Our Flagship Resource Protection Program: Forests for Our Future

Since beginning our program expansion in 2017, we have been all about connection, collaboration, and integration. In 2018, we’ve been thematically integrating our various types of work in order to share a coherent vision and plan for conservation with residents of Waldo County, and this idea comes to full fruition in our new forest conservation program. Waldo County is over 80 percent forested, and even properties focused on agriculture or residential use often have significant woodland areas. Forests are facing unprecedented threats, including forest pests poised to decimate dominant tree species in Maine and invasive plants impacting forest regeneration. Climate change is poised to exacerbate these problems as well as to create major changes in our forest composition. Conserving forests is a major focus of the SWCD, and a forest-based economy is a significant part of many Mainers’ livelihoods. It is for this reason we have worked to create a strong program to help people steward forests for a productive, biodiverse, resilient future  through a project called the Forests for Our Future (FFOF). A central feature of this program is to integrate many facets of our work to educate the public on forest stewardship, and to bring diverse individuals and organizations together in forest conservation efforts. This wide-ranging effort follows our District model of building collaboration and community.

The FFOF program is an innovative approach that unites a wide variety of outreach and technical assistance activities. The project is designed to offer a coherent strategy and public face for the district’s varied programs to protect forest resources. One part of the program, now in its second year, is a monthly series on small-scale woodland stewardship that addresses many aspects of woodland management, from sugarbush maintenance to smaller-scale harvest and forestry plans. In these workshops, community members tour local woodlands with landowners who are implementing effective practices to steward their woods. The SWCD is partnering with the Maine Forest Service to implement the series. In addition to workshops, staff is offering conservation assistance to forest owners wishing to implement adaptive management.

Another goal of the FFOF program is to provide leadership in response to forest pests such as the emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that attacks North American hemlock trees. The district has spearheaded local efforts to monitor these pests as infestations approach the area. Pest monitoring is the first part of a continuum of services and includes assistance to municipalities and landowners in planning for and responding to pests.

Another aspect of the program’s multi-faceted approach is engaging high school students to educate them about forests. The students learn about forestry while gaining skills in science through creating and sampling Maine Forest Inventory Growth plots, which are part of a Project Learning Tree program. College students help high school students learn as a part of the district’s Conservation Corps internship while gaining valuable skills. They also assist forest landowners in mapping and managing invasive plants and help local conservation land managers monitor biodiversity. One popular part of the internship experience is planting new types of trees in local parks and mapping the urban forest canopy while quantifying storm water management provided by the trees.

The FFOF program also aims to develop knowledge for the future through developing forest management practices that support resiliency. The district has started a partnership with a local private demonstration forest to implement forest adaptation strategies, including planting tree species that are not currently native in the area but have potential to offer ecosystem functionality, urban tree canopy and forest cover in the future. Waldo County SWCD provided the forest management plan for the demonstration forest. An exciting developing on this front is a new partnership we have with the Forest Ecology program of the National Park Service’s Schoodic Institute, which will fund forest adaptation research in Waldo County, including planting trees in experimental plots in 2019.

The FFOF program has ultimately been a great tool to unite many partners in forest conservation work. Through ongoing publicity of the umbrella program, Waldo County SWCD’s constituents gained an appreciation of the multi-faceted nature of addressing major conservation challenges and understanding of the role soil and water conservation districts serve in bringing people together to tackle pressing resource issues.