Steve Coghlan, an associate professor of freshwater fisheries ecology at the University of Maine and an Argyle Township resident, wrote the opinion piece, “Plan for a landfill in Argyle Township is the result of ‘tyranny of the majority’” for the Bangor Daily News.
The impact that hemlock tree die-offs have had — and continue to have — on freshwater forest ecosystems is the focus of a research project at the University of Maine.
Hamish Greig, a UMaine assistant professor of stream ecology, and Jacquelyn Gill, an assistant professor of terrestrial paleoecology at the Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the School of Biology and Ecology, are leading a research team that is studying past and present declines of the conifers known for their dense shade. The resulting biomass the dying trees introduce into the watershed, as well as the other tree species that take their place on the forest floor, affect freshwater systems, including streams and lakes.
Understanding those implications is particularly important in Maine, where hemlocks are now being threatened by the same exotic pest that, in recent years, has decimated the tree species in the southeastern United States.
“People in Maine have a huge affinity to their rivers and lakes. It’s huge economically; it’s huge socially, and through recreational activities,” says Greig, who is joined on the research team by research assistant professor Krista Caps, postdoctoral scientist Robert Northington, as well as several graduate, undergraduate and high school students.
About 5,500 years ago, the hemlocks of eastern North America sustained a massive die-off that lasted about 1,000 years, brought on by severe drought and the hemlock looper, a native pest, Gill says. Today, the tree species has been nearly decimated in the southeastern United States by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect from Asia.
Maine’s cold winters typically protect against exotic pests. However, warmer temperatures have allowed exotic pests to thrive and move north. Since 2004, the hemlock woolly adelgid has been in southwestern Maine. This year, it has made it as far north as Owls Head, according to the researchers.
“As the climate warms, there won’t be anything preventing the woolly adelgid from hitting our hemlocks in Maine as hard as they’ve been hit elsewhere,” Gill says.
As part of their study, the research team has set up 36 livestock water tanks as experimental freshwater mesocosms, or isolated experimental environments. Hemlock needles, along with rhododendron and maple leaves, have been added to the ecosystems to observe what happens when a hemlock dies.
The mesocosms allow the scientists to study these isolated environments as they develop over time — in this case, into the fall.
“You can’t really control something in a natural lake,” Greig says. “And if you do experiments in the lab, you’re really simplifying things down to two or three species of invertebrates. By having this happy medium, we can have natural complexity with the controlled replication of a true experiment.”
Next, Gill and Northington will study radiocarbon-dated records from the bottom of lakes and bogs in southeastern, coastal and central Maine regions to help understand how aquatic systems were affected by hemlock die-off in the past. By linking the paleo record with a modern experiment, the team hopes to will new light on hemlock’s role in changing ecosystems.
Sarah Nelson, an assistant research professor with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center and cooperating assistant research professor in Watershed Biogeochemistry in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, was interviewed for a Bangor Daily News article about her research with Steve Kahl, a sustainability professor at Unity College, on acid rain. After a decades-long study, the researchers found the negative effects of acid rain have been reversed much faster than expected. Nelson said the study shows the value of long-term monitoring. “Because these lakes have been sampled for so long, they’re really sentinels of what’s been going on in the Northeast,” she said. “It’s really an amazing resource.”
WLBZ (Channel 2) spoke with Robert Rice, a professor of wood science and technology at the University of Maine, for a report on mill officials remaining optimistic about Old Town Fuel and Fiber’s future despite the recent shutdown of the mill. Rice said if mill owners choose to sell, they should consider options, including whether the new owner will continue researching biofuels. He added one of the major challenges the mill faced was that it produced only market pulp, an operational structure that is becoming less viable in the United States.
The Bangor Daily News reported on an Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship grant that was awarded to the University of Maine School of Nursing to defray educational costs of family nurse practitioner (FNP) students who will provide primary health care for rural Mainers in medically underserved areas. The nearly $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will aid eligible, full-time FNP students in the School of Nursing master’s degree program in 2014 and 2015. “The goal of the funding is they want more care providers in underserved areas as soon as possible,” said Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine’s School of Nursing.
The University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture (CCAR) in Franklin was mentioned in an Aquaculture North America article about Acadia Harvest Inc. of Brunswick, Maine, reaching the final pilot phase of its work on land-based re-circ aquaculture of California yellowtail. The company also is laying the groundwork for commercial production of yellowtail, and hopes to add black sea bass in the future, the article states. Taylor Pryor, a chief scientist and marine biologist at Acadia Harvest Inc., said the company wouldn’t have accomplished as much in the past three years without the expertise at CCAR, which supports aquaculture business incubation. “The CCAR staff are wonderfully competent in their hatchery work,” Pryor said. “Having their expertise and the CCAR facility can vastly reduce the time needed to move projects forward.”
The Bangor Daily News spoke with University of Maine economist Philip Trostel for an article about enrollment at community colleges. Trostel said it’s common during difficult economic times for community college enrollments to increase. “Going to college is expensive, especially when going means you have to take off time from work,” he said. He said when it’s hard to find a job, some people see an opportunity to go to school, and they’re likely to look for an affordable option.
William Livingston, School of Forest Resources, has received a more than $77,700 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to study Caliciopsis in white pine. Many white pine stands in southern Maine and New Hampshire have suffered from declines and diebacks in the past 15 years. A fungal disease, Caliciopsis canker, has been frequently observed in these stands. Typically, the white pines stands suffering from Caliciopsis canker are those that are very dense, and foresters recommend that the stands should be thinned to improve tree growth. However, it is uncertain if stands infected with Caliciopsis canker will respond to stand thinning and improve growth; the uncut trees may not recover from the disease. The objectives for the study are to identify areas at greatest risk of Caliciopsis canker damage, assess effects of thinning in stands affected by Caliciopsis canker and develop management guidelines for reducing damage related to Caliciopsis canker.
Since 1800 — two decades before the Pine Tree state existed as a state — the most rapid rate of land protection in northern New England (NNE) occurred from 1999 to 2010.
Forty-four percent of all the protected area (PA) in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire was added during those 11 years, says Spencer Meyer, former associate scientist for forest stewardship with the University of Maine Center for Research on Sustainable Forests.
Conservation easements on privately owned land fueled an abrupt increase in the protection rate from 1999 to 2010, he says. Conservation easements became financially appealing to both landowners and conservationists who partnered to save landscapes from development to ensure forests and ecosystem services — including water purification — remained intact.
For example, in 2001, the Pingree Forest Partnership — a landmark working forest conservation project — was forged. The 762,192 protected acres is bigger than all of Rhode Island and is still the largest of its kind in the nation.
The 11-year span from 1999 to 2010 was one of three distinct eras of PA growth, says Meyer, who earned his Ph.D. at UMaine in 2014. The other two were 1800–1979 and 1980–1999. All, he says, are characterized by new policies and an expansion of conservation tools.
To inform successful future conservation planning, a research team led by Meyer sought to explore socioeconomic and policy factors that influenced the rate, type and distribution of previous land protection.
“It is important to take pause occasionally and revisit our past,” he says. “This conservation history research was especially rewarding because it gave us a chance to examine how much has already been accomplished by conservationists. The frequent innovation and accelerating protection we have documented bodes well for the future of ecosystems and people in the region.”
Researchers found there has been a “significant influence of expanded policy and economic drivers guiding protection” and that it is important to develop “new conservation innovations for achieving future gains in protection.”
Short-term constraints — including real estate market conditions — impact conservation action, says Meyer, now a NatureNet Fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where he collaborates with The Nature Conservancy.
Thus, the team recommends that conservation groups focus on priority areas and take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to protection, and be ready to capitalize on financial market conditions that make large conservation deals attractive to landowners.
Much of NNE is privately owned, Meyer reports; 16 percent of New Hampshire is federally or state owned, while eight percent of Vermont and five percent of Maine are. All three states are heavily forested. Maine has 84 percent forest cover, while Vermont and New Hampshire both have 67 percent.
A group of conservation scientists, led by the Harvard Forest, have proposed protecting 70 percent of New England’s forests from development to achieve a sustainable landscape by 2060. If the protection rate realized from 1999 to 2010 continues, Meyer says the 70-percent goal could be achieved in 2089.
Broad objectives of PAs in NNE include conservation of biodiversity, retaining benefits of ecosystems, public open space, recreation, and natural resource removal, such as timber harvesting, he says.
Tension exists due to people’s increasing demand to use land and the need to conserve land and ecosystem services, and land protection has been a global conservation strategy of a number of public and private groups for more than 100 years, Meyer says.
Land protection from 1800 to 1979 had an “evolving suite of conservation objectives,” he says, including watershed protection, open space and recreation. The 179-year era consisted of slow, incremental expansion of PAs, including (Acadia National Park, the Appalachian Trail and Baxter State Park) and multiple-use forests.
The middle era of conservation of PAs — beginning around 1980 and lasting until 1999 — included a surge in land trusts to protect private land from development. Public acquisitions, continued in a linear fashion during that time, according to researchers.
The rate of protection in NNE between 1999–2010 was four times what it was during the 19-year span from 1980 to 1999 and 20 times the rate between 1800 and 1979, says Meyer. During the span from 1999 to 2010, the accelerating rate of protection was the fastest in Maine, where 71 percent of the state’s total PA was safeguarded from development.
“Regardless of what the future holds, the 200-year history of conservation innovation in New England offers hope for future efforts to protect ecosystems and their myriad ecological, social and economic benefits in the face of rising human populations,” the team writes.
The Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) and the National Science Foundation EPSCoR program supported Meyer’s Ph.D. fellowship in UMaine’s School of Forest Resources.
Researchers from UMaine working with Meyer included Christopher Cronan of the School of Biology and Ecology, Robert Lilieholm of the School of Forest Resources and Michelle Johnson of the Ecology and Environmental Science Program, as well as David Foster of Harvard University.
The team’s findings are reported in “Land conservation in northern New England: Historic trends and alternative conservation futures,” published in May on the Biological Conservation website.
Meyer and another team earned the 2014 University of Maine President’s Research Impact Award for spearheading creation of the Maine Futures Community Mapper — an online mapping tool for planners to visualize future landscape scenarios. The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and SSI funded the Maine Futures Community Mapper.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A Portland Press Herald article about Maine bakeries using more local grains mentioned the Northern New England Local Bread Wheat Project, a USDA-funded collaboration of researchers, farmers, millers and bakers in Vermont and Maine that aims to help farmers increase organic bread wheat production and quality. For the past four years, Alison Pray, co-owner of the Standard Baking Co. in Portland, has been working with the Northern New England Local Bread Wheat Project at the University of Maine and the Northern Grain Growers Association. The groups occasionally send her new heritage wheat varieties to bake with so she can evaluate their properties and flavor, according to the article.