Enhancing Profits and the Environment with Trees

Pennsylvania is home to the greatest volume of select hardwood species in the country. Nearly 100,000 Pennsylvanians make their living in the state's well-developed forest products industry, which contributes more than $5 billion to the economy each year.
Tim Strathmeyer Vice President, Production, Strathmeyer Forests, Inc., York County

Tim Strathmeyer Vice President, Production, Strathmeyer Forests, Inc., York County

"From fertilization to herbicide application to vegetation management, the recommendations from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have saved us countless thousands of dollars and improved efficiency and production at our Christmas-tree-growing operations in Cumberland, Dauphin, Adams, Schuylkill, and York Counties."

In addition, Pennsylvania's Christmas tree industry, which is ranked second in the country by most measures, generates another $100 million in economic activity. Nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania is covered by 17 million acres of forests that provide recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, protect against erosion, prevent floods, and contribute mightily to the state's economy. Trees also play a vital role in softening the urban environments of communities. Approximately 80 percent of Pennsylvania's forests are owned and managed by some 500,000 private landowners. The future health of this resource and its sustainable, long-term management hinge on how well government officials, environmental scientists, the wood products industry, and private landowners can reconcile economic development and environmental protection. Through research-based educational and training programs, Penn State is ensuring forest stewardship and sound urban forestry practices.

The Payoff

Creating forest stewards

Penn State's Forest Stewardship VIP-COVERTS program, which is 13 years old and has graduated 349 volunteers, trains woodland owners in the principles of forest stewardship. Participants are encouraged to motivate other woodland owners to adopt wise management practices to benefit Pennsylvania's forest resources and ensure healthy and productive forests for years to come. Landowners in the program initially receive approximately 40 hours of classroom and field training in forest ecology, biodiversity, wildlife science, environmental resource management, and other subjects related to stewardship. In exchange, VIPs agree to invest a like amount of their time relaying what they have learned to motivate forest landowners in their communities.

WoodPro branches into industry

Pennsylvania's timber and forest products industry is currently the state's fourth largest manufacturing sector and boasts one of the nation's largest wood-related workforces, with nearly 100,000 employees at more than 3,000 locations. To help that part of Pennsylvania's economy thrive, Penn State developed WoodPro, The Pennsylvania Wood Products Productivity Program. This extension program, in combination with other extension activities, is strengthening Penn State's ties with the state's wood products businesses while promoting factual and objective dissemination of information relative to the wood and timber industries. WoodPro covers all stages of the wood production process, including lumber processing and drying; component, cabinet, and furniture production; distribution; and retail. The program incorporates long-standing and recognized Penn State certification and training courses such as wood treating, hardwood lumber and log grading, kiln drying, wood structure, and chainsaw safety, with state-of-the-art technology transfer so critical to modern global competitiveness.

Urban and community forestry

The Pennsylvania Community Forestry Program, sponsored by Penn State in partnership with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry and the USDA Forest Service, helps municipalities, volunteers, and the green industries develop sustainable community forest management programs aimed at restoring, preserving, and enhancing people's natural environment and quality of life. Extension urban foresters and faculty provide technical assistance; offer educational opportunities and publications; train volunteers; assist with grants that support tree planting, pruning, and tree care to maintain health and safety; and build public support for community street-tree and park-tree programs. As a result of this program, more than 709 municipalities have started tree-care programs or improved existing programs, thus enhancing attractiveness, safety, and environmental and economic benefits of greenspace and landscapes. Tree City USA Awards have been given to 81 municipalities in recognition of their accomplishments. More than 2,750 local volunteers in 591 groups have assisted in projects involving tree inventories, planting, pruning, vegetation management, and working with municipal officials. Forty-eight municipalities and volunteer groups received $148,426 worth of grants, matched this amount to amplify effectiveness, and used funds for tree planting, pruning, and education about natural resources. In 2002-03, more than 11,000 workshop/conference participants at 156 educational events learned about a broad scope of topics involved in urban forest stewardship, and used this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of tree commissions, appropriate tree care programs, and planning for and managing natural resources in municipalities. In another part of the program, more than 225 eighth graders from 16 inner city schools learned about natural resource careers in 2001-02, and then shared their experiences with more than 2,000 classmates. This project, "Growing Your Future," received a National Arbor Day Foundation Award. In addition, more than 600 commercial arborists and utility arborists received instruction to improve the quality of their tree work and to prepare for a Certified Arborist exam.

Christmas tree research and outreach

The production of Christmas trees by Pennsylvania's 2,000 growers, including retail, wholesale, and seedling sales, is a $100 million annual undertaking, placing the state second only to Oregon. From the 1950s, when genetic research and breeding programs began to yield a better Scotch pine tree, to the present when biotechnologists are working to genetically engineer Frasier fir trees with resistance to pests, Penn State research and cooperative extension programs have helped growers to be more productive and save millions of dollars. Penn State has studied needlecast diseases, which were devastating Douglas fir and pines in Pennsylvania; fungicides and fungicide application; "keepability," or how long trees keep their needles indoors; the efficacy and application of pesticide, insecticide, and herbicide application; and vegetation management and weed control. Cooperative extension's annual training seminars for Christmas tree growers have trained thousands of attendees in matching trees to their sites, shearing techniques, fertilization, genetics, pesticide application, marketing, and pricing.

For more information, contact either Penn State Cooperative Extension at 814-863-3438 or the Office of Research and Graduate Education at 814-865-5410, or search for the topic on the College of Agricultural Sciences' website.