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September / October 2003


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UMaine Today Magazine


Full Views of Future Forests
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Back to Future Forests-]

Flowers
Photo by Jack Walas
 

Pine Cones
 

Wods
 

Leafs
 

Flowers
Photo by Frank Wihbey
Maine Nature News
 

One forest

Laura Kenefic is an assistant research professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystem Science who specializes in silviculture and long-term forest management.

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 ecosystem-level management.

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 to practice.


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 materials.

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 honeysuckle.

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 fewer jobs.


A warm-up

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 landscapes.

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 change.

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.


Creature comforts

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 changing world.

Lastly, suburban sprawl and its wildland analogue timber liquidation have a profound negative impact on biodiversity and values that forests hold.

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 positive impact.


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 these changes.

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.


Consumer confidence

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.


Logging logistics

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 will drop.

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.


Limiting losses

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 concern.

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.

 

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