Forestry Forum Fills the North Wing

A large and attentive audience filled the North Wing of the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 16 for a diverse and comprehensive Forestry Forum that followed the annual meeting of Maine Woodland Owners. Some traditional forum favorites were offered, along with informative presentations on the invasive insect, emerald ash borer; a seminar of how to prevent tick-borne illnesses; and a tour of the state’s edible plants.  

The forum began with an update on the For/Maine initiative, an ambitious collaborative effort that aims to restore growth to the state’s forest products economy, which was hard hit by mill closings from 2014-2016.  Sarah Curran of the Maine Development Foundation, who staffs the effort, said the goal is to restore the overall economic impact of the industry, which fell from $9.8 billion to $8.5 billion in just two years, after six mill closings and the loss of 50% of  Softwood pulp production. Over the next decade, however, she foresees a recovery leading to a $12 billion impact.

Capacity and sales have rebounded since 2016, with expansions at sawmills and new products at paper mills fueling demand. Cooperation among governments, mill owners, landowners, and organizations like Maine Woodland Owners will be vital if prosperity is to return to the industry, Curran said.

Maine does have competitive advantages in the emerging global marketplace for wood products, she added. Among them are an abundant supply of moderately priced softwood, with the required harvesting infrastructure; largely private forest ownership; proximity to the populous Northeast; and the University of Maine’s research capabilities.  During discussion, it was pointed out that, while papermaking has declined, the capacity of Maine mills to handle sawlogs has tripled over the past 15 years.

Tick Talk

Two Maine women who have battled Lyme disease and, dissatisfied with available treatment, founded Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education, mapped out how woodlot owners can truly prevent tick bites that lead to Lyme and several other tickborne diseases. Paula Jackson Jones said that anyone who spends time outdoors needs to take active steps to prevent ticks from attaching, and not count on later removal to avoid infection.

“Some of what we relied on for Lyme disease doesn’t work for the others,” she said. Infections from anaplasmosis and babioisis can occur within a short time of a tick attaching, and don’t afford the 48 hours it takes for Lyme to be transmitted. Nor are the standard treatments for Lyme always effective for other diseases. While treatment and medical understanding have improved, it’s still much better to avoid tick bites than to deal with the consequences after, Jones said.

Routine, daily use of repellents, using long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into shoes – not sandals – and avoiding tall grass and brush should be considered standard operating procedure during the entire tick season, which begins in early spring, she said.

EAB Statewide

Allison Kanoti, the State Entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, was called on to pinch-hit for the scheduled speaker, Dr. Nate Siegert of the U.S. Forest Service, who had been furloughed as part of the federal shutdown. Kanoti provided a summary of the entrance of emerald ash borer (EAB), the invasive insect, into Maine from the north, in Madawaska, and from the west, to two towns in York County last year, and how quarantines by state and federal agencies are likely to proceed.  

Emergency measures now cover three towns in Aroostook County, and four in York County, and are likely to be expanded after public hearings scheduled during February in both parts of the state, she said.  Control measures are practicable and have been shown to be cost-effective in both urban and forested settings. Kanoti advised landowners not to conclude that little can be done.

The greatest number of insects are present in the largest ash trees, so removing sawlog trees without much immediate growth potential makes sense, she said. Yet taking all ash doesn’t: “Attempts at eradication have failed miserably,” she said.  “We’re trying to slow down the spread, to prevent catastrophic losses so there will be time to adjust.”  

Humans can help contain and limit outbreaks, she pointed out. Left to its own devices, EAB spreads up to two miles a year, but, due to wood movement by humans, often firewood, the average is eight miles a year. So effective quarantines will be an important part of dealing with EAB, she said. Kanoti pointed out that there is some resistance among white ash, the most common Maine species. “It may be less than 1%, but leaving some trees will preserve genetic diversity, and possibly prevent losing the species entirely.”

Plants Galore

Tom Seymour, a prolific columnist for the Maine Sportsman, talked about his new book, Wild Plants of Maine, which he’s abundantly illustrated. Many of his favorite treats involve plants few would ever think of eating; some of them appear on “the bad list” of invasive plants – such as Japanese knotweed – that, nonetheless, can provide nutrition of significant value.

While it’s true that most wild plants have short seasons in which they make prime eating, by patient foraging and observation of their growing seasons, it’s possible to harvest edible plants from early spring all the way through to frost – which can improve the flavor of certain edibles, if picked immediately afterward. Seymour clearly made use of his lifetime of roving Maine’s woods, fields and streams, but some useful plants – such as the cattails found along roadsides nearly everywhere – are easily identified and harvested by even casual enthusiasts, he said.

Among other common species is curly dock (or curl dock), related to spinach, abundant nearly statewide, and an excellent ingredient in salads, according to Seymour. If the early European settlers had known about it, he said, “They would have been able to prevent scurvy, and many other diseases that plagued them.” He’s found curly dock deliberately planted around old capes, so clearly the settlers’ descendants managed to catch on, over time.

Home Road

After lunch, the now-traditional entertainment was provided by Tonya Shevenell, whose documentary film, The Home Road, chronicles a 200-mile walk by her father, Ray Shevenell. It re-enacts the journey of his great-great-grandfather, Israel, from the Quebec village of Compton to Biddeford in 1845 – just after the mills began booming. Both Tonya and Ray were on hand for the film.  

Mixing detailed historical research with Ray’s daily adventures on the two-week walk, she presents a compelling narrative of how the French-Canadians who migrated from the Eastern Townships to the United States – ultimately, nearly a million of them – changed and enhanced the cultures of Maine and other New England states.

Ray Shevenell, a former college track star who ran recreationally for most of his life, had to stop, due to a heart ailment, shortly before he set off on his trek, at age 74. He had saved a newspaper clipping for 40 years about his ancestor’s journey, and had always wanted to, literally, follow in his footsteps. Israel Shevenell became Biddeford’s first Franco voter, and was a respected citizen until his death, at age 86, in 1912. The film ends with a finish-line scene in Shevenell Park, in downtown Biddeford.

Demystifying Harvests

The day-long Forum concluded with John Bryant, regional manager of American Forest Management, describing how the use of a forester as the contractor and manager of timber sales on small woodlots can significantly improve financial returns, as well as providing abundant information to the landowner about costs, prices, and the forest being harvested.