Interviews with Neighbors: Let’s Talk Trees with the Slagters


In the last newsletter, when introducing the Beaven’s family garden, I mentioned several unique advantages of living in Bradfordwoods. Those included our easy access to fresh farm food sources. Now I’ll add to that list by telling you why I’m here in Bradfordwoods. It’s the trees, the ups and downs and curves of the streets, the trees, the lot sizes, architectural diversity, and the trees. Ten years ago, I viewed 30 or 40 different homes for sale in almost that many neighborhoods. Ten years later, I still think there is no place quite like Bradfordwoods. Let’s talk about our trees!

Bob and Jane Slagter of Woodland Rd, are 34 year residents. Bob has offered to share his significant expertise as a senior leader in the Pennsylvania Forest Stewards program. I hope that you enjoy this interview!

– George Kasten

Bob, please tell us about the forestry program and how you became involved with it.


The PA Forest Stewards Is part of the The Center for Private Forests at Penn State. It’s over 600 members are dedicated to helping to promote best management practices in PA through education and outreach to the over 740,000 woodland owners in PA. I serve as the chairman of the Stewards steering committee and am proud to offer my help to landowners in making the best decisions for their woodlands.


I became a Steward in 2007 when working with a consulting forester on our 60 acres in NWPA. He suggested I call Allyson Muth and take the training course offered by the Stewards. It was some of the most fun and rewarding learning I had ever experienced, and I have worked with the Stewards ever since.

When we let our imaginations run, it’s easy to wonder just what this land was like in its original state – before the farms and before suburbanization.

  • Where can we go now to see an Old Growth Forest?
  • What’s it like?
  • Can we ‘manage’ our way back to something close to that?


The closest place to see old growth forests is Cooks Forest north of Brookville, PA. If you haven’t been there, it’s a great spot to hang out and hike and picnic for a day. The trees are ancient and the place has a beginning of time feel about it. I’m afraid we couldn’t manage our way back to those types of woodland very easily. Most of Penn’s Woods was cut at the end of the 1800’s to make charcoal for coke ovens so the base for the growth is gone.

 We love to be “In Balance,” right? Diet and exercise, predator and prey, work versus pleasure, etc.

  • What does ‘healthy balance’ mean in forestry?
  • In our Conservancy areas?
  • In our yards?


Healthy balance in forests to me means several things. First, it’s a diverse set of species and second is an uneven age stand of timber. A woodland that has Oaks, Cherry, Hickory, Tulip Poplar and White Pine for example is much preferred over one that features predominantly one species like Black Birch or Beech stands tend to have. And the structure of the woodlands from seedings to mature trees with pole timber and saplings and various ages and sizes of trees is the ideal and it is what we strive for in our management plans. We also do our best to eliminate invasive species like Bush Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Japanese stilt grass, ferns and dozens of others that keep healthy regeneration from occurring. Lastly, we are always on the lookout for insect infestations like Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid and lots of others.


The same principals apply in our smaller patches of greenery. Diversity, uneven ages, elimination of invasives and insect control are best practices. I might add here that keeping your lawn size down to just an accent level is the best way to go. In nature, lawns are the ecological equivalent of a desert.

What is the ecological relationship between the Conservancy and individual home lots in Bradfordwoods?

  • How does the presence of these Conservancy areas effect what happens in our yards?
  • How do actions in our yards impact the nearby Conservancy areas?


The green areas of Bradfordwoods are its greatest asset. If you have been lucky enough to have your land visited by DCNR folks, you know there is always something you can do to improve your lot. The Conservancy follows the exact same principles. Green is great as long as it is managed for the things we mentioned earlier. Walk through the Conservancy and you will see what is good and what needs work in those areas. Think of them as part of your property because what happens to you, happens to your neighbors and to the entire borough.

How do you assess the current health of trees in the Bradfordwoods Conservancy?


I am not a forester per se… I am someone with a deep interest in forestation. So, the best way to assess the health of trees in BW is through walking tours offered by the Conservancy and DCNR. These people are true experts and help you evaluate the health of your trees; they explain what you can do to increase the health of your property overall.

What is the greatest threat to the health of our trees?


The threats are many to our trees. Every threat we mentioned earlier and more are present and effecting our trees. If I had to pick one I would say the age/maturity of our trees. They are over 100 years old, mostly Oaks and there is very little to replace these trees when they are gone. We need to plant and promote new growth and better control invasives on most of our properties. The greatest threat is really hard to say. Again, a forester should be consulted about overall health but my speculation about threats concerns the age and size of trees. The soil in this area is very rocky and clay-based so the roots of even the biggest trees are very shallow. This of course makes them prone to wind damage. And when one goes that leaves other exposed to more wind. The only thing we can do is plant new growth now. The Conservancy and DCNR can help you with a planting plan. It’s fun, inexpensive and very rewarding. Give it a try.

How can we protect young saplings in the Conservancy so that our woods can regenerate? Is this a problem?


Once the shoot becomes a sapling, it has better chance of avoiding deer damage and so it grows. There are far too many deer in the borough in my opinion and you need to protect anything planted with tree tubes, wire fencing and the like. Deer predation is probably the biggest reason for lack of secondary growth BW.

How would you and Jane compare the trees of Bradfordwoods, now versus 34 years ago?


34 years ago there were more trees and fewer threats to them. As “civilization” advances, trees are among the first to go. Lack of careful planning when building is a big culprit. And of course, the lack of control of invasives and insects are a bigger issue now than in the past simply because there are more of them.

Jane, Bob…Do trees talk to each other?


Bob…Nope, but they do communicate.

Jane…I agree.

You both have traveled extensively. Is there a place where you’ve found your favorite forest?


It’s hard to beat the west coast Redwoods and Sequoia forests for pure majesty. They are not an example of what we are trying for here but certainly have a huge WOW factor.

Okay, a bit of whimsy for the last question. If you were to be reincarnated as a tree, what kind would you be and where would you want to be planted?      


Jane’s future life would be as a White Pine planted in a park setting. I’d like to be the first American Chestnut that’s blight free planted on a bend of Caldwell Creek in NWPA.