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Thursday
Jul312014

Endangered Bat – What Should Woodland Owners Know?

The northern long-eared bat (NLEB) has been proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So what should a woodland owner know? I recently sat in on a discussion of bats in Maine, specifically the NLEB.

This bat can be found south to Georgia, north to Quebec and as far west as the Canadian northwest. It’s medium sized, very maneuverable and adapted to feed on insects beneath the forest canopy. During the day it roosts in trees, most often under tree bark or in small trunk cavities. And like other bats, itPhoto credit: Al Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation feeds at night. While NLEBs have been found throughout Maine in summer, they congregate in the fall and hibernate in caves, mines, and sometimes human-made structures. These sites are called hibernacula.

Based on hibernacula counts, there’s been a decline of more than 90% in Northeast NLEB populations in just the last few years, caused by a fungus known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). It’s thought to have arrived from Europe on cave-exploring  equipment and was first reported in New York State in 2006. Bats in Europe evolved with the fungus, but not here. The fungus doesn’t kill the bat, but causes irritation while hibernating. This causes them to wake more frequently and use more energy, and because reserves are tight, most won’t survive without additional food. But insects are not available in winter, and the problem is compounded because bats form large colonies, where WNS spreads.

Bat species that hibernate in mines or caves are susceptible to WNS. In Maine, those species are big brown bats, little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, tri-colored bats, and eastern small-footed bats. The other species haven’t been affected by WNS to the same extent of NLEB, likely due to specific characteristics and habits. Two other bats in the same genus as NLEB, however, are being closely watched – the little brown bat and eastern small footed bat.

Final determination on listing was due in October, but has been delayed until April. Given the sharp decline, however, it seems certain the bat will be listed as endangered. USFWS then usually identifies critical habitat. In this case, though, the bat is a generalist, found throughout the forest. It may roost in groups on trees, but it’s almost impossible to tell which ones. The guess is that with listing, the designated critical habitat is likely to be the known winter hibernacula; in Maine, mostly natural caves. The exact locations are kept secret to avoid human disturbance, but such caves aren’t common. It’s possible a zone of up to five miles could result in regulating some activities.

If you own land in a critical habitat and there’s a so-called “federal nexus,” you’ll need to make sure proposed activities won’t adversely impact any identified critical habitat. A federal nexus could be created if you receive technical advice, permits, or federal financial support. For small woodland owners, this would commonly involve cost-share activities, a management plan or timber stand improvement. Activities might have to be modified, though they would likely be allowed.

The second way an endangered species designation could affect any landowner is a “taking.” It’s a crime to kill, harm, harass, pursue or remove from the wild an endangered species. This applies anywhere the species exists, and isn’t limited to designated critical habitat. Bats are born between June and mid-July, and fly when 18-21 days old. So felling a tree with flightless bats could result in a taking.

The challenges are obvious. Bats are small, blend in, and there’s nothing to identify roost trees. With the bald eagle, a species once endangered but recovered, the nests are obvious; not so with bats. If the NLEB is listed as endangered, there are likely to be best management practices developed to reduce the likelihood of bats being injured. There’s also the possibility of a conservation plan that would set up an “incidental take” permit for forestry. There’s been little research done on NLEB, so plans on how to promote recovery of the populations will be based, in part, on the listing in place for the endangered Indiana bat, which does not occur in Maine but has a similar life history.

The loss of any species is regrettable, and bats are efficient predators of insects. If a bat species disappears, will certain insects increase? Other species may fill part of the void, but no two species serve the same function, so the impacts are unknown.

The story of the northern long-eared bat is also a solemn reminder of the enormous damage that can result when an insect or disease from some other part of the world is brought to places where there are no natural enemies or controls. We’ve seen dramatic impacts before, notably with Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. We face current threats from the Asian long-horned beetle and emerald ash borer. It’s a reminder of the importance of strong protections against accidental introduction that could alter the forest and the life forms that inhabit it. 

Tom Doak is the Executive Director of SWOAM - Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine.  SWOAM is the only statewide organization dedicated to supporting the interests and serving the needs of Maine's 100,000 owners of small forested parcels (from 10 to 1,000 acres in size).

Thursday
Jul242014

The Nature Conservancy Learns from Engaging in Forest Management

In late 1998, The Nature Conservancy became a major landowner in Maine, acquiring 185,000 acres along the upper St. John River, the longest stretch of free-flowing river in the East, for $35 million.

We immediately set aside several large forever wild reserves on 25 percent of the property, and created thousand-foot wide conservation corridors along each side of the river, protecting rare plants and enhancing the river’s renowned wilderness paddling experience for generations to come.

But we soon came to understand that this large parcel came with responsibilities and opportunities that called for approaches never attempted by a conservation organization. The responsibilities were to northern Maine communities which depend on forestry jobs, from loggers to haulers to mill operators. The organization decided that it would conduct sustainable forestry at a commercial scale on some 125,000 acres, explicitly exploring what a conservation-first approach to forestry truly entailed.

Photo Credit: The Nature ConservancyWe wanted to conserve the habitat and conditions that allow native species to succeed. To explore how to best protect this diversity, we worked with the University of Maine and others to focus on two “umbrella species,” the Canada lynx and the American pine marten. By crafting both forest reserves and timber harvesting around their needs, we will benefit 85 percent of the vertebrate species that make these forests their home. Timber harvesting on the managed portions leave younger stands of spruce and fir, benefiting the lynx by creating prime habitat for its favored prey, the snowshoe hare. The reserves, with their closed canopy of mature trees and understory with ample decaying wood, benefit the marten, a tree-climbing relative of the weasel.

The experience and knowledge gained by active forest management opened our eyes, and opened the door for partnering, negotiating and deliberating with the forest industry and landowners on a range of issues such as state policy, forest certification, operational constraints, financial markets, best management practices for stream and soil protection and wildlife management. We have learned it is possible to apply a conservative, conservation-oriented, approach to timber management and still achieve a reasonable income, while contributing to the northern Maine economy. In all, the project has generated approximately $18 million in economic activity and property taxes over the last 12 years.

When we acquired the St. John Forest, we did so to conserve a remarkable forest and an iconic riverPhoto Credit: The Nature Conservancy with their full suite of native plant and animal species. We chose to create a field laboratory where forest products could be extracted in ways consistent with that goal. In practice, this meant incorporating landscape level objectives on a day-by-day, stand-by-stand basis (recognizing that all objectives would seldom be achieved on every acre). Though the Conservancy never planned to be a timberland manager, the experience has led to strategically beneficial conservation outcomes.

The St. John River Forest Project underscores the need for conservation practitioners to be both bold and adaptable, to approach conservation on a landscape scale, to seek out the best advisors, and to understand the limits of academic theory. Perhaps more than anything else, this venture has meant embracing the land in its full breadth of human, economic and biological potential.

 

Tom Rumpf is the Associate State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. He was on the front lines of the Conservancy’s St. John acquisition in 1998, and has worked for the Conservancy since 1995. Prior to TNC, Tom worked for nine years for the Maine Forest Service and seven years in the recycling industry.

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

Appalachian Mountain Club Announces Sale of Carbon Credits from Maine Ecological Reserve

 
GREENVILLE, Maine—The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) today announced the sale of verified carbon emission credits from its Katahdin Iron Works conservation property in Maine to The Climate Trust, a nonprofit specializing in carbon financing. By encouraging natural forest growth on AMC’s 10,000-acre ecological reserve, the project preserves stored carbon in the forest and enables an additional revenue stream through the sale of carbon credits. AMC’s Katahdin Iron Works conservation and recreation property is located in Piscataquis County, and was established as part of the organization’s Maine Woods Initiative—a strategy for land conservation in the 100-Mile Wilderness region. The initial offset sale represents over 100,000 carbon reduction tons—the equivalent of removing 21,000 gasoline-powered passenger cars from the road. From http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html
 
Forests cover about one-third of the United States and are of great importance as habitat for wildlife, to clean air and water, to supply timber and other products, and for recreation. However, these vital lands face continued pressure from development and conversion for other uses. The Northern Forest is threatened by fragmentation and development. Since the 1990s, when timber companies—which had owned large tracts of forest—began to sell these lands, the threat of fragmentation and loss of functional ecosystems and habitat has grown.  Carbon markets provide an important incentive to preserve intact, healthy forests.
 
AMC’s carbon offsets have been verified under the Forest Project Protocol of the Climate Action Reserve. The protocol requires AMC to demonstrate that the emissions reductions provided by its offsets are permanent, verifiable, and “additional.”  Additionality requires that the offset credit provides a benefit above and beyond what would have happened without the project. AMC is committed to continued monitoring and verification of the project to ensure that its climate benefits persist for a period of 100 years following issuance of any carbon credits for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by the project. The protocol also includes standards that ensure the project is sustainably managed and ecological “co-benefits,” such as wildlife habitat and soil and water quality, are maintained. 
 
“We see carbon credits as having the double benefit of supporting our overall climate policy by reducing atmospheric carbon, and providing financial support to conservation projects like our Maine Woods Initiative,” said Walter Graff, Senior Vice President of AMC.  “We are pleased to be among the early users in the conservation community of forest carbon credits to support land conservation in New England.”
The Climate Trust was able to support this project because of funding received from a number of partners.
 
“The Climate Trust invested in Maine because the local environmental and social benefits such as recreation, forest education opportunities for children, wildlife habitat and water quality improvements perfectly fit our focus on land-based multi-benefit projects,” said  Sheldon Zakreski, Director of Programs for The Climate Trust. “The offsets purchased from AMC’s project have enabled us to effectively fulfill our obligations for an innovative effort in Massachusetts several years ago to address carbon emissions from fossil-fired plants. This is a prime example of how states can partner together to tackle climate change.”
 
Proceeds from the sale of these credits will be directed toward AMC’s conservation programs in Maine.
 
The Maine Woods Initiative is AMC’s strategy for land conservation in the 100-Mile Wilderness region, addressing regional ecological and economic needs through outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships. As part of this initiative, the Appalachian Mountain Club acquired and permanently protected 66,500 acres of forest land in the 100-Mile Wilderness region of Maine. Working with what was formerly industrial forest, AMC has set aside 21,000 acres as permanent ecological reserves where no timber harvesting will take place and the forest will be allowed to grow naturally. Other smaller, no-harvest areas have been designated to protect specific ecological, recreational or scenic values. The remaining area, about half of the property, is managed using sustainable forestry techniques. 
 
The Climate Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with over 16 years of carbon financing experience. Its mission is to provide expertise, financing, and inspiration to accelerate innovative climate solutions that endure. In order to arrest the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change, The Climate Trust works to accelerate project implementation, develop financing solutions, and establish a supportive policy environment in the renewable energy, agriculture, and forestry sectors.
 
Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast. AMC helps people of all ages and abilities to explore and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world. With chapters from Maine to Washington, D.C., guidebooks and maps, and unique lodges and huts, AMC helps people get outdoors on their own, with family and friends, and through activities close to home and beyond. We invite the public to support our conservation advocacy and research, youth programming, and care of 1,800 miles of trails. More information is available online at outdoors.org.
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Wednesday
Jul162014

Preparing for the Next Spruce Budworm Outbreak

If you are of “a certain age” and lived in Maine in the 1970s and 80s, chances are that you remember the spruce budworm outbreak then. As Doug Denico, Maine State Forester, has said, “For years, I didn’t know what a green forest looked like.”

Indeed, aerial photos of the Maine woods at that time make you think there’s something wrong with the coloring: what should be a carpet of greens is, instead, blotched brown and yellow. Now, indications are that a new outbreak will occur in Maine’s woods within the next 2 to 4 years.

 

Photo Image: Canadian GovernmentBetween 1975 and 1988, 20 - 25 million cords of spruce and fir were killed by the spruce budworm[1]: that’s up to 28% more wood than the current harvesting rate of spruce and fir.

Fir is actually the favorite food of the budworm, but it will also feed on white, red, and black spruce. The worm is the larval stage of a moth that is native to Maine and Canada. Outbreaks in Maine were recorded as early as 1708.  The insect outbreaks come in 40- to 60-year cycles that last approximately ten years. The larvae eat the new needles and buds of the trees, then the older needles, and then even the bark after the new growth has been consumed. After successive years of damage, the trees die.

 While the last budworm outbreak prompted forest landowners to conduct aerial spraying and salvage logging that left large clearcuts, the response this time is likely to be more measured. To begin with, there is not as much fir in the forests as there was in the 1970s. Today, there is half the biomass of fir in the forest, and 30% less spruce than in 1970.[2]  In addition, landowners and the University of Maine have sophisticated mapping technology today that allows them to determine where the highest concentrations of fir and spruce are. This will enable forest managers to precisely target methods for controlling the budworm.

Another important difference between 1970 and today is that there are now thousands of miles of forestPhoto Credit: Canadian Government management roads throughout the forest that will enable managers to access the trees on the ground. Some forest managers are already preparing for the outbreak by cutting mature fir before it can become food for the budworm.  Some pesticide use may occur, but aerial spraying, if necessary, will be limited to discrete stands with the aid of modern technology at low altitudes and slow speeds, reducing drift.

In any case, spruce and fir are not as large a part of the pulpwood markets as they were in the 70s and 80s, as the wood products industry uses more hardwood now. One thing that researchers and industry can agree on: the budworm outbreak and the resulting economic fallout will be different this time - though still likely significant - with many lessons remaining to be learned about how to manage future outbreaks.

 

Alison Truesdale is the Coordinator of Keeping Maine’s Forests and provides land use planning and public policy services through her company, LandForms.

[1] Assessment of Maine’s Wood Supply, Maine Forest Service, November 1993.

[2] Dave Struble, Spruce Budworm - Planning for the Coming Outbreak: Status, Monitoring and Available

Control Measures; New England Regional Council on Forest Engineering Workshop, University of Maine, Orono; March 10, 2014.

Thursday
Jul102014

21st Century Forests Products

The University of Maine conducts $1.5 million of research each year at its Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) in Old Town.  As Joe Rankin reported in a Forests for Maine’s Future article (see FMF 11/28/12), forests products used to be pretty basic: things like firewood, lumber and paper. “But the forest products of the future are just as likely to come in a 55-gallon drum, or turn up in a coating made of nanocellulose, or be extruded with plastic to form complex shapes.”

 

In the FBRI Research Facility Photo Credit: Sherry F. HuberAs David Field, retired UMaine Professor of Forestry has reminded people for years, “you can make anything out of a living tree that you can make from fossil material.”  Recent presentations to Keeping Maine’s Forests by Amy Luce, FBRI Research Center Manager, and Steve Shaler, Professor of Forestry and Director of the School of Forest Resources, discussed the potential of some of the research projects being carried out at the facility. 

 

Funding for the Institute comes from grants and government as well as contributions from industry to support the work of 40-50 faculty members and staff. The Institute has an international reputation and is not just focused on Maine business and products.

 

Investigating wood as a source for various types of fuel is one such effort.  In collaboration with Old Town Fuel and Fiber (OTFF), they have the ability to extract 600 gallons of hemicellulose per minute from wood which can then be fermented into fuel.  Says Dick Arnold, CEO of OTFF, “Because of this partnership we (have extended) our work on developing wood derived sugars that can be converted to everything from fuels to biochemicals and even jet fuel.

 

Other research projects include the production of poly lactic acid from wood extracts and Maine potatoes, which can then be used in food containers, and adding nanofibers from wood to give strength to other materials, enabling creation of new products to replace those that are petroleum-based.  Nanofibers have not been found to be toxic to humans and the material is biodegradable.Dr. Shaler Leads A Tour Photo Credit: Sherry F. Huber

 

Dr. Shaler’s presentation focused on a new wood-based building material, cross laminated timber.  The cost of cross laminated wood is competitive with steel and concrete and saves money on labor.  It is also more environmentally responsible due to not having as destructive an impact on climate.  More testing and marketing will be necessary before it can be manufactured in the US.

 

 

Sherry Huber is the Executive Director of the Maine Timber Research and Environmental Education (TREE) Foundation.  Maine TREE educates and advocates for the sustainable use of the forest and the ecological, economic, and social health of Maine’s forest community.

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