Browntail moth is an invasive forest pest that continues to expand its range in Maine bringing with it human health impacts. Browntail moth is now present in Waldo County and other areas of the Midcoast. The larval stage (caterpillar) of this insect feeds on the foliage of hardwood trees and shrubs including: oak, shadbush, apple, cherry, beach plum, and rugosa rose. Larval feeding causes reduction of growth and occasional kills valued trees and shrubs. While feeding damage may cause some concern,the primary concern is the impact on humans from thebrowntail moth is the result of contact with poisonous hairs found on the caterpillars. Contact of these hairs with human skin causes a rash similar to poison ivy that can be severe on some individuals, and the hairs can cause breathing problems. Late winter is an ideal time to control it by clipping and destroying its winter webs.
See the Maine Forest Service website for an overview of its biology, history in Maine and updates on current browntail range/ areas at risk. MFS also has information about management options and ways to mitigate human health impacts. If you think you have browntail moth infestation on your property in Waldo County, please inform the District or the Maine Forest Service.
Find out what we’ve been up to….the report is a good read, with lots of photos from the year. We hope you will read it and share in our successes. Click the link to view or download the report: WCSW Annual Report 2018
Become a Conservation Technician with the Soil and Water Conservation District! This multi-faceted summer experience will give participants a broad skill set useful in any environmental or conservation career.
Conservation Technician Internship Description:
7 weeks in June and July, 2019
We are seeking qualified interns for a summer experience which will be focused on land stewardship, ecological restoration, forest research and conservation practices. This position will provide development of a broad skill set applicable to many environmental science careers, including science communication, field science and multiple types of land stewardship and management. Tasks include site restoration, planting native plants, invasives monitoring and control, trail building and maintenance, data collection for
research and biological assessment. Field study and training sessions in Coastal Maine ecology, botany, invasion biology, forests and climate change, safety, tools and equipment use, restoration and public access infrastructure are provided. The intern will use GPS and GIS mapping technology to characterize and mark invasive plant populations and to do sensitive features delineation. Other responsibilities include writing posts and articles on our findings and inputting and organizing scientific data. The intern will work under the direction of the Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District based in Belfast, and will also work with several other area environmental organizations. An option to assist Natural Resource Conservation Service staff in the field may be included. Two positions are available for a 7 week commitment. The internship is unpaid, but will include stipends for any work where project funding allows, and free housing if needed. Most work is completed in June and July, with some flexibility based on work or other summer obligations students may have. Optional paid work with partner organizations is available as an extension in late July to early August.
You may have heard of emerald ash borer, as this invasive pest has recently made its way into Maine. This is big news, as the insect is capable of killing almost all of the ash trees in Maine, which is a huge problem. If you don’t know much about what this means or what you might do, this post is offered as a starting point. First of all, it is a good idea to become aware of ash trees…those on your land and around your town. In many places in Maine, ash trees make up a significant component of our forests. In towns, along streets, in parks and schoolyards, ash is a popular tree that has been planted for a long time. How do you identify an ash tree? There are several species of ash in Maine, but you don’t really need to be able to tell them apart, as the emerald ash borer affects all kinds of ash. In general, ash trees have a leaf composed of a number of “leaflets” (which look like leaves themselves) along a stem. Ash have thick twigs, and bark with regular ridges going up and down the trunk and branches. See the picture below to see the leaves (each green stem with 5-7 leaflets along it is actually one leaf) and bark. Different species vary slightly from this basic form.
Next time you are out, try to see if you can identify ash on your property or nearby. Since it’s winter, look at the bark, and look for thick twigs gently curving upward at the ends, and coming out from branches directly opposite of one another.
In only 15-20 years since the pest arrived in North America, EAB has spread from Wisconsin and Michigan, to Missouri, to Quebec and across New England. Some states have lost nearly one hundred percent of their ash trees as the emerald ash borer has become established. If you travel through the Midwest in summer, in places you will see many trees that are bare and dead or dying, so much so that it looks like winter in places.
Can we avoid this in Maine, where the infestation is not yet widespread? Ash is an important tree for lumber, firewood and wood products. For some landowners, harvest plans for ash are part of making their forest economically productive. Our parks and streets are lined with ash trees. The seeds of ash are important food for wildlife and birds. The depressing scenario of losing all of this tends to fill our thoughts as we think that soon Maine ash will meet the fate of ash trees in many states.
The truth is that there are many reasons to hope, and to take action. Right now, in most of our towns, emerald ash borer is not established…giving us some time to respond, and to take advantage of what other states have learned. Depending on many factors, it could reach your town many years from now–or in the coming year, if somehow infested wood or trees are transported into your area. So limiting the spread of EAB is step one, which you can take right now by not moving ANY ash wood, firewood, or nursery stock – especially not from out of state. Areas of Maine are under quarantine, where movement of ash wood is prohibited, and further quarantine areas will be established.
Another important thing to do right now is to become aware of the signs of emerald ash borer… early detection of the insect is a key step in combatting the outbreak. You may be the first person to notice it in a new area if you stay alert for the signs. So its possible we could slow the spread of emerald ash borer through effort and awareness. Other methods offer hope in slowing the emerald ash borer in Maine. Scientists have developed means of slowing emerald ash borer movement through creation of trap trees and population “sinks” where the insects are lured to weakened trees and then destroyed. Insecticides have been developed that effectively protect ash trees, and so high value trees in yards or parks can be saved. Even slowing down emerald ash borer populations in Maine could save 800 million dollars, according to US Forest Service estimates.
The truth is though that eventually many ash trees in Maine will likely succumb to the emerald ash borer. But don’t panic and cut all your ash trees right away! It usually takes 5 – 10 years for a outbreak to take hold, and in some areas it may take longer for EAB damage to show up. Plus, there are strategies for managing forests with ash trees in the resources below – talk with a licensed forester or call the Maine Forest Service for additional guidance for your situation.
Will ash trees be forever lost to our forests? In fact, it is quite likely that through the efforts of scientists, landowners, towns, universities and agencies, we will be able to restore the ash tree in Maine in time. One part of the solution is using “biocontrols,” or predatory insects that will feed on the emerald ash borer. In the future, when there will be many fewer ash trees (and thus fewer emerald ash borers), such biocontrols may be an important way to keep the emerald ash borer in check. Another important strategy will likely be the effort to find the few ash trees of different species that have some inherent ability to resist the emerald ash borer, cross breed those individuals to create stronger and more consistent resistance in offspring trees, and then propagate and plant resistant trees in forest restoration efforts. This is a primary reason for leaving ash trees in place, and as trees start to die, to note any trees that seem to stay healthy in an infested area: they may be genetically resistant, and thus very important to preserve. Genetic technologies now available will likely offer further options to create resistant trees. And these technologies are developing rapidly. In the Midwest, where emerald ash borer has killed many trees, researchers are well on their way to developing methods to propagate resistant trees we can readily apply in the Northeast. We need to take the time now to learn from their work and get ready to implement these efforts here. We need to plan for how we will face emerald ash borer infestation in Maine with systematic, multi-faceted strategies. And with luck and some hard work, we’ll be able to offer our children and grandchildren forests with this strong, beautiful, important tree.
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.