Adaptive Forestry: Creating a Healthy Future for Maine’s Forests

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Shagbark Hickory

As many of you know, Maine’s forests are facing an onslaught of changes that threaten to change or degrade the diversity and productivity of our forests. Our forests have lost millions of mature elms and chestnuts, and are poised to lose most of their ash trees. Red spruce, balsam fir, birches and hemlock are all likely to face steep declines during this century. Oaks are at risk due to pathogens such as Oak Wilt and Sudden Oak Death. Beech trees, which provided important wildlife food along with chestnuts, are now a shadow of their former selves due to disease. You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned many of Maine’s major trees here. The simple truth is that our forests as we know them are likely to disappear. As conservation minded citizens, we will need to act to shepherd our forested lands into a very different future. Waldo county is 84% forested, and forests and trees are an important part of people’s lives and livelihoods here.

Our District has  been at the forefront  of developing soil and water conservation district leadership in forest resource conservation. Waldo SWCD has decided to make our work about addressing the degradation of forests and helping our residents find ways to steward forests during this challenging period. Our Forests for Our Future resource protection theme has encompassed stewardship workshops, high school educational programs and conservation technical assistance. We have also partnered with the Maine Forest Service to provide outreach and to monitor for invasive forest insect pests.

In the coming years, we will be spearheading adaptive forestry in Coastal Maine. Beginning with research plantings in 2019 and moving on to a broad program of citizen involvement in forest restoration plantings and scientific research. In 2019, we developed a citizen science tool for reporting on tree conditions called Report a Tree (on the Anecdata.org platform). This spring, Report a Tree will go into statewide use for reporting on the health of adaptive tree species (native and non-native trees that have the potential to thrive here) and for reporting on forest pests and disease.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the opportunity for Midcoast residents and schools to join us in planting selected adaptive tree species for the purposes of research and to begin the process of reforesting our land. Several area schools will plant and study seedlings as a part of this project, and anyone is welcome to participate. Selected species will be available as seedlings and saplings during plant sales this spring in Waldo and Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Check out our adaptive seedlings here. The “adaptive” trees selected are based on their wildlife and ecosystem value,  to supplement or replace trees that may not be able to provide wildlife food and habitat due to invasives and disease, such as ash trees. The trees are also species that have been shown to be highly adaptable to drought, various soil moisture levels and temperature regimes and  thus have potential to provide lumber or other forest products in different climate conditions.

Some Adaptive Tree Species

White oak:  Lives in southern Maine, provides lumber and high quality acorns for wildlife

Bur oak:  Rare but lives in our area, with potential to be highly adaptable to a variety of conditions

Black walnut: High value as lumber and veneer, adaptable, provides wildlife food

Tulip poplar: Grows fast, provides lumber, produces soft seeds like ash trees, supports pollinators

Shagbark hickory:  Provides high quality nuts, wood products, fuelwood, potential to be highly adaptable to a variety of conditions

Pawpaw:  Understory tree that produces edible fruits