A team of Virginia Tech researchers is looking for ways to protect and preserve 11.5 acres of forest on the university’s Blacksburg, Virginia, campus commonly referred to as Stadium Woods.

The remnant old-growth white oak forest located behind Lane Stadium contains dozens of trees that are believed to be more than 300 years old.

This summer, Emily Newton, a senior studying wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment from Blacksburg, Virginia, established permanent plots that can be used to measure the ecological health of the forest over time.

Newton is measuring the size and species of the trees to establish a baseline on the forest’s current state. She is also examining whether new trees are beginning to grow from existing vegetation in a process called natural regeneration.

“Having this information allows us to take the actions necessary to ensure the health of the trees,” said John R. Seiler, Alumni Distinguished Professor and The Hon. and Mrs. Shelton H. Short Professor of Forestry. “For example, if we find few or no seedlings in our sampling locations, we’ll know that the trees are not naturally regenerating and that may mean we need to plant seedlings or take other corrective actions.”

Newton also worked with several community groups this summer to remove invasive plants, like privet, multiflora rose, and oriental bittersweet, throughout the woods.

“These are plants not native to the area and they pose the greatest, immediate threat to the health of the woods. Species such as privet can become so thick that no native oak seedlings can get established” said Seiler.

The research project and removal of invasive plants are two of the recommendations included in the “Stewardship Plan for Virginia Tech's Old-Growth Forest near Lane Stadium.

The plan was written by Rodney Walters, a 2016 Virginia Tech graduate who completed his master’s degree in urban forest ecology and management.

The 377-page plan includes a list of recommendations the university is considering for implementation.

“This report will be a valuable tool for as we work toward putting a plan into place for the future of the woods,” said Jason Soileau, university architect and assistant vice president.

Funding for Walters' work was provided by the Division of Administrative Services and the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Walters developed the plan as part of the requirements for completing his degree, under the guidance of an advisory committee composed of Seiler; Eric Wiseman, associate professor of Urban Forestry and Arboriculture; Mike Sorice, assistant professor of natural resource recreation; and Sarah Karpanty, associate professor of wildlife.

Walters now teaches arboriculture at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Oregon. Prior to attending Virginia Tech, he was the lead arborist at Montana State University.

For more information visit the website.