Full Views of Future Forests
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Photo by Jack Walas
Photo by Frank Wihbey
Maine Nature News
Laura Kenefic is an assistant research professor in the Department of
Forest Ecosystem Science who specializes in silviculture and long-term
Today's forests are the products of centuries of land clearing,
agricultural abandonment, harvesting, atmospheric pollution, and
introduced plants and animals by humans. These forests are complex and
very different from their pre-settlement counterparts.
Increased public interest and involvement in forestry, scrutiny of
forestry practices through certification and conservation easements are
positive developments. These forces work to counteract threats, such as
parcelization and short planning horizons that limit long-term
Challenges still exist. Though we have made significant advances in the
science and technology of landscape-level management, better integration
across ownerships and institutions is necessary. Additionally, forestry
practitioners need more support and information from researchers to
effectively incorporate ecosystem priorities into management. Efforts to
integrate research and outreach will be instrumental in linking science
Mixing it up
Bob Seymour, the Curtis Hutchins Professor of Silviculture, studies
long-term forest productivity. Professor of Forest Biology Richard
Jagels specializes in properties of wood.
The health and productivity of our future forests depend on thoughtful,
science-based management. By taking a long-term approach, forest
managers can continue to meet the needs of a diverse, high-value forest
products industry, and provide recreational and environmental services
for the public.
There is no single prescription for long-term forest management. It can
mean promoting mixed stands of tree species such as yellow birch, white
pine and cherry for high-value wood products, in addition to spruce and
fir, and lower-value hardwoods for pulp and paper, or wood composite
It means making investments with treatments, such as removal of
low-value or diseased trees, tree planting and commercial thinning. It
means anticipating pests and disease, especially in light of changing
environmental conditions, and addressing the threat to our woodlands
posed by invasive species, such as Norway maple, barberry and
Conversely, a short-term strategy driven by land-owners' needs to meet
immediate financial goals could jeopardize benefits. Forests that people
see from roads and trails in the future may not be noticeably different,
but the net result would be a less robust wood products industry and
Ivan Fernandez, professor of plant, soil and environmental sciences,
studies forest soils from the plot to the watershed scale.
In the next century, there's every reason to be optimistic that our
forests will be equally if not more vital and productive than they have
been in the past, despite increased demands on these resources. The
effects of global warming in Maine would probably mean a better growing
environment for forests, resulting in higher forest productivity. Yet
warmer temperatures also could increase the risk of insect and disease
outbreaks in forests.
A warmer climate with longer growing seasons, in the absence of
significant increases in rainfall, would undoubtedly increase the risk
of wildfires and the cost of fire management. The composition of forests
can change so that, with higher nitrogen availability, species such as
sugar maple and beech could take over historically spruce-fir
Current efforts to "preserve" forest ecosystem values in biodiversity,
recreation or wildlife will take on added urgency; simply "leaving it
alone" won't automatically preserve such values in an era of climate
The period we're about to enter may be unique in modern human history.
A coordinated program of research, including long-term studies that
capture slow and subtle changes in forests, will be critical in guiding
managers of forest ecosystems.
Malcolm Hunter is the Libra Professor of Conservation Biology at UMaine.
His research focuses on biodiversity in forested landscapes.
It is entirely feasible to manage forests for timber production, and
diverse and healthy populations of wildlife. Many species thrive in
well-managed landscapes, and fortunately the amount of land that is well
managed is growing steadily. Nevertheless, there are at least four
issues that require our attention:
Under a logging regime, forests don't grow as old now as they did when
windstorms, wildfires and disease were major causes of tree mortality.
Thus, our forests have fewer large, old trees, logs and snags — critical
habitat elements for many species of wildlife.
Invasive, non-native species are a threat to ecosystems around the
world, and Maine is no exception. The focus has been on our lakes and
wetlands with Eurasian milfoil and purple loosestrife. However, our
forests are still impoverished by the past assaults of gypsy moths,
chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease.
The ominous prospect of accelerated climate change cannot be ignored.
Maine species like turkey vultures, gray tree frogs and deer ticks have
been shifting their geographic ranges, and a faster pace of change
probably lies ahead. Some species will not fare well in such a rapidly
Lastly, suburban sprawl and its wildland analogue — timber liquidation —
have a profound negative impact on biodiversity and values that forests
Challenging times may be coming, but there is certainly a basis for
optimism. Forest managers are far more attuned to these issues than they
have ever been and there are many systems in place — forest
certification, professional logger certification, conservation
easements, ecological reserves and more — that are having a significant
Myths in the wilderness
Professor of History Richard Judd specializes in 19th-century
environmental history of Maine and the United States.
What's next for the Acadian forest? For more than a century, tourism has
been an important part of the forest economy, but it always operated in
the shadow of the industrial forest. If tourism is to become an economic
mainstay, we need to think about how we package this forest experience.
In their heyday, railroad companies and hotel owners promoted the region
as a mythical landscape of timeless purity and heroic wilderness
activity. Just as 19th-century leisure activities — fishing, hunting,
painting, rusticating, tennis, croquet, golf — gave way to 20th-century
activities, like auto touring, backpacking, and snowmobiling, tomorrow's
tourist will harbor a different myth of the Acadian forest, and from
this will come different demands and different technologies to meet
them. Land-use planning and development policies will have to anticipate
Wilderness management, whatever form it takes, should be predicated on a
healthy debate about just what wilderness means in this region. A
wilderness littered with abandoned skid roads, cellar holes and rock
walls challenges our strict division between trammeled and untrammeled.
Adventurers like Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Sedgwick Steele found
this wilderness authenticating because it invoked the mystique of
Indians, loggers, hunters, trappers, guides and river drivers. It was a
cultural as much as natural place.
Kathleen Bell and Mario Teisl are resource economists. Bell studies the
economics of land-use policy; Teisl looks at the delivery of market
information through labeling.
The future of U.S. forests depends on how well the public and forest
managers understand the services provided by forests and the relative
values of those services. Forest certification provides a useful
example. The process calls for an independent third party to measure
forest management practices against a set of environmental standards. It
links consumers willing to pay higher prices for products from certified
lands with forest managers who are willing to alter their practices in
order to capture those premiums.
There are potential problems with the markets for certified products. On
the demand side, forest managers see no premium for such products. It's
possible that consumers don't really care or that they haven't been
given adequate information through product labeling. On the supply side,
certification is expensive. Owners of small, forested parcels cannot
generally afford to have their acreage certified.
While our research suggests there is widespread public support for
enhancing the viability of Maine's forest resources, there is little
consensus regarding management practices and values of forest services.
Andy Egan, associate professor of forest resources and program leader of
Forest Operations Science, specializes in forest planning, timber
management and harvesting.
The view of the future forest depends on where you live. For rural
residents surrounded by forestland, trees are a source of jobs, a way of
life. Research on the labor market for loggers and others who work in
these woods suggests that the number of people willing to do this work
What might this trend mean for the forest? Lack of woods labor may
accelerate the transition to more mechanized forms of logging that are
less labor intensive. This could, in turn, affect silviculture (the art
and science of producing and tending a forest) in the region, as forest
managers attempt to match their tree harvesting recommendations to
prevailing local logging technology and labor.
In addition, increases in logging mechanization will certainly influence
the industry. Logging businesses will be required to make greater
investments in equipment and training for skilled labor. Alternatively,
less labor may reduce logging capacity, possibly resulting in higher
rates paid to the remaining loggers. In either case, the forest products
industry may see an increase in wood prices.
Pests and pathogens
William Livingston, professor of forest biology and chair of the
Department of Forest Ecosystem Science, studies the interaction of trees
with diseases and pests.
The key to forest health and sustainability is to have a community of
species adapted to their surroundings and to each other. The most
obvious threats come from invasive pest and tree species growing in
environments where they have not evolved.
Invasive pests can disrupt the native community. Examples include many
of our most severe problems, such as white pine blister rust, beech bark
disease, gypsy moth and hemlock wooly adelgid.
Tree species can grow where they have not evolved as the result of tree
planting and by altering the natural disturbance regime through fire
control, harvesting and abandonment of agricultural fields. Examples of
these types of problems include spruce dieback on Maine's coastal
islands due to spruce development on old fields, and more severe spruce
budworm outbreaks due to management practices that favor balsam fir
regeneration and development.
Dealing with forest health problems will require proactive management of
the forest to correct poorly adapted forest communities resulting from
invasive species or previous land-use practices.
The good earth
Steve Norton, professor of geological sciences, studies the interaction
of atmospheric deposition with Maine's soil and water resources.
Among the many factors that will affect future forest health and
productivity, soil chemistry is pivotal. Chemical processes in forest
soils evolve over time, influencing what types of trees grow and how
quickly they mature.
After 16 years of research at the Bear Brook watershed in eastern
Hancock County, we see evidence that acidic deposition can strip
nutrients, including phosphorus, from the soil at a faster rate than it
can be replenished. Lack of this critical nutrient may already limit
tree growth in some areas of the Northeast.
Aluminum, the second most common metal in the soil on a global basis,
also is mobilized by acidic deposition. Aluminum compounds appear to
play a crucial role in the phosphorus cycle by locking phosphorus up in
stream and lake sediments.
It is possible that if acidic deposition continues at present levels,
future tree growth may be affected. Research on this question, as well
as studies of other soil nutrients, is continuing at Bear Brook, and at
locations in the U.S. and Europe.
Nutrients and pollutants
Bryan Dail is an assistant professor of soil microbiology who is helping
to coordinate forest research on nutrient cycling.
Terrestrial ecosystems — and forests in particular — play a vital role
in the cycling of elements and nutrients through the environment.
Forests influence carbon and nitrogen, elements necessary to life that
also affect our non-living environment, including the climate. Carbon
and nitrogen cycling, and their interactions with climate, are
influenced by human activities.
Our reliance on fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide
(CO2) and biologically available nitrogen in the atmosphere. These
elements can act as fertilizers, increasing the growth of forests. In
turn, forests may provide an important reservoir for increasing amounts
of human-derived pollutants and simultaneously generate an economically
important resource — timber.
These ecosystem interactions are complex and are best understood by
taking into account biological, chemical and atmospheric components as a
whole. In doing so, we might better estimate our impact on forests, and
also measure the contribution of forests to the cycling of nutrients and
the immobilization of pollutants. With this information, we hope to make
better predictions about forest health into the future.
William Ostrofsky, an assistant professor of forestry, directs the
Professional Development Office in the Department of Forest Management.
One important determinant of forest health and overall timber quality is
the frequency and severity of damage to residual trees resulting from
stand harvesting activities. Because society is demanding less reliance
on clear-cutting methods and more on partial harvesting techniques to
achieve silvicultural goals, damage to residual trees is of continued
Residual stand damage affects the value and health not only of
individual trees but also of the stand itself. Stands in which a high
percentage of residual trees have been damaged are more susceptible to
losses from insects and diseases. Tree growth in terms of wood
production also is slowed by injuries.
Pre-harvest assessments could help identify high-risk stands. Unlike
natural defect factors, residual stand damage from harvesting is well
within management capabilities. Rotation and cutting-cycle lengths,
equipment mix, operational layout, and operator skill and care all
influence residual stand damage and stand quality.