The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees

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Pinus taeda, commonly known as loblolly pine, because the species is found mostly in lowlands and swampy areas, is one of several pines native to the Southern United States. U.S. Forest Service surveys found that loblolly pine is the second most common species of tree in the United States, after red maple and the pine species is regarded as the most commercially important tree in Southeastern U.S. for its value as timber. The wood industry classifies the loblolly as a southern yellow pine.

Richard Bland College sits amidst 637 acres of forest, much of which is loblolly. As you may have noticed, the loblolly pine are prolific at producing pollen, generating approximately 2.5 to 5 pounds of pollen in a two- to four-week period. Aside from the seasonal inconvenience to allergy sufferers, these trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and deserve our thoughtful management as a resource.

In addition to pollen, trees produce oxygen, they help to reduce storm water run-off and erosion, they provide habitat for wildlife, and are an economic resource if harvested for sale. At RBC, we have an additional opportunity to commune with our trees – research!

A forest is a very active place. Common fields of study related to the woods include dendrology, ecological and environmental modeling, plant biology, ecology and taxonomy, environmental management and conservation, natural resource economics, forest pests and management, silviculture, and wood and soil science. These are all STEM fields.

Because our forest footprint is so large and all but surrounds the campus, the possibility to engage in longitudinal studies is enormous and attractive. Despite the fact that we are a two-year school, we can organize research that is carried out for longer periods and involves community and institution partners (VT and VSU come to mind immediately).

Our Forestry Management Plan focusses on sustainability. Long-term stewardship of this resource will be a multi-tiered process in partnership with VDOF (VA Dept. of Forestry). Our goals include the creation of an environment optimally conducive to student recruitment, engagement and learning; the creation of an environment well-suited to educational programming; recreational/entrepreneurial activities; the management of the timber for generation of revenue and creation of self-sustaining operations; the identification and protection of historic and environmentally significant resources; and attention to the protection of wildlife, forest health, long-term viability of the resource.

The VDOF has been out wandering our woods several times this year. They have advised us that many of our pines are over-matured, stressed, insect-infested and/or in declining health. The removal of these stands will not only improve the overall health of the forest, but will provide the potential opportunity for students to track the life and growth of a stand from reforestation onward. VDOF is in the process of identifying areas to be harvested. The plan over the 18 – 24 months after harvest is to replant the timber stands with various varieties of pine and planting pecan trees along Carson Drive.

Carson Drive is to become the new gateway to our campus, creating an entrance that highlights a pedestrian environment rather than a drive-through experience. More on that in another post about our Campus Master Plan.

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