The forests of Maine face many threats. These threats include invasive species, drought, disease, and extreme weather events. What can we do as a society today, to understand these impacts and how our forests will change over time?
In the early 2000s, Maine TREE launched what was known as the Forest Inventory Growth Project (FIG). This program connected Maine teachers and students to natural resource professionals by collecting data on overstory trees in the forest. In the Spring of 2019, we surveyed FIG users. We determined that energy and support exist for the program, but there were ways we could improve our services.
For the rest of 2019, we developed a user’s guide for what we now know as the Forest Ecology Research Network. We do not consider this an entirely new program, but rather an evolution of what we have been working on for almost 20 years. The guide expands what we collected for the Forest Inventory Growth Project from only overstory trees to nearly anything you can find in the forest.
The new guide has four major themes: “Measuring Growth,” “The Forest Graveyard,” “What Lives in the Forest?”, and “Our Changing Forests.” “Measuring Growth” expands the original FIG activity of overstory trees to include data collection on the young forest, which we call saplings and seedlings. “The Forest Graveyard” explores what is no longer living in the woods. Dead standing trees, known as snags and downed material, which we call coarse woody debris/material, provide structure and habitat to the forest. “What Lives in the Forest?” Utilizes observational data collected while in the field and remotely collected data using trail cameras/camera traps to assess wildlife in the forest. Lastly, Our Changing Forests explores the impacts of climate change on forest health, invasive species, and forest phenology (the study of annual forest changes such as buds breaking in the spring and leaves changing color in the fall).
Our own Holt Research Forest (HRF) will serve as the Forest Ecology Network’s keystone property. HRF is the demonstration site for those interested in establishing research plots in their region.
Throughout 2020 we will be working with partners, such as land trusts and environmental groups, to establish satellite locations across the state. Our goal is to analyze forest trends from Kittery to Fort Kent, Fryeburg to Lubec, and everywhere in between. The satellite sites will be local hubs for the programs to grow a network of citizen scientists from school teachers and their students, local conservation clubs, and private woodland owners.
We are also in the process of developing a curriculum so the program will easily integrate into teachers’ lesson plans. Forests are the windows into the natural world. They are a great way to use crosscutting concepts to incorporate Maine’s newly passed Next Generation Science Standard.