Category Archives: Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Dedication and passion elevate Virginia to second on Champion Trees national register

paperbark maple on Virginia Tech Campus

This paperbark maple outside Hutcheson Hall is one of 13 state champion trees located on the Virginia Tech campus.

Just outside Hutcheson Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, a champion tree hides in plain sight. Its green leaves turn bright scarlet in the fall, and its orange-red bark peels in thin, papery layers. The Acer griseum, more commonly known as paperbark maple, is the largest of its species known to exist in Virginia.

The identification and registration of big trees in Virginia, including 13 on the Virginia Tech campus, is a passion project for Eric Wiseman, associate professor of urban forestry in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Wiseman coordinates the Virginia Big Tree Program, which has been identifying the state’s big trees since 1970.

“Our mission with the Virginia database is twofold: to document the big trees in the state and to advocate for their conservation and care,” said Wiseman, of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. “We have a section on our site called ‘Protecting Trees’ that details the three main threats to big trees, which include storms and lightning, construction and soil disturbance, and land development.”

Wiseman’s efforts have recently elevated Virginia into second place on the Champion Tree National Register maintained by American Forests. Virginia’s tally of 88 champion and co-champion trees trails Florida’s 132 trees and ranks just ahead of third-place Texas, with 81 trees.

Virginia is a surprise contender considering its size and level of urbanization. Wiseman notes that the state’s high ranking reflects the hard work of dedicated individuals.

“I like to tout the rankings as an indication and an acclamation for the people in the state who are so passionate about big trees,” Wiseman said. “It’s not so much that Virginia is a bastion of big trees; it’s that we have people who are passionate about big trees and keen to go out and find them.”

Byron Carmean’s passion for finding and documenting big trees truly stands out. Carmean, who earned a horticulture degree at Virginia Tech in 1970, started searching for and documenting big trees in 1983 after seeing the state’s big tree list published in the Virginia Forestry Association’s magazine.

“I started looking down the list with some interest. I’d see one and think, ‘I think I’ve seen one bigger than that.’ I got in touch with Gary Williamson, who was working as a ranger at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, and he mentioned that he had seen a couple of trees that he thought were very big. We got together and found a winged sumac that became a national champ,” Carmean said.

Carmean’s and Williamson’s contributions to the database are significant: they share credit for 53 of Virginia’s 88 national champion and co-champion trees, and have discovered an additional 269 state champion and co-champion trees. Not content to stay local, their passion for hunting big trees has brought them to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky, where they have tracked down additional state and national champions. American Forests credits Carmean and Williamson with identifying more national champion and co-champion trees than anyone else in the country.

Carmean’s background in horticulture and tree science has been a boon to his efforts. “It really helps to be familiar with the big tree list and what is big for each species of tree,” he said. “What’s big for a dogwood wouldn’t be comparable to what’s big for a maple or an oak, so you need to have a deep knowledge of trees.”

Three factors go into measuring a tree: trunk circumference, tree height, and the average spread of the tree’s crown. While some trees require specialized tools to accurately assess a tree’s score, most can be measured using a yardstick and a 100-foot measuring tape.

Big tree hunting can be done anywhere. While enthusiasts like Carmean and Williamson enjoy hiking through unexplored forests, many Virginia state and national champion trees grow in city centers, on college campuses, and at historically significant sites like Arlington National Cemetery, Monticello, and Montpelier.

Wisemen notes that big tree enthusiasts find a variety of avenues to their passion. “For Byron Carmean and Gary Williamson, they like the thrill of the hunt. For others, it is the cultural and historical ties with the trees that fascinate them, that sense of connecting a tree to moments in history.”

When asked what continues to inspire his passion, Wiseman said, “As a certified arborist for over 20 years, I think I’m drawn to the trees on an individual level. Because I understand tree anatomy and physiology, I have an appreciation for the fact that these gigantic organisms can live for so long. And I get excited about the mathematics of it. Sometimes trees are straightforward to measure, but other times you have to incorporate some heavy-duty geometry and trigonometry to figure out how to score them.”

The Virginia Big Trees website has information about how to measure and report big trees, as well as a comprehensive database detailing Virginia’s current state and national champions. To ensure that the Virginia Big Tree database is up-to-date and accurate, all trees need to be recertified every 10 years. This process includes verifying that the tree is still alive, identifying any threats to its well-being, and assessing whether a tree’s score should be adjusted. The program is always looking for volunteers for recertification efforts; interested individuals should visit the website for more information.

— Written by Krista Timney

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Joseph R. and Mary W. Wilson Endowed Urban Entomology Professorship to help fight urban pests

Joe and Mary Wilson

Mary and Joe Wilson

In June, Joe and Mary Wilson, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, established the Joseph R. and Mary W. Wilson Endowed Urban Entomology Professorship in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Wilson is the former owner of PermaTreat Pest Control, a leading pest control company located in Central and Northern Virginia.

The Wilson Urban Entomology Professor will lead entomology research efforts with the goal of discovering new and innovative ways to fight the scourge of urban pests such as bedbugs and cockroaches and share that information with the public.

“We felt like this was an opportunity to give back to an institution that helped build our business,” Joe Wilson told a local newspaper about his desire to make a gift. “Our industry is very closely tied to Virginia Tech. They have provided most of the training and instruction for pest control officers like myself.”

“This gift is truly transformational to our program at Virginia Tech,” said Tim Kring, head of the Department of Entomology. “There is a void in basic foundational research for urban pest management. We want to expand our program by adding a research component to our toolbox in order to pioneer next-step treatment options for indoor pests. No insecticide lasts forever. So, coming up with a new tool requires research.”

A native of Buena Vista, Virginia, Joe Wilson got into the business in 1965, when he was selling pest control service door-to-door for Orkin. He moved through the ranks of the company, eventually becoming the regional vice president of Orkin’s Midwest Region, overseeing 54 branches in 13 states.

In 1982, Wilson was visiting with a friend who started PermaTreat Pest Control in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and offered to sell the company to Wilson. Since moving back to Fredericksburg, Wilson has been involved in a host of civic activities and urban development projects, including building the Wilson building in downtown which has led to other commercial development in the downtown area. He is one of the founding members of the Rappahannock Rotary Club and he has long supported animal-welfare programs, including PermaTreat’s adopt-a-pet ads that appear in newspapers across the Commonwealth. He was a Fredericksburg City Councilman from 2000 to 2004 and named Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year in 1987.

Wilson is also an active member and past president of the Virginia Pest Management Association, as well as a member of the National Pest Management Association. He was instrumental in the founding of the Virginia Pest Management Association Research Fund, which provided funding to create the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory at Virginia Tech.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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Bert Dodson Sr. Urban Entomology Enrichment Fund improves lives by battling urban pests

 

Dodson family

The Bert Dodson Sr. Urban Entomology Enrichment Fund was made possible by Dorothy Dodson, Karen Dodson Whitt, Bert Dodson Jr., Todd A. Dearborn, and Bonny L. Dodson.

People have been using a battery of weapons in the battle against household pests like cockroaches and bedbugs for decades. Now, they have a new weapon.

The newly established Bert Dodson Sr. Urban Entomology Enrichment Fund in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will enable researchers, faculty, and Virginia Cooperative Extension professionals to implement novel solutions to urban pest problems and to share that knowledge with students, pest management professionals, and citizens. By researching ways to fight urban pests and sharing that knowledge through outreach and education, the fund will help society deal with the scourge of urban pests.

The fund was made possible by a gift from the family of Bert Dodson Sr. He founded Dodson Brothers Exterminating Company in 1944, along with his brother Robert, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Later, their brother Arthur joined them, and they began to build the small company into what would eventually be one of the largest family-owned pest control company in North America. Bert bought out his brothers in the early 1960s and expanded the enterprise throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Widely known for its bright yellow trucks, Dodson Brothers prides itself on delivering quality service with customer satisfaction being their principle goal.

Bert Dodson Jr., president and C.E.O. of Dodson Brothers, said that the members of Dodson family were all behind the decision to create the endowment.

“We want to give back to the community and to the commonwealth that has been so good to us for over the last 70 years,” he said. “We need the help of a research center, especially for training. Dodson Brothers has been blessed with a good customer base and really good team members. We feel the support we got from Virginia Tech faculty over the decades has really helped our company grow and prosper. We are giving back to a great institution that has helped us throughout the years.”

The fund will help further the work of the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory, which was founded in 1988 by a group of Virginia pest management professionals lead by Bert Dodson Sr. The Laboratory’s mission is to create knowledge and provide innovative pest management information to pest management professionals and the public through Virginia Cooperative Extension. The laboratory is dedicated to applied research on urban insect pests and pesticide application tests. It is home to two insect rearing areas and has space for staff and students to conduct research. The lab is part of the Department of Entomology, which is a recognized leader in advancing urban arthropod pest management.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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Four industry leaders inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame

The 2018 Livestock Hall of Fame inductees were (from left) Eileen Beckman, Gary Hornbaker, Charles Moyer, and Lynda Schmidt Stuart.

The 2018 Livestock Hall of Fame inductees were (from left) Eileen Beckman, Gary Hornbaker, Charles Moyer, and Lynda Schmidt Stuart.

Four people were recently inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame for their outstanding and uncommon contributions to the state’s livestock industry.

The ceremony was held at the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena on Virginia Tech’s campus during an unveiling of portraits of the 2018 honorees.

Established in 2009, the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame bestows honor and recognition on outstanding Virginians who have made significant contributions to the state’s livestock industry and its people. The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Pork Industry Association, Virginia Sheep Producers Association, Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, and Virginia Horse Council can nominate living or deceased individuals to the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame. This year’s honorees are listed below.

Eileen Beckmam founded and operated Otteridge Farm in Bedford County, where she bred and developed superior hunter ponies. Her ponies were exhibited and shown very successfully, but her greatest contribution was her teaching children and adults to ride with proper horsemanship and sportsmanlike conduct. She was also a well-respected judge. Recognitions include being inducted into the Virginia Horse Shows and the National Show Hunters halls of Fame. Beckman passed away in 2010.

Gary Hornbaker is a recognized agricultural innovator and leader in Loudoun County and the greater Northern Virginia area. His career in Virginia Cooperative Extension and county services is dedicated to the livestock industry and economic development. He is a cattle and sheep producer specializing in producing animals for research. Recognitions include citations from the Virginia Cattlemen’s and the Virginia Sheep Producers associations and national and state agricultural Extension groups.

Charles Moyer, of Amelia County, has been a lifelong dairyman and breeder of Oakmulgee registered Holsteins. He is a distinguished and respected agricultural and civic leader and promoter of agricultural cooperatives. He has served on numerous state and national industry boards and committees. Recognitions include FFA’s American Farmer Degree, Virginia Holstein Association’s Distinguished Service Award, and Virginia’s Outstanding Farm Family.

Lynda Schmidt Stuart is an accomplished farm manager and leader with a background in both the beef and dairy industries. She grew up on a registered Holstein farm in California and with her father developed Genetics Inc., an artificial insemination firm. She came to Virginia in 1975 and has served as president, CEO and manager of Stuart Land and Cattle Co. since 2008.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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Hokie Bugfest spreads its wings on Oct. 20

Don’t miss the eighth annual Hokie BugFest on Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Virginia Tech’s Squires Student Center and at locations in downtown Blacksburg!

The free event has something for everyone, including a host of new exhibits and competitions for 2018. Hokie BugFest is a STEAM-inspired (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) community festival that celebrates the joy and excitement of entomology.

In cooperation with the Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, Hokie BugFest is a S.A.F.E., or Supporting Autism-Friendly Environments, event. Quiet hour and activities begin at 9 a.m. for children with autism or other disabilities.

Visitors can creep and crawl their way through three floors of bug-inspired activities in Squires Student Center as well as walk through a beautiful butterfly tent or the spooky Spiders’ Lair. In the Colonial Hall Auditorium, attendees can watch the Bug Whisperer, Tony Gustin, with shows throughout the day or cheer on the adventurous eaters of the Bug Eating Contest at 1:30 p.m. They can also check out bird-eating tarantulas, whip scorpions, death-feigning beetles, and more than 200 arthropods in Virginia Tech’s own bug zoo.

Other attractions include a pollination station that has a working beehive where live bees are making honey and visitors can observe the dance language of bees and see if they can spot the queen. Attendees can also play the nectar gathering bean-bag toss and learn about the many products of the hive, such as beeswax and royal jelly.

New to Hokie BugFest is the Buggy Art Contest where visitors can view bug-themed paintings, photography, and sculptures entered by local youth and adults. Throughout the day, visitors can also play festival favorites like Bug Jeopardy, Bug Bingo, or attempt the Bee Waggle Dance to win a prize.

In Old Dominion Ball Room on the first floor of Squires Student Center, visitors can learn about forensic entomology, pests of your pets, and the latest insect-related research at Virginia Tech. Hokie BugFest wouldn’t be complete without endless arts and crafts, a peek through a pair of insect goggles, and the chance to earn a Junior Entomologist certificate.

On College Avenue in Downtown Blacksburg, the first Humans Dressed as Dung Beetles Race will take place at 3 p.m., where individuals and teams will compete to see who can roll their dung ball the fastest.  Interested racers can preregister online or sign up at the festival.

Also new to Hokie BugFest is the Buggin’-Out Costume Contest and Parade – where the two buggiest costumes will be crowned the festival’s King and Queen. Costume entries should check in at the Lyric Theatre no later than 10:45 a.m.  Judging will begin at 11:00 a.m.

The Lyric Theatre is hosting Storytime with Joelle at 10 a.m., Alberti’s Flea Circus throughout the day, and a free showing of the movie “Microcosmos” at 4 p.m. Visitors can take home a bug-inspired balloon creation from Brandon the Balloon Guy.

No matter how you spend your day, Hokie BugFest is guaranteed to leave you bug-crazed!

For festival maps, a complete schedule of events, and contest information including online entry forms, please visit the Hokie Bugfest website or Facebook page.

This event highlights an ongoing youth education program hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program, and the department’s student-run professional organization, the W. B. Alwood Entomological Society.

If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services, or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Mike Weaver at 540-231-6543 during business hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations at least five days prior to the event.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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