lots or roads this past year.

“There are probably a handful of foxes that survived out of the two litters, but that’s strictly a guess,” says Drake, associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology and UW-Extension wildlife specialist.

Drake and a team of students hope to start live-trapping foxes and coyotes on campus next month to help monitor their activity. They’ll hold each animal just long enough to collar it and draw a blood sample, then let it go. Foxes and coyotes pose a risk of disease to domestic animals (parvovirus and canine distemper) and humans (rabies). The blood samples are a way to assess that risk.

Drake himself hasn’t seen any foxes in a while. A UW police officer spotted one near the limnology building recently, and a dead fox was found by lot 60 a few weeks back.

The lack of fox sighting isn’t surprising. In fall, mama foxes give their children the boot. They need to raise the next generation of kits and don’t want others – including their own grown children – in their territory competing for space and resources.

“So you’ve got the foxes dispersing, mingling with other foxes, finding their own mates and territories. They are going to start breeding again soon, so they will be tied to a den. If you can figure out a den location, you will see foxes around there more frequently,” Drake says.

Foxes aren’t the best of next-door neighbors, which is why staff from Facilities Planning and Management opted to close off a den that a mating pair had used inside the walls of a big planter box next to Van Hise Hall. The foxes were bringing in dead animals to feed the kits. The whole floor was littered with carcasses; in the summer, stench and flies became an issue.

There’s a danger to both species when foxes and people get close to each other. Foxes seem harmless, but they can get aggressive if they feel they need to protect their kits from an overly curious onlooker. And if a person were to get bit or scratched, the fox would have to be killed to determine if it carried rabies.

If you spot a fox or coyote on campus or the surrounding community, please send Drake an email. That will help researchers decide where to place their live traps. Feel free to observe foxes from a safe distance, but don’t approach or feed them. If an animal looks sick or is acting abnormal, please contact UW police (608-264-2677 or They’ll contact a campus vet, if needed.

“People should enjoy foxes. It’s an impressive sight to see a fox in this urban environment. Please observe from distance and enjoy them,” Drake says.


How wolves die

As this year’s wolf hunt winds down, we talked with Tim Van Deelen about a hidden and disturbing topic: illegal killing, which he says may have increased in recent years. Van Deelen, a CALS professor of wildlife ecology, specializes in the management of large mammals, including population estimation and dynamics, hunting, interaction of deer life history and chronic wasting disease—and, not least, the growth of Wisconsin’s wolf population and its effects on white-tailed deer. Much of the data on this subject, he says, comes from work by his former doctoral student Jennifer Stenglein MS’13 PhD’14, now a wildlife researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

Can you give us an idea of how wolves die?
As we know from radio collaring data, wolves die for a variety of reasons. Wolves in Wisconsin have relatively high mortality rates, and that probably has to do with the fact that they’re living on a landscape that’s much more highly impacted by humans than, say, northern Canada or Alaska. We have higher levels of wolves getting hit by cars, especially as they begin encroaching on parts of central and southern Wisconsin where we have higher road densities.

Wolves are also territorial, so on the margins of their pack territories or where there are territorial disputes between packs, wolves will kill each other.

Wolves die of disease. We’ve had deaths due to parvovirus and mange. Wolves sometimes starve to death if they can’t get enough prey or if they’re old or injured and otherwise inefficient as hunters.

There’s also a fair amount of unexplained mortalities that we have from radio tracking data.

Can you elaborate on that?
We have radio-collared wolves that outlive the radio collars—that is, they outlive the battery that powers the collar—so you have a record that starts when the animal is radio-collared and ends when you stop getting signals. Understanding mortality rates at the population level requires you to make some decisions about how you’re going to treat those animals once the record stops.

Research that my graduate student has been doing suggests that a fair number of those animals are dying.

Do you suspect illegal killing?
Well, the problem with illegal killing is you don’t observe it. You can’t point to something and say, “That wolf died from illegal killing,” but you need extra mortality in the system once you explain everything else in order to reconcile the mortality rates that we’re seeing with the reproductive rates that we get from the pup counts and the growth rate that we see from the annual population counts.

So there’s a missing gap in the data of why some animals disappear.
Right. The basic population dynamics equation is very simple. It says that the number of animals born minus the number of animals dying is the net addition or subtraction from the population. If we have a population that we can count every year like we do with wolves—we count them every winter—then we can mathematically fit an equation to that growth using things like observed deaths and estimated reproduction.

When we can’t get that to reconcile, then we need some additional deaths that are unobserved to make the growth rate that we see agree with the mortality and the reproductive rates that we’re measuring.

The suspicion is that many or some of those unobserved deaths are due to illegal killing. Because from our radio tracking data we do have good estimates on the relative amounts of deaths that are due to other things, like being killed by other wolves or dying of disease or being hit on the road.

What would prompt illegal killing?
Human dimensions research done at the Nelson Institute suggests that people living in wolf range have a sense of frustration that many people think traces back to this on-again, off-again listing of wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

We went through a period where the wolves would be de-listed, or there would be movement toward de-listing, and then somebody would step in, the courts would intervene, and the wolves would become listed again.

There’s good human dimensions research in wildlife that says that attitudes toward wildlife tend to degrade when people feel like they have no options for dealing with the problems that those wild animals are causing.

When wolves are put “off limits” because of the Endangered Species Act, then people who are experiencing problems with wolves, real or imagined— their attitudes toward wolf conservation begin to degrade.

That aligns with some of the research that’s been done on this campus suggesting, among other things, that people who are interviewed in the
north say they’d be more willing to illegally kill a wolf if the opportunity presented itself. More people are saying that now than in the early 2000s. That time period aligns with the growing frustration people have experienced over de-listing.

How many unexplained wolf deaths are there?
About 20 to 30 per year, in our best estimate. That’s been from the period 1980 to 2013, where we fit the models. There’s evidence that it’s been increasing recently. By “recently,” I mean within the past five or 10 years.

Can you please elaborate?
During the early part of the growth phase of wolves in Wisconsin (1996– 2002) the wolf population averaged about 200 wolves during midwinter counts. We estimated that about 43 of these would die during the year, and unobserved deaths were likely not needed to reconcile observed popula- tion growth. During the latter part of the growth phase (2003–2012), Wisconsin’s wolves averaged about 600 wolves, and about 138 of these would be expected to die during the year. However, you would also need another 24 dead wolves to reconcile the rate of population growth observed. These 24 would include a mix of natural and human-caused subtractions, including an unknown level of illegal killing. The change from 1996–2002 to 2003–2012 suggest that illegal killing may have increased.

What kinds of conflicts do people have with wolves in Wisconsin?
Probably the most important right now are conflicts with livestock producers. We have a handful of areas in Wisconsin that are hot spots where there’s been sort of long-term chronic depredation by wolves on livestock.

That’s a real problem—and fortunately in Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources has a partnership with USDA Wildlife Services. They have professional USDA trappers who can go in, verify whether a calf or a cow was killed by wolves, and then help the landowners either by excluding the wolves from the territory or by trapping and euthanizing the wolves that are causing problems. They’re very professional, they’re very good at what they do, and they’re very successful.

Another problem in Wisconsin is wolves depredating hounds. These are mostly hounds used for hunting bears and smaller carnivores. If you’re running hounds late in the summer, that’s when the wolves are provisioning their pups at rendezvous sites.

The wolves probably interpret that incursion as an invading pack, so they would attack and kill those hounds. That happens, that’s an issue to deal with. DNR has been proactive with trying to identify those areas where depredations have occurred and might be more likely, and warn people to avoid those areas with their hounds if at all possible.

There’s a lot of talk about wolves having impacts on deer in the north. In some places, that’s probably a reality. In some places it might be more perception than reality. At a statewide scale using the harvest statistics, we just haven’t seen a real impact of wolves, but that’s sort of a coarse-filter approach.

We have two deer research projects going, one in eastern farmland and one in the northwest. We actually don’t find a whole lot of wolf predation on adult deer, which would be the mechanism by which wolves would have the most impact on the deer herd. Still, if you’re the unlucky individual whose hunting spot happens to be sitting right on top of a wolf rendezvous zone, you might not be seeing very many deer.

What would you like to see done with wolf management going forward?
One of the unique things about wolf management in Wisconsin is that we’re managing this population now at a pretty high exploitation rate—meaning that we’ve got heavy harvest seasons. Those are designed explicitly to reduce the wolf population.

Harvest management theory would suggest that there’s some danger of long-term instability. I think the most important thing that managers of Wisconsin’s wolf population need to do is keep putting efforts into monitoring the wolf population—tracking population trends, tracking the extent to which wolves live on the landscape. Those are the measurements you can use to identify some sort of instability and then be able to deal with it.

To be fair to the managers, they know that, they’re working on that. We’re collaborating with them to come up with more cost-effective ways to get the sort of information they need to track population trends.


This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Grow magazine.

Meet the scourge

IT IS AN INSECT LITTLE BIGGER THAN A GRAIN OF RICE. But the invasive emerald ash borer may as well be Godzilla for all the chaos it has brought to the Upper Midwest’s forested landscapes.

The borer has already laid ruin to the ash that dominated urban and lowland forests in Michigan, where it first turned up near Detroit in 2002, likely a hitchhiker on wooden shipping pallets from China. And in dozens of Wisconsin villages and cities, street terraces are marked by the stumps of ash trees already removed because of infestation.

“The emerald ash borer means the demise of ash trees in North America.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the borer has killed more than 50 million ash trees and is now found in a dozen states, including more than 30 counties in Wisconsin. Though it is not a threat to human health, the ash borer’s inevitable spread is likely to dramatically change the face of both urban and state and national public forests. The insect has already cost Wisconsin communities millions of dollars as they prepare for its assault and as they begin to remove and treat infested and threatened trees.

And it has proven a massive challenge to researchers—including entomologists at CALS—as they bring science to bear on understanding and slowing the march of the tiny, tree-killing insect and reducing its impact where it is established.

View the gallery.

CALS entomologist Chris Williamson, who has studied the insect since 2003, says the word “cataclysmic” is not too strong to describe the eventual devastation that will be wrought by the emerald ash borer.

“The emerald ash borer means the demise of ash trees in North America,” says Williamson, who is also a UW–Extension specialist.

His colleague, CALS entomologist Ken Raffa, has researched and introduced parasitic wasps as potential predators that might help at least slow the insect’s steady march across the continent. But Raffa also said there is little doubt that such efforts are mostly holding actions against a foe that cannot be stopped.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Raffa says.

Even so, in the face of what seems to be nothing but bad news, research at CALS and elsewhere has provided weapons that are proving effective at slowing the insect, giving communities time to plan and homeowners the ability to treat and possibly save treasured trees with insecticides.

In fact, Williamson, surveying a stand of ash trees he has treated and studied at Warner Park on Madison’s North Side, says he actually gets irked when someone says there’s nothing that can be done to save an ash tree. He has spent long hours in the field, testing various insecticides. And he has found that treating an ash tree early enough and repeating that treatment every couple of years can save even large, prized trees that homeowners want to protect. Insecticides such as emamectin benzoate, marketed under the brand name “TREE-age,” have also given urban foresters an effective tool to slow the loss of ash and temper the impact on a community’s cooling leaf canopy.

Treatment has also been found to be less expensive than was originally anticipated. Experts with Arborjet, a company that has worked with a number of communities on treatment, says that an injection treatment, in which the insecticide is shot into the tree through holes bored in the bark, costs on average $50 to $60 every two years for municipalities. The cost is more for individual homeowners, according to Arborjet, but still cheaper than removal and replacement.

Research by Williamson and others has shown that when it comes to protecting an ash from the voracious borer, action must be taken.

“If you have an ash tree you want to preserve and you don’t treat it, it will die,” says Williamson.

WHAT MAKES the emerald ash borer, also known as EAB, such an effective killer?

First, it is an invasive species. As such, it arrived on our shores to find it had won the insect lottery—millions of acres of tasty ash, no natural enemies poised to make a dent in its growing populations, and ash trees with no natural defense against the feeding larvae.

Added to this deadly mix of traits, according to Williamson, is the insect’s near invisibility at the early stages of infestation. The flying insect is only about an eighth of an inch wide, he says, and it lays its eggs high in a tree’s upper branches. The larvae emerge within a month, bore through the tree’s bark and begin feeding on the soft wood beneath, creating a crazy map of looping trails. All of this—from the infestation by flying adults high in the tree to the burrowing by larvae beneath the bark—is nearly impossible to spot, Williamson says. The only way to detect an infestation is through a laborious process of peeling away the outer bark of a tree and looking for the telltale trails left by the gnashing larvae. Unfortunately, by the time such evidence is found, it is too late to save the tree.

This cloak of invisibility, Williamson says, has made the borer a particularly deadly foe. Entomologists have estimated that, based on the extent of the damage to ash stands in Michigan, the borer had been dining on trees for nearly a decade before its presence was discovered, notes Williamson.

In the interim, the larvae were fatally damaging the ash trees’ inner tissues, or cambium, the layers of the tree that carry food down to the roots and water and nutrients up to the leaves.

“It’s like me going to your house without you knowing it and destroying your plumbing.” 


“It’s like me going to your house without you knowing it and destroying your plumbing,” says Williamson.

Williamson notes that if the tree’s cambium is significantly damaged as a result of the feeding larvae, treatment is likely futile. “They’ve destroyed the conductive tissues,” he says.

While Williamson has focused on the study of insecticides, Raffa has worked to find predators that might help slow the borer.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture studying the insect in 2003 in its native China haunts found parasitic wasps that feed on the ash borer larvae, Raffa notes. Scientists narrowed their focus to three species that they concluded might be effective and would not attack native insects. Eight states released these parasitic stingless wasps between 2007 and 2010, and in 2011 Raffa, researchers from his laboratory, and members of state agencies cooperatively released specimens of the three species at Wisconsin’s Riveredge Nature Center, near Newburg.

Raffa felled four infested trees in 2013, sectioned the logs and searched for wasps. He found that one species had survived and thrived.

“We knew they had established a population,” says Raffa. “There’s no doubt they were killing ash borers because that’s all they feed on.”

Now more of the wasps are being released by DNR pest specialists. But Raffa warns that, with the rapid spread of the ash borer, it is too late to hope that the wasps will have an immediate impact. Rather, Raffa says, the wasps may multiply and provide control after this initial, destructive wave of ash borer activity. Once the ash borer destroys much of its food source, the wasps may have a better shot at keeping their numbers in check.

“Their numbers are inadequate to affect this first big wave,” Raffa says. “I’m hoping the wasps will be there to kick EAB when it’s down.”

Raffa adds that other researchers, including scientists at Ohio State University, are searching for and studying ash trees that survive the first ash borer attacks. Such trees may offer hope because of a natural resistance that, once understood, could be bred into a new borer-resistant strain of ash.

The problem, both Williamson and Raffa say, is that such science takes time. “And time is not our friend here,” notes Williamson.

Most effective in the short term at slowing the spread are DNR rules aimed at preventing the movement of firewood around the state. Raffa says the insect does not travel far on its own, and that the insect spread through the state is due mostly to its hitching rides on firewood.

A federal and state quarantine on counties where the ash borer is present requires tree nurseries and the wood industry to take precautions that prevent the spread of the borer in nursery stock or logs (see map on page 20). General public restrictions for bringing firewood onto state properties are posted here.

AT STAKE ARE extensive stands of ash that most communities planted in the wake of another tree calamity—Dutch elm disease. Often cited as being similar in impact to the emerald ash borer’s spread, Dutch elm disease first appeared in the late 1920s and moved steadily across the continent through the 1970s. Caused by a fungus and spread by bark beetles, the disease killed 77 million of the much-beloved American elms between 1930 and 1989. Lost in that disaster were the beautiful urban tree stands that graced so many city and village streets, creating cathedral-like arches of shade.

In the wake of that loss, urban foresters planted millions of green
and white ash trees. They grew fast, adapted well to urban growing conditions and resisted droughts. Madison’s streets, for example, are lined with ash. The city’s forestry department estimated that 21,700 of its publicly owned trees are ash. Thousands more are found in parks and on private property. Milwaukee has more than 30,000 ash trees lining its streets.

Statewide, Wisconsin has more than 770 million ash trees, according to the DNR’s forestry division. That’s 7 percent of the total tree population, and they dominate lowland forests. In the state’s urban areas, according to the agency, 20 percent of street trees are ash.

Wisconsin ecological pioneer Aldo Leopold observed that disturbing one part of an ecosystem often has powerful and far-removed consequences. So it is with the loss of the state’s ash trees, according to forestry experts. The loss of a large percentage of a community’s tree canopy can lead to everything from more flooding to increased energy bills for homeowners, according to Marla Eddy, Madison’s city forester.

In a 2004 study of urban trees in Minneapolis, researchers with the U.S. Forest Service found that the benefits of landscape trees dramatically exceed the costs of planting and care over their lifetime. Each year, the study found, 100 shade trees catch about 216,200 gallons of rainwater and remove 37 tons of carbon dioxide as well as 259 pounds of other pollutants.

The researchers calculated that one well-placed large tree provides an average savings of $31 in home energy costs each year. And trees add value to a home, according to the study, which found that each large front yard tree adds 1 percent to the sales price of a house. Big trees can add 10 percent to property value.

So losing such a large percentage of the tree canopy in a community is about more than just appearances. That’s why Milwaukee has chosen to treat as many as 28,000 of its 33,000 trees—to slow the loss of ash and keep as much of the canopy in place as possible as infested trees are removed.

In communities that were hit early by emerald ash borer, saving trees has been more difficult. In Oak Creek, just outside Milwaukee, EAB was discovered in November 2009, making it ground zero for the borer’s assault on Wisconsin. In the absence of tested pesticides at the time, the city started an ambitious removal and replacement program aimed at getting new trees up as soon as possible, according to Rebecca Lane, Oak Creek’s urban forester.

In fact, Lane, in anticipation of the insect’s arrival, had already been taking steps to protect the canopy. “When we heard about EAB, I almost immediately stopped planting ash trees,” Lane recalls. Of the city’s 10,000 street trees, 1,500 were ash. Of these, 750 have been removed and 750 are under treatment. “As treatments became deemed dependable, we began to use insecticides for long and short-term ash treatments,” notes Lane.

Other communities, too, have been able to take advantage of insecticides that have proven effective, thanks to the work of Williamson and other researchers.

Madison is treating all healthy street trees 10 inches in diameter or larger, and anticipates saving as many as 60 percent of its street ash tree population, according to city forester Eddy.

“We have to think long-term,” says Karl van Lith, organizational development and training officer for the city of Madison. “We’re thinking about the tree canopy for the next generation.”

WHILE RESEARCHERS have provided some help for urban forests, the more dense stands of ash in county, state and national forests will be much harder to save, according to Andrea Diss-Torrance, a plant pest and disease specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.The chemical treatments used in urban forests require application to individual trees, which is impossible when you’re talking about entire forests. Williamson says some research has looked at the effectiveness of aerial spraying a specific strain of Bacillus thuringiensis, similar to a bacterial strain used to control gypsy moth caterpillars. The pathogen is sprayed over the canopy and kills flying adults.

The practice remains limited, Williamson says, and comes with its own set of problems, not the least of which is the potential environmental impact of widespread spraying, as opposed to the controlled treatment of individual trees.

The bottom line is that saving extensive stands of ash trees in Wisconsin’s public forests is going to be very difficult, acknowledges Diss-Torrance. “Our forests are going to be greatly changed,” she says.

Diss-Torrance confirms that, just as the loss of urban ash trees will have environmental impacts, the death of thousands of forest trees is likely to cause damaging changes to the state’s forest ecosystems.

Of special concern are lowland forests, such as black ash swamps. Research has already shown that the loss of black ash in these wetland areas can result in a rise in water levels because the trees are no longer there to soak up the water. That change, in turn, results in the growth of problem species such as reed canary grass, which muscles out other plants and so changes the wetland that it is no longer able to support its native cohort of plants and creatures, from amphibians to insects.

“You end up with very different communities,” Diss-Torrance says. The loss of black ash would be

keenly felt by several of Wisconsin’s Native American tribes, which have traditionally used the supple wood of the ash to make baskets for storing food.

“These baskets have always been a symbol of home and abundance,” Diss-Torrance says. “They’re central to the harvest and to Native tradition.”

In southern Wisconsin, green ash is prominent among the trees that line lakes, rivers and wetlands.

“We have a lot of lakes and a lot of wetland areas,” Diss-Torrance notes. “And they’re all dominated by green ash. Those trees help stabilize banks. What happens when they fall into the water?”

So the stakes are high as the battle continues against this tiny foe.

Williamson is spending less time on borer-related research but continues to spread the word about the use of insecticides—and he still spends a lot of time consulting with communities as they battle the insect.

In fact, Williamson says, with considerable misinformation circulating, the job of educating the public about the insect has been an important task of CALS scientists. He figures that between 2003 and 2013, he gave nearly 170 talks about the emerald ash borer.

One important lesson to come from the ash borer, Williamson says, is the need to diversify an urban forest’s population. It’s a lesson that should
have been learned after the spread of Dutch elm disease, he notes. Now the rule of thumb is that no single species should represent 10 percent or more of a community’s total tree inventory.

Both Eddy, the city forester in Madison, and Lane, her counterpart in Oak Creek, say creating that diversity in their plantings is a priority in the wake of the emerald ash borer.

Both also say that the disastrous spread of the insect has given them new insight into the touching connections between people and the natural world, especially their attachment to the beauty and solace of trees.

“That human factor is so much larger than I thought when I first started doing this,” says Lane. “I thought of this as mostly a technical career.”

But around Yahara Place Park, on Madison’s near East Side, neighbors have seen ash trees beginning to fall and have decided to mobilize to protect what trees they can, according to Paul Nichols, one of the neighborhood organizers.

He and others went door to door collecting money to pay for treatment of healthy ash trees in the park alongside Lake Monona. Storms have recently roared through and destroyed a number of towering cottonwoods. So the remaining ash trees—about 22—took on added significance. Nichols and others took advantage of the city’s “Adopt-a-Park Tree” program—which allows residents to pay for treatment of treasured park trees—to make sure that the ash got treated.

Why make such an effort? Nichols, strolling the park on a pleasant summer morning, pointed to the stumps of the removed trees and recalled the beauty of the big trees and their arched branches—old friends that were once visible from the front window of his home.

Nichols and others say they miss the trees and understand they may not be around when the ash that are saved grow to maturity. But, he adds, they know that others will someday know and appreciate the view of the blue lake framed between stately trunks, or the pleasure of sitting beneath a shady canopy on a lazy summer afternoon.

“What we’re really talking about,” Nichols says, “is doing something for the generations to come.”

This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Grow magazine.


Google Glass goes to class

Teaching students how to determine if a sow is in estrus is tricky. Bringing a class into the barn to watch would be distracting for the sows, and chaotic, given that space is limited and the procedure involves letting a boar or two loose in the barn to see which sows are interested. So animal sciences professor John Parrish uses video. But that too has posed problems.

“I would have another person perform the procedure while I recorded what they were doing,” explains Parrish, who teaches Reproductive Animal Physiology. “The problem is that I know what I want to record, but I can’t control what the other person is going to do, and they don’t do exactly what I want. And I can’t have someone else tape me, because they won’t get the image that I want.“

Now Parrish has a better way. He pops on a Google Glass unit and records and narrates the procedure as he performs it. His students watch online so they can figure out which sows are ready and then head to the barn to perform their next lab assignment: artificial insemination.

The Google Glass unit he uses is provided by the CALS Computer Lab, which used campus Instructional Lab Modernization Funding to acquire the technology to encourage instructional innovation.

While the Google Glass was purchased primarily to be used for instruction, researchers who have a good idea for their use can also sign them out to familiarize themselves with the tool. If you need inspiration, there are plenty of innovative instructional uses for GG described online.

The CALS Computer Lab was one of the original campus open computer labs dating back more than 20 years. There are a dozen computers available for walk-in use, a group study area, and two computer classrooms that can be reserved for trainings or classroom use. The lab also checks out equipment to students and university employees.  Thirty-five laptop computers are available for 3-day checkouts.  A few portable LCD projectors, camcorders, video recorders and Apple iPads are also available for check out.

Tom Tabone is the lab manager as well as the College’s instructional technologist. Those interested in reserving computer classroom time or in trying out the Google Glass should contact Tom (


STEP AWAY FROM THE DONUT: UW police learn to cook healthy meals

While most officers in the UW-Madison Police Department forgo the stereotypical coffee-and-donuts breakfast, it’s true that many still struggle with healthy eating.

And no wonder. After a ten-hour shift, it’s hard to muster the energy to go home and cook a meal from scratch. Healthy lunches are also a problem, since many officers are out and about at lunchtime, without access to a refrigerator or microwave.

What’s a hungry cop to do?

This fall 18 members of the UWPD sought the answer by signing up for a hands-on cooking course led by CALS food science instructor Monica Theis. The 10–week course, which is being run as a pilot project, fits in nicely with the UWPD’s larger wellness program. Each class begins with brief instruction on foods, food preparation and nutrition. Then participants hit Babcock Hall’s cooking lab to prepare a potluck’s worth of healthier-for-you dishes that everybody samples at the end of class.


Officers David Kromm and Ruth Ewing with the “mac n’ cheese” they cooked together.

“I signed up so I could get different, healthier recipes to make for my family, and quicker options for making things at night after work,” says Ruth Ewing, UWPD’s day shift lieutenant, who made “macaroni and cheese” sans cheese: it featured boiled, pureed squash instead.

Participants show up on Wednesday evenings with a can-do and will-try attitude. Each session highlights a particular type of meal or food group. They’ve covered vegetables, animal-based proteins, plant-based proteins, pasta and sauces, and chilis, soups and stews.


With guidance from dietetics student Maria Gruetzmacher, UWPD lieutenant Mark Silbernagel rolls out pizza dough he made from scratch.

The course was the idea of special events lieutenant Mark Silbernagel, the team leader for the UWPD’s healthy culture and climate effort. He’d heard about Theis’ cooking classes for students and reached out to her. “We knew we had tons of passionate experts here on campus [who could help],” he says.

Theis loved the idea, not just as a way to serve the campus community, but also as a great learning opportunity for students. Students in a dietetics lab class help set up the cooking stations each week, and students from the food science and nutritional sciences departments participate in the cooking sessions and help develop educational materials requested by the officers.

Dietetics senior Kylee Secrist said she learned a lot by helping to create a one-page flowchart that recommends safe, healthy lunch options, taking into account whether officers will be in the office or on the go at lunchtime.

“It was interesting to have insight into what people in the community need and want to know about consuming healthy food in the context of their lifestyle,” Secrist says.

Theis says it’s rewarding to see the participants incorporate some of the new recipes and nutritional advice into their routines. “They come back each week and talk about what they tried at home,” she says. “To me that’s one of the best success stories.”


At a recent cooking session, Karen Soley sauted leeks to add to mashed potatoes.

UWPD Support Services Captain Karen Soley had a great example: She’s introduced her husband to tempeh and Brussels sprouts since joining the class.

“He said, ‘Unless you bury these things in nacho cheese sauce, I do not like Brussels sprouts.’ I said, ‘Just trust me.’ So I followed the recipe that we made in class, and he took the first bite and he stopped and looked at me and he said, ‘Huh, these are kind of good,’” says Soley. “And then he had seconds.”