Category Archives: News

News about Kentucky Woodlands and their owners

Venerable Trees

History, Biology, and Conservation in the Bluegrass

Tom Kimmerer

University Press of Kentucky, 2015

229 p


Book review by Michael Rich, EKU Associate Professor and KWOA Board Member


This is the book I wish I had read when I bought my first woodland acreage in Kentucky. The author gives a detailed description of the differences between the subregions of the Bluegrass and the reasons for the various vegetation patterns found in these subregions. His description of the Nashville Basin provides an excellent comparative perspective in understanding how urbanization and other land use changes have affected ancient woodlands.


Kimmerer also makes specific suggestions for current and future management of these unique ecosystems which are under threat. The barometer of this threat, according to Kimmerer, are the “venerable trees,” trees which predate European colonization of the region. Surveys going back decades indicate that the Bluegrass and Nashville Basin have lost significant numbers of venerable trees due to urban development, soil compaction, lack of root space, intensive lawn maintenance, and outright destruction. Because venerable trees in the Bluegrass and Nashville Basin are not regenerating, we must understand the factors that led to the creation of these ecosystems if we wish to preserve and restore their unique features.


Kimmerer introduces a useful concept of the “woodland pasture” to describe the vegetative features of the Bluegrass and Nashville Basin. Contrary to my own preconception, fire, in contrast to the “savannah” of the upper Midwest, was not an important factor in the formation of woodland pasture. Rather, drought augmented by the rapidly draining karst topography is the main factor in the creation of the “woodland pasture.” Maintenance of the woodland pasture, originally created by giant cane which shaded sprouting trees, and occasional intense grazing by bison, can be recreated by grazing animals and creating protection zones for trees. Furthermore, he recommends planting with seedlings from native stock rather than genetically identical cuttings.


In addition to prescriptions for preservation and restoration, Kimmerer gives thoughtful descriptions of the main tree species of the Bluegrass and their unique aesthetic and ecological benefits. The book is generously illustrated with informative maps, charts and photographs that enhance understanding of Kimmerer’s main arguments. The fruit of decades of research and observation, Venerable Trees offers insight and guidance on important principles for anyone seeking to manage, preserve or restore land under their stewardship. For further information, including other reviews of the book, I recommend a look at the author’s website


(Photo credit: Venerable Bur Oak at Parklands Woodlands Gardens. Photo by Portia Brown)


Reducing Fire Risk on Your Forest Property

Is your forested property in a condition that could survive a wildfire? Have you reduced the slash to the point that it’s not a hazard? Could firefighters easily get to a wildfire on your property?

Although Reducing Fire Risk on Your Property is a Pacific Northwest Extension Publication, it provides relevant suggestions for making forested property more fire-resistant and provides references that specifically address the area of defensible space immediately around homes, cabins, or other structures.

Strategic Planning for KWOA/KWOF

KWOA/F board members participated in a strategic planning session following their May 9, 2019 board meeting. Dr. Dan Kahl of the Community and Economic Development Initiative of the University of Kentucky led the session for the group.


Dr. Kahl, UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, leads strategic planning session with KWOA/F board members at May 9 meeting.

The board members divided into three small discussion segments: Structure, Finance, and Membership and Outreach. Each group identified what activities are working well, what aren’t working well, and what activities need to be preserved and improved. Each participant assigned priorities of 1-3 to the activity categories identified. These scores will be tabulated and distributed to assist the organization in better defining and furthering its mission.

Mapping microbial symbioses in forests

Data collected from over 1 million forest plots reveals patterns of where plant roots form symbiotic relationships with fungi and bacteria.


In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships – involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species – has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish.

The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

Stanford University researchers worked alongside a team of over 200 scientists to generate these maps, published May 15 in Nature.

The group used their map to predict how symbioses might change by 2070 if carbon emissions continue unabated. This scenario resulted in a 10 percent reduction in the biomass of tree species that associate with a type of fungi found primarily in cooler regions.

The data behind this map represents real trees from more than 70 countries and collaboration between hundreds of researchers who speak different languages, study different ecosystems and confront different challenges.

“There are more than 1.1 million forest plots in the dataset and every one of those was measured by a person on the ground. In many cases, as part of these measurements, they essentially gave the tree a hug,” said Brian Steidinger, a Stanford University researcher. “So much effort – hikes, sweat, ticks, long days – is in that map.”

Encouraging results in invasive species managment approaches

Removal of invasive shrubs has exceeded expectations for regeneration of native plants according to recent Penn State University research. Native shrubs that are mixed with invasive shrubs can recolonize on their own when invasives are removed. Read more…

Where eradication of invasive plants is not feasible, reducing their density and abundance to a level which allows native species to thrive through an integrated pest management approach is a viable alternative. Read more…

Update on the status of the American chestnut

By Richard Hines, retired wildlife biologist

Prior to the outbreak of the Chestnut Blight, American chestnut trees once occupied 25% of the entire forest canopy over most of the Eastern United States. Its loss was an ecological disaster and for years researchers have worked tirelessly attempting to find a strain of trees that would be resistant. After years of work there may be hope for the return of this forest giant. Thanks to an understanding of genetics and efforts of numerous scientists along with concerned citizens a solution may be close.

At the KWOA Conference this past March, Rick Caldwell presented the group with the latest findings on how the chestnut is fairing.

Caldwell, who is the Arborist for Bernheim Forest, and President of the Kentucky Chapter of the Chestnut Foundation said, “for the past 35 years, we have been doing traditional crossbreeding between the American chestnut and the Chinese chestnut”. In addition to normal crosses, researchers have been backcrossing trees continually trying to captive more of the American chestnut genetics. Intercrosses have also been used in every effort possible to restore this magnificent tree to the landscape.

Through these efforts, Caldwell said, “we now have a tree that is about 94% American and 6% Chinese”.  Overall, the result to this point is a tree referred to as the B3F3 tree. Through backcrossing three times plus additional intercrossing researchers are now working with a tree that for all practical purposes is 15/16 American Chestnut. The question will continue, how resistant and/or tolerant is this tree to the chestnut blight.

While the group continues working with traditional breeding programs, Caldwell described how the Foundation has a new transgenic tree that researchers at New York State University which has had a wheat gene inserted that has further helped improve resistance. Currently, this new tree is showing about 99% resistance. Before any releases of this new tree can take place or before this is introduced into the breeding program, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency will have to approve the resulting tree. Caldwell added, “this is a very promising direction we are going, combining both transgenic and traditional breeding programs”. The process of developing a transgenic organism occurs when DNA material from another organism is inserted the target organism. In this case, a gene from wheat is being inserted into the experimental chestnut trees. Caldwell indicated that this may be the one that can finally start restoration efforts.

American Chestnut was such a large component of America’s eastern forests when it disappeared that researchers calculated that around 25 billion trees were lost. A tree that was essential to rural families for not only food, livestock feed, but lumber and numerous other wood products was essentially gone. From the standpoint of wildlife, the chestnut was the primary food consistently producing well over 5 to 10X the poundage of mast that oaks and other hardwood trees currently produce.  Unlike oaks, there is no variation in annual mast production due in part to a June flowering date which reduces susceptibility to early spring freezes.

An effort is underway to locate potential sites to establish mother orchards. If you are interested in becoming involved, you can contact Rick Caldwell at or call him on his cell phone at 502-807-2257.

Stop deforestation and restore forests to solve biodiversity and climate change crises

Andrew Deutz from The Nature Conservancy regarding the new United Nations report on biodiversity:

One of the cheapest, most readily available and cost-effective things that we can do to both solve the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis is, first, stop deforestation and, second, restore forests and then, third, change our agricultural practices to increase soil carbon and soil health.

Source: What Can Be Done To Prevent Mass Extinctions

May 12, 2019 on NPR Weekend Edition Sunday

Mark your calendar for the 2020 KWOA annual meeting

KWOA will continue its four-year series of American Tree Farm System themes with Recreation as the focus of its 2020 annual meeting.

It will also continue its celebration of its 25th year anniversary.

The annual meeting will convene March 24-25, 2020 at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in south central Kentucky.

Programs in planning include trail building, medicinal plants, fishing, hunting and woodland safety and survival.

Updates and registration information will be posted as it becomes available.

2019 Appalachian Regional Restoration Initiative Conference

Restoring Productive Forests on Mine Lands in Ohio

Jul 24-25 at the Pritchard Laughlin Civic Center in Cambridge, Ohio

This two-day Mined Land Restoration Conference features expert presentations in the science, policy and implementation of reforestation on active mining sites, abandoned mine lands and previously reclaimed land. The second day includes site visits to several projects in various stages of forestry reclamation.

2019 ARRI Conference Announcement

Early registration is $125 until June 30th.

For more information…