The Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) of MidCoast Maine has been working in partnership with local landowners to improve the health of regional forests. Forests are facing unprecedented threats, including forest pests poised to decimate dominant tree species in Maine and invasive plants impacting forest regeneration. Conserving forests is a major focus of the SWCD since Waldo County is more than 80 percent forested, and a forest-based economy is a significant part of many Mainers’ livelihoods. That’s why Maine has developed a new concept to address forest conservation and stewardship in its service area through a project called the Forests for Our Future (FFOF).
The FFOF program is an innovative approach that unites a wide variety of outreach and technical assistance activities in forest conservation. The project is designed to offer a coherent strategy and public face for the district’s varied programs to protect forest resources. One part of the program, now in its second year, is a monthly series on small-scale woodland stewardship that addresses many aspects of woodland management, from sugarbush maintenance to smaller-scale harvest and forestry plans. In these workshops, community members tour local woodlands with landowners who are implementing effective practices to steward their woods. The SWCD is partnering with the Maine Forest Service to implement the series. In addition to workshops, staff is offering conservation assistance to forest owners wishing to implement adaptive management.
Another goal of the FFOF program is to provide leadership in response to forest pests such as the emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that attacks North American hemlock trees. The district has spearheaded local efforts to monitor these pests as infestations approach the area. Pest monitoring is the first part of a continuum of services and includes assistance to municipalities and landowners in planning for and responding to pests.
Another aspect of the program’s multi-faceted approach is engaging high school students to educate them about forests. The students learn about forestry while gaining skills in science through creating and sampling Maine Forest Inventory Growth plots, which are part of a Project Learning Tree program. College students help high school students learn as a part of the district’s Conservation Corps internship while gaining valuable skills. They also assist forest landowners in mapping and managing invasive plants and help local conservation land managers monitor biodiversity. One popular part of the internship experience is planting new types of trees in local parks and mapping the urban forest canopy while quantifying storm water management provided by the trees.
The FFOF program also aims to develop knowledge for the future through developing forest management practices that support resiliency. The district has started a partnership with a local private demonstration forest to implement forest adaptation strategies, including planting tree species that are not currently native in the area but have potential to offer ecosystem functionality, urban tree canopy and forest cover in the future. Waldo County SWCD has provided the forest management plan for the demonstration forest and is assisting with seeking funding for forest adaptation research.
“The FFOF program has ultimately been a great tool to unite many partners in forest conservation work,” Waldo County SWCD Technical Director Aleta McKeage said. “Through ongoing publicity of the umbrella program, Waldo County SWCD’s constituents gained an appreciation of the multi-faceted nature of addressing major conservation challenges and understanding of the role soil and water conservation districts serve in bringing people together to tackle pressing resource issues.”