Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category

Seeing Forests Through The Trees

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

land conservation

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

Bataineh Awarded Funds to Research Spruce Budworm Effects

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Mohammad Bataineh, an assistant research professor of quantitative silviculture and forest modeling at the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests, was awarded $69,747 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for his proposal, “Incorporating spruce-budworm impacts into the Acadian Variant of the Forest Vegetation Simulator.”

Outbreaks of the native spruce budworm insect (Choristoneura fumiferana) cause tree mortality and growth reduction, which negatively affect forest productivity. Outbreaks also cause uncertainty in predicting future wood supplies and forest conditions. Sustainable management of the Northern Forest requires accounting for outbreak effects in forest management planning and wood supply forecasts, according to the proposal.

Bataineh’s five-year project aims to modify the Acadian Variant of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) to account for spruce budworm effects on tree and stand development.

Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling, is the project’s co-principal investigator.

The FVS is a system of forest growth simulation models that have been calibrated for specific geographic areas, or variants, of the country. The system can simulate a range of silvicultural treatments for most major forest tree species, forest types and stand conditions, according to the Forest Service’s website.

The research project also proposes to establish the Acadian Variant as the base stand growth model in the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System.  The Canadian Forest Service developed the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System to assist foresters in planning and carrying out management activities that potentially reduce the damage caused by spruce budworm.

Researchers will compile a regional dataset on individual-tree growth and mortality under Maine’s most recent spruce budworm outbreak that occurred in the 1970s and ’80s.

The new capability of the Acadian Variant will provide Northern Forest managers with improved growth and yield projections and the ability to assess the potential impact of spruce budworm outbreaks on wood supply and forest level planning through the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System, according to the researchers.

Study to Focus on What the Public Wants in Outdoor Recreation

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Sandra De Urioste-Stone, assistant professor of nature-based tourism, and John Daigle, associate professor of forest recreation management, have received a $34,499 grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for the study: “How Well Are We Serving the Outdoor Recreation Public?” The purpose of this study is to investigate perspectives on outdoor recreation preferences and priorities, and perceptions on tourism development to help the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and other outdoor recreation managers to better understand current demand and improve decision-making. An online survey will be used to test conventional wisdom and open up new thinking regarding what the public wants and how they can best be served. In addition, study participants will be asked questions about their attitudes and beliefs about developing sustainable tourism in their communities. Data collected will be used to develop the 2015–20 Maine State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). The plan requires that an analysis of outdoor recreation demand, supply, trends, and ultimately priorities be documented.

Research Objectives:

  • Generate new baseline data to inform the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands about what the recreation preferences and needs are for people who live in or visit Maine including basic background demographic data.
  • Identify the factors that influence outdoor recreation participation behavior, including identification of needs, opportunities, and constraints associated with outdoor recreation in Maine.
  • Determine how Maine State Parks are used and what can be done to improve the experiences and services they provide.
  • Determine the differences between perceptions from people who participate in outdoor recreation activities in Maine and a general population of Maine residents.
  • Measure Maine residents’ attitudes toward sustainable tourism and development.

The survey population for this study seeks to entice responses from both the general residents of Maine as well as nonresidents who have recreated in Maine and have paid some type of recreation fee for fishing, hunting, camping reservations, etc.

While the data collected on recreational preferences and behaviors will benefit the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, the questions related to sustainable tourism will have new scientific significance. Questions on sustainable tourism will utilize an attempt to revalidate the Sustainable Tourism Attitude Scale, a published psychometric instrument that has not yet been implemented on a statewide scale.

Functioning Family Forests

Friday, February 7th, 2014

functioning family forest

Finding more efficient ways to serve Maine landowners by incorporating social work strategies — including effective communication and resource- linking skills — into forest management is the goal of a collaborative project between researchers at two schools in the University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is leading the study that tests social work approaches to conservation in the Cumberland County town of Baldwin and surrounding communities. Researchers hope to determine if these strategies could lead to more effective outcomes to landowners’ challenges as opposed to using traditional forestry solutions, such as management plans and outreach materials.

“Social workers are good at listening to people — understanding their needs and connecting people to appropriate resources,” Leahy says. “That’s why we need social workers to help landowners; to listen to what they’d like to do with their land, and then connect and coordinate services from natural resource professionals.”

There are more than 85,000 families in Maine that own at least 10 acres of woods, Leahy says. Their needs can be addressed by UMaine, the Maine Forest Service and others if those organizations can provide services that work for landowners, she adds.

Many conservation problems are related to social and economic factors. While foresters and other natural resource professionals help landowners make decisions about land management, they may not be equipped to handle the challenges landowners face that involve family dynamics. A social work approach could be the answer to solving these conservation problems, Leahy says.

“Foresters specialize in land management and trees, but landowners are often dealing with human issues such as how to afford their taxes and how to talk to their family about what they’d like to happen with their land after they pass away,” she says. “Landowners also often don’t know what a forester can do for them nor do they know how to coordinate all the potential natural resource professionals that are there to help them.”

Leahy, the project’s forestry expert, hired Doug Robertson and Chris Young, students in the UMaine School of Social Work. Both Robertson, a senior in the bachelor’s of social work program from Benton, Maine, and Young, a first-year graduate student of social work from Bangor, Maine, grew up around Maine woodland owners. They’re interested in connecting with landowners through the project and learning more about the land that many families rely on and how community organizations can help.

Pam Wells, a licensed clinical social worker, is supervising the students and translating the social work aspect of the project. She is also a landowner who recognizes areas where social work and forestry intersect.

“Pam often talks about how challenging it is to find, understand and coordinate the various assistance programs that are out there for landowners like the Tree Growth Tax Law, Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share programs and programs offered by the Maine Forest Service,” Leahy says.

Kevin Doran and Andy Shultz of the Maine Forest Service are also helping with the study.

The one-year project, which began in Sept. 2013 and runs through August 2014, received a $6,500 Maine Community Foundation grant. The project’s social work approach to conservation has been untested to date, Leahy says.

“It’s an innovative, highly experimental, never-been-done-before project that is bridging forestry and social work together in an effort to better engage and serve rural families who own forestland in southern Maine,” she says.

Part of the project will include the development of a forest-specific wraparound case management process that will be implemented with one landowning family. The wraparound process in social work recognizes that all aspects of someone’s life — social, economic and ecological — are related. This understanding is then used to help the individual by focusing on incremental progress, involving community support and using science-based interventions, according to Leahy.

The focus of the project will be on measuring and evaluating the outcomes of the approach to improve future efforts.

“Ultimately, we hope more landowners will be empowered to be stewards of their land, and that will lead to healthy forests, healthy rural economies and healthy families,” Leahy says.

Other aspects of the community project include assisting the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine with succession planning efforts, offering peer-to-peer learning experiences such as suppers and forums, organizing workshops for natural resource professionals to increase their cultural competency and researching community interest in creating a low-income wood bank — similar to a food bank — for the Baldwin area.

Upcoming peer-to-peer learning events include the project’s second woods forum and community supper Feb. 7, a workshop on estate planning for landowners Feb. 27 and a Forester’s Institute brown bag lunch on cultural competency April 11.

Robertson and Young are looking for a family to work with on the project. Interested families must live in Sebago, Hiram, Cornish, Limington, Baldwin or Standish and own at least 10 acres. To participate or for more information on the project or scheduled workshops, call Robertson, 207.435.4798, or Young, 207.992.6182.

Predicting the Future of Maine’s Forests

Monday, November 18th, 2013


Understanding how forests function as complex adaptive systems and predicting the future characteristics of Maine’s woods are goals of a project by a team of University of Maine researchers.

The study also aims to improve an open-source forest ecosystem model to help make project insights more transferable to research in other forests.

Erin Simons-Legaard, a post-doctoral research scientist in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is principal investigator of the project titled “When natural disturbance meets land-use change: An analysis of disturbance interactions and ecosystem resilience in the Northern Forest of New England.”

“We can’t control everything, but it’s important to understand the processes that are controlling what type of forest grows after it’s cut down and identify the underlying interactions between the human decision-making process and ecological dynamics,” Simons-Legaard says. “Once we identify where the interactions are the strongest, we know what pathways we can use if we want to change what our future forests will look like.”

Working with Simons-Legaard on the project are Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources at UMaine; Kasey Legaard, an associate scientist in the School of Forest Resources; Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and Irving Chair of Forest Ecosystem Management at UMaine; and Emily Silver, a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest Resources.

The two-year project, which began in July 2013, was awarded a $235,494 National Science Foundation grant.

The relationship between the biophysical and social subsystems is an important factor in understanding how forest ecosystems work as complex systems.

“No two acres of forest are exactly the same unless you plant it — if even then — and that’s because forests are complex,” Simons-Legaard says.

The researchers are creating future projections of the northern half of Maine — about 10 millions acres — by focusing on the interactions between man-made disturbances such as harvesting and development, and natural disturbances such as wind and pests.

Periodically Maine’s northern forests will have an infestation of the eastern spruce budworm — a pest that targets balsam fir and spruce trees, two common and economically important tree species in Maine. During the last outbreak, a lot of spruce-fir forest became infested and was then salvaged. In many areas, fir and spruce were replaced by shade-intolerant northern hardwoods that can establish and grow faster than the softwood trees in open areas. This replacement can occur when spruce-fir forest is harvested before the understory completely develops.

“Researchers are trying to understand what drives that shift from softwood to hardwood and what it might mean for natural resources like wood supply and wildlife habitat,” Simons-Legaard says. “Maine’s northern forest has traditionally been spruce-fir dominated, and a big shift toward hardwood in a historical context would be unprecedented.”

For several years, Simons-Legaard and her husband Kasey Legaard had focused on the state’s two main disturbance agents — harvesting and spruce budworm. Since their research began, the pair noticed more discussion about development and what role it could potentially play in northern Maine.

The researchers decided to include land-use change as a disturbance to take a more comprehensive approach to understanding how forests work.

“Taking this approach means recognizing you have the natural system with its components — trees, soil communities of microbes and bacteria, wildlife community — and they are all interacting. Then you have people interacting in their social system and making decisions. In a forest, the natural system and the human system interact,” Simons-Legaard says.

Learning more about these interactions and how they might be influenced by different disturbances is at the core of the team’s research.

“For the social side the focus is on what influences a landowner’s decision to stop producing timber and develop. That’s what Jessica Leahy and graduate student researcher Emily Silver are focused on; the decision-making process of the landowners,” she says.

To make their results more transferable to other timber-producing forests, the team used an already-established software program instead of creating a project-specific program. The group is using LANDIS-II, a cell-based forest ecosystem model which has an active community of users and developers. Any improvements the researchers make to the software can quickly be distributed to all of its users.

Using a map of initial forest conditions and text files describing the life history characteristics of the area’s tree species, the program creates future projections of the forest by growing trees, dispersing seed, establishing new cohorts of trees and accounting for natural mortality. The program also has extensions that allow the researchers to add disturbances, such as harvesting.

For two years the team has been preparing the input files. The map of the area’s initial conditions of tree species and forest age was created using satellite imagery and U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plot data.

Text files created for the 13 most abundant tree species in Maine describe how species’ growth and mortality is influenced by environmental conditions. The files help the program model species establishment and competition after a disturbance.

“These text files have to describe in numerical terms what tree-species competition looks like and how species rank in terms of competitive ability,” Simons-Legaard says.

Once the files are complete, the information is entered into LANDIS-II, along with the disturbance extensions, to determine what Maine’s forests will look like in the future.

“There’s also a regional focus because we’re trying to understand Maine’s forests better; both the natural components, how they interact, how tree-species competition determines whether a forest comes out as softwood or hardwood, and how Maine’s landowners make their decisions,” Simons-Legaard says.

As spruce budworm begins to make its return and land-use change becomes more frequent, asking the preemptive “what if?” questions are important in determining where Maine’s forests are headed in the next 50 or 100 years, she says.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Wood Researchers Win Awards

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Two University of Maine faculty members and a UMaine graduate student recently won awards for wood-related research at the 66th International Convention of the Forest Products Society.

William Davids, the John C. Bridge Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Stephen Shaler, a professor of wood science, were named winners of the L.J. Markwardt Wood Engineering Award, which is given for promoting knowledge of wood in the engineering field. Davids, Shaler and their co-authors R. Lagana and L. Muszynski were recognized for their paper, “Moment-Curvature Analysis of Coupled Bending and Mechano-sorptive Response of Red Spruce Beams,” which was published in Wood and Fiber Science in 2011.

Yucheng Peng, a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest Resources, won the Wood Award, which recognizes and honors the most outstanding graduate student research in the field of wood and wood products. His paper was “Spray-drying Cellulose Nanofibrils: The Effect of Spray-Drying Process Parameters on Particle Morphology and Particle Size.” Peng’s research focuses on developing nanotechnology.

Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777

Sustainable Maine Documentaries Available Online

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Maine EPSCoR and SSI are collaborating with MPBN on “Sustainable Maine” a series of documentaries highlighting the work of SSI researchers and stakeholders as they come together to take on tough issues. The first two episodes, “The Triple Bottom Line” and “Desperate Alewives”, are available online at Additional information and podcasts on the featured researchers, projects, and partners is available at

Livingston Beech Research Noted in Sun Journal

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

A Lewiston Sun Journal article about the prevalence of fungi and insects that are damaging Maine’s beech trees included research from Bill Livingston of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources. Livingston found warmer winter temperatures from 1999 to 2002 allowed populations of an invasive, bark-feeding scale insect to explode, resulting in beech trunks turning white with millions of scale insects. Insect feeding and severe drought at the time weakened the trees’ resistance to fungal infections, and many trees died. More information is available in a UMaine news release.

UMaine Developing Database for ‘Cradle to Grave’ Sustainability

Friday, December 16th, 2011

University of Maine industrial ecologist and certified Life Cycle Assessment professional Anthony Halog has received a $150,000 federal grant to create a comprehensive new online database to allow researchers, scientists and industrialists to assess ecological, social and economic implications of new and emerging products, starting with wood-based biofuels.

Halog says the database will benefit Maine and other states with an economic reliance on forestry, and could become a national model for assessing how “green” new and emerging products are, and what advantages or disadvantages come with the manufacture or provision of various services and products.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a global environmental initiative to assess products from “cradle to grave,” according to Halog. It objectively examines how much the creation, distribution, use and eventual disposal of products affects natural resources and the environment.

“The trend is to make any product environmentally sustainable,” says Halog, a School of Forest Resources faculty member. “Any product, existing or emerging, if you want the product to be greener, and more ecologically benign, you can apply a life cycle assessment. At every stage of the supply chain, there are stakeholders. Each has specific environmental, social and economic interests. This database looks at every stage of the supply chain.”

Halog’s database is being created as an XML (extended markup language) database with assistance from Ph.D. students Nana Awuah Bortsie-Aryee and Binod Neupane. It will be a computer-based, standardized decision support system to help supply chain stakeholders understand the sustainability of developing forest-based bioenergy in the Northeast.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Bioenergy Grant program is funding the project. Halog expects the preliminary database to be available on the Internet in the summer of 2012.

The “one-stop database,” Halog says, will include environmental emissions data, in addition to economic and social data, which include jobs creation, for biofuels development.

A standardized and publicly accessible LCA database also will curb the practice of “greenwashing,” when manufacturers make false claims about a product’s sustainability.

The database is starting with life cycle sustainability assessments of forest-based biofuels being developed at the University of Maine.

“The usefulness of this database is if you scale up the technology, is it environmentally competitive with corn-based fuels?” Halog says. “Here in Maine, we’re interested to know if we scale up production, will it be profitable and sustainable?”

Corn-based fuels, for instance, were once considered a technological breakthrough in the emerging field of ethanol and biofuel development, but detrimental effects on food production, land and water use, and the energy needed to produce it, has resulted in decreasing interest and research funding for its development, Halog says. An LCA might have projected the product’s long-term deficiencies, he says.

The database will be one of the latest attempts to contribute to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative on “Towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment: (LCSA) Making Informed Choices on Products.”

Contact: Anthony Halog, (207) 581-2944

Warmer Winters Bad for Beeches

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Maine’s beech trees have been under attack for decades by a disease that typically shows up as disfiguring cankers on a tree species that is supposed to have a smooth and silvery bark. Affected trees grow slowly and can survive for years. Unfortunately, the diseased trees produce few beechnuts, a loss of an important food source for the Maine black bear.

Beech TreeAccording to University of Maine researcher William Livingston of the School of Forest Resources, warmer winter temperatures from 1999 to 2002 allowed populations of the invasive, bark-feeding scale insect to explode, resulting in beech trunks turning white with millions of scale insects. Insect feeding and the severe drought at that time weakened the trees’ resistance to fungal infection and many trees died, including those along the Quebec border.

Beech bark disease has been recorded and monitored in Maine since at least 1932. It is now widespread in southern and eastern areas of the state. However, for 70 years trees along the border between western Aroostook County and the Canadian province of Quebec were free of disease and maintained healthy growth.

But in 2003, beech tree mortality in that area increased 31 percent over the year before. Mortality rates in northern Somerset, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties also increased sharply. Both diseased and healthy trees that had survived for decades began to die.

Livingston and Matthew Kasson, a former UMaine graduate student now at Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Plant Pathology, sampled hundreds of trees in the study area. They found a heightened incidence and severity of beech bark mortality and widespread presence of the fungus Neonectria. By taking core samples of the affected trees and comparing growth patterns to meteorological records, the researchers determined that the diseased and dying beeches had been weakened by dense populations of the invasive scale insect Cryptococcus fagisuga, which was favored by drought conditions and warmer winter temperatures from 1999 to 2002.

After 2002, typical sub-zero winter temperatures and normal summer rains returned, and the scale populations disappeared. However, the damage was done and beech trees died from 2003 to 2005.

“Even though [beech bark disease] has been in Maine for decades, combinations of warmer winters and droughts are associated with unprecedented levels of beech tree mortality,” according to Livingston and Kasson, who published their findings in the journal Forest Pathology.

If the warm start to the 2011-12 winter is an indicator of moderate temperatures for the coming season, forest health specialists will closely monitor beech scale populations in the year ahead. Tough times may be coming again to the beech forests of Maine.

Contact: Meg Haskell, 207-581-3766
William Livingston, 207-581-2990