Spending time outdoors can recharge the soul and bring the family together. In your own backyard you can find beauty, enjoyment and a place to connect with nature -- so long as you make sure to maintain all those beautiful trees and plants.

Whether you have a garden, woodlands or natural landscaping on your property, you’ll want to keep your land healthy and free of unwanted pests. And experts say that woodlands need special attention.

“Although trees look strong, woodland ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to natural and man-made dangers that can gradually reduce the health and beauty of your woods,” says Mike Burns, forester and program resource manager with the American Forest Foundation.

A U.S. Forest Service assessment released last December predicts that as many as 34 million acres of forestland could be lost in the United States during the next 50 years, and that all regions in the United States will experience increased stress from natural disasters and pest infestations.

Luckily, there are steps landowners can take to help keep trees and woodlands safe from pests:

• Keep an eye out for changes. On trees, spots of yellow or brown or some thinning needles might be the effects of natural shading on lower limbs -- or it might be a disease or insect that’s about to spread to other trees.

• Stay informed about threats in your area. Contact your state forestry agency or state department of natural resources to find out what’s bugging your area.

• Monitor for pests and signs of disease every month or two. Check trees on the trunk, limbs, twigs, under peeling bark and leaves -- the most likely places to find injuries. Keep your eye open for things that look out of the ordinary.

• Online resources can help you become a better steward of your land. If you own some woodlands, consider signing up for the My Land Plan resource, launched by the American Forest Foundation. My Land Plan can help you connect with up-to-date information about pest threats, map your land’s boundaries and record changes over time, all at www.MyLandPlan.org. You can explore the website’s newly expanded invasive pest and pathogen section and locate professional services available for your needs.

• If you suspect an outbreak, collect samples of tree damage and any associated pests to accurately identify the problem, which may have more than one cause. Take pictures and notes on your trees’ symptoms. Often pictures are enough for an expert to identify the problem and help you figure out what to do next. Next steps can be identified by your state forestry agency or department of natural resources.

• If you discover an insect that you suspect might be a danger to your trees, seal it in a container and store it in the freezer until you can deliver it to a proper authority.

In the long run, nature might well be invincible, but in the short run, residents may need a helping hand to protect local land to keep trees healthy.

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