UMaine Today: Outbreak in the North Woods

UMaine partners with Maine Forest Service, Maine Forest Products Council for

disaster preparedness in advance of the next spruce budworm infestation

by Elyse Kahl

Maine’s Mount Katahdin is known for its challenging trails with rewarding, breathtaking views. On a clear summer day at Baxter Peak, the most northern point of the Appalachian Trail, hikers can take in all the natural beauty Maine has to offer — a green canopy dotted with cool, blue bodies of water as far as the eye can see.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, that same view was a sea of gray, decimated by a relentless killer — the spruce budworm.

Larger moth image

The eastern spruce budworm is believed to be the most damaging forest insect in Maine and North America. Outbreaks of the insect that kills balsam fir and spruce trees occur every 30 to 60 years.

And another one could be heading for Maine.

During the last outbreak, which lasted from 1970–85, the insect decimated up to 25 million cords of spruce-fir wood — 21 percent of all fir trees in the state, according to the Maine Forest Products Council. The infestation cost the state’s forest-based economy hundreds of millions of dollars and had lasting effects on Maine forest management.

Already severely damaging an area the size of Maine in southern Quebec, the spruce budworm is on track to begin defoliating trees in the Pine Tree State in the coming years.

In advance of the outbreak, the University of Maine has partnered with the Maine Forest Service and Maine Forest Products Council to form a Maine Spruce Budworm Task Force to keep forest landowners and government officials informed about the insect and aspects of Maine’s forest resources that would be affected by the next outbreak. The team also has created a disaster preparedness plan.

“Coming Spruce Budworm Outbreak: Initial Risk Assessment and Preparation & Response Recommendations for Maine’s Forestry Community” was released for public review in November 2014. The document was led by Maine Spruce Budworm Task Force leaders Robert Wagner, director of the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU) at UMaine; Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council; and Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service.

Read the entire story.