Posted: March 25, 2020

Seeking Woodland Solace in the Face of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a thing that we spend most of our days avoiding. It is there always, standing at the back of the line of the list of things we choose to interact with in a day, but rarely does it move far enough forward for us to see it clearly. Ahead of Uncertainty stands our work responsibilities, our community commitments, our day to day chores, our families' needs and happiness - and on and on as we routinely ensure that all of those which stand in our purview are accounted for. But today, this is different. Uncertainty has stepped forward and has asked us to see it, as the respiratory virus COVID-19 has rapidly evolved into a pandemic. This feels scary at first, as the stability and certainty of our daily lives is impacted. Now, government and medical officials stress to us, "Stay home, distance yourself from others around you, and do not gather physically with other people at this time." What does this mean and what do we do? Do we now have to sit, huddled inside, in front of the news, with Uncertainty settling in beside us snacking on the comfort cookies we just baked?

Pause there, put some cookies in a lunch bag, and let's take a step back - or rather, outside. In this moment in time, as you place space between yourself and the social world, take this opportunity to move more deeply into the natural one. Even as school is closed, work is changed, and socializing is paused, spring is still budding, the weather is still warming, and there is an abundance of learning, productivity, and fellowship that can still safely and fruitfully occur in the forest! So, go grab your boots and lace them up as we share with you all the ways you can use this time to care well for yourself and your woods.

If you are a lover of the wild things that live in the forest, grab a few field guides on birds and wildflowers and see what you can find! Spring woodland plants will soon be on full display, and some may even be beginning to appear now. Look for signs of trout lily's brown, mottled leaves or the brownish-purple shell of skunk cabbage. Even edible plants, like wild ramps, are beginning to appear and can make for a fun cooking project! If you don't own woods, but love spending time on public lands, you can still access trails at state parks and in state forests, even as the facilities present there are closed to the public - make sure you practice good social distancing and trail etiquette, avoiding crowded trails and ensuring room to pass when you encounter other hikers. Take the time to learn with your children or grandchildren, making dry leaf collections or practicing tree identification using buds and nuts! Virtual opportunities abound to compare discoveries when you can't be face-to-face.

If you are a woodland owner, consider using this time to create and evaluate forest management goals. If you have a forest management plan, read through it to ensure that it is up to date with documentation of your previous management activities and take the time to plan and organize the actions you wish to take this year. If you don't have a management plan, email or call your forester and discuss the possibility of developing one in the coming months. While the sun is down or the rain is falling, dive into the PA Forests Web Seminar Center to do some online learning about forest management activities and even have some of your questions answered! Walk your trails and assess their quality - are they intact or are they being eroded, and do you have a plan to account for this? Walk along your streams and consider the possibility of implementing a riparian buffer to maintain the quality of your cold, flowing waters. As the weather warms, invasive species like honeysuckle and Japanese barberry are beginning to bloom and display new leaves. Walk your woods and identify what invasives are present and consider plans of action to manage them this year, such as removals or herbicide applications. In your downtime at home or as you walk beneath the empty canopy, reflect upon your goals for your land after you have gone and contemplate how those can be solidified in an estate forest legacy plan.

And while you may not be able to outreach in the physical sense, you can use this time and space fully to steward the forest virtually! Use ArcGIS to create a Story Map, a virtual tour of your woodlands, to demonstrate the hard work you have done. Write articles for your local newspaper or your organization's newsletter about how you are spending this time with the forest. Use social media or the radio to share your passion in caring for the woodlands and why it is so important to be a good steward. Call your neighbor or send them an email to ask how they are spending sunny, quarantined days and suggest some woodland activities for them too! Here at the Center for Private Forests, we and our partners care deeply for ensuring that you have all the resources you need to learn about woodlands, to practice good management, and to enjoy the solace that being in the forest provides. This is why, at the bottom of this article, we are providing a directory to link you with the tools you need to maximize your time in this springtime quarantine.

That is why we also have collaborated to provide fun and easily accessible informational content and space for learning on our social media platforms. Follow the Center for Private Forests and Penn State Extension Renewable Natural Resources Team on Facebook to take part in April conversations around these practices and activities.

Can you feel it already? The peace, prosperity, and joy that is awaiting you beyond the tree line? Your boots are on and you are ready, so let's go. Rest assured, you are practicing social distancing as you draw near to the natural world, and the shadow of Uncertainty will disappear behind you as you enter the springtime forest.

Resources for You

For Learning
Ramps: an important forest resource and emerging forest "crop"

State Parks and Forests Trails Update on COVID - 19

Tree Identification for Youth

Common Trees of PA

Forest Management Activities

Forestry with Confidence: A Guide for Woodland Owners

Best Management Practices for Pennsylvania Forests

Managing Small Woodlots

PA Forests Web Seminar Center

Planning Trails for Your Woodlands

Maintain Forest Roads to Prevent Erosion and Protect Water

Riparian Buffers for Private Lands

Invasive Forest Plants of the Mid-Atlantic Guide

Feeling Overwhelmed? --A few tips for getting started with invasive plant management

Herbicides and Forest Vegetation Management

Integrated Forest Vegetation Management

Legacy Planning

Forest Stewardship Outreach

Making a Story Map in ArcGIS

For Love of the Woods--The Importance of Helping Others Connect and Care in the Long Haul

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802