Early detection of new local forest health threats will be important. A changing climate will make trees and woodlands more stressed, and that stress will make them more vulnerable to widespread mortality from insect and disease threats.
Because the specific insects and diseases likely to invade are not always known, it's important that woodland owners carefully monitor conditions in their woods. In addition, attention must be paid to the encroachment of other plant species, whether native or exotic, as these species will compete with established trees and plants. This will come naturally to most woodland owners. As a group, they're deeply committed to land stewardship.
The last thing they want to do is be a source of problems for their neighbors. If, for whatever reason, a new insect or disease outbreak first becomes established on their properties, they'll want to nip it in the bud rather than allowing it to spread onto neighboring properties.
The first thing you should do is identify the insect or disease that you're seeing. The two best sources of help in identifying insects, diseases, and invasive species are your local Cooperative Extension office and the nearest office of your state's natural resource agency. Some states have insect and disease diagnostic Web sites that can help. To find diagnostic Web sites, try using a search engine for terms like tree, forest, insect, disease, diagnostic, identification, and the name of your state.
Once you know what insect or disease you're dealing with, learn more about it. Is it likely to kill trees or just weaken them? Most defoliating insects, for instance, rarely kill trees despite the alarming appearance of a defoliated stand. If the threat you've found is likely to kill trees and spread to adjacent stands, what are your control options? If you're successful, how likely is a repeat infestation next year?
You'll obviously want to balance the priority of controlling new threats to your woodland's health with the expense and likelihood of long-term success. Be aware that in some states and in some years, cost-share assistance may be available to help eradicate woodland stands infested with certain insect and disease threats. Your local Cooperative Extension or state natural resource agency is the best point of contact for more information.
Frequent monitoring is so important because the earlier you catch most outbreaks, the cheaper they will be to control and the greater your chance of long-term success.
As the owners of about 60% of the nation's productive woodlands, families and individuals have an important opportunity and responsibility. Careful forest health monitoring and prompt action to deal with emerging forest health threats will help landowners become part of the solution rather than a source of forest health problems for their neighbors.
Related to Monitoring Woodlands for Climate Impacts: