CARIBOU, Maine — An outbreak of spruce budworm during the 1970-80s damaged forests and irked landowners and scientists who fought to counter the damage done by the pests. Despite the devastation it caused, the outbreak taught forest managers, scientists and others a great deal about what to do to prevent a possible recurrence and combat it if one does occur.
The lessons learned and how that knowledge can be used in the future was the topic of discussion in Caribou on Thursday afternoon, as the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit held a conference to bring people up to date on the state of Maine’s forests and to introduce tools for managing forests under pressure from the budworm.
Spencer Meyer, associate director of the CFRU, said he hoped the dialogue generated Thursday would continue around the rest of the state.
“Today, we were able to transfer a large amount of information from those who handled the outbreak in the ’70s and ’80s to those who will handle it in the future,” he said. “That is very important.”
The spruce budworm has long been recognized as a regular component of Maine’s spruce-fir forests. Under normal conditions, populations of the insect are so low they are difficult to detect. Periodically, however, the budworm undergoes a population explosion and becomes so abundant that serious damage occurs from the feeding insects.
The spruce budworm feeds primarily on balsam fir and white spruce. It can defoliate trees, eventually leading to their death.
Spruce budworm seems to have population explosions every 40 to 60 years, according to scientists.
The CFRU is a partnership among scientists at the University of Maine and Maine’s forest landowners and managers and has been working on forest research since 1975. The members of the CFRU own and manage more than 8 million acres of forestland in Maine, and include private forest landowners, nonprofit conservation organizations, wood processors and public land managers.
The event featured a panel of speakers representing forestry and policy experts who spoke to an audience consisting primarily of forest landowners, managers and scientists.
“I believe that it is important to engage the scientific community and landowners in this discussion,” Meyer said. “During the last outbreak, there was so much turmoil that not a lot of learning could go on. Now, we have more information and want to pass it on to as many people as possible.”
David Struble, state entomologist for the Maine Forest Service, said officials know there is a spruce budworm problem in parts of Canada.
“There has been a resurgence, but we don’t know when the problem will get to us,” he said. “You never know for sure, but it is wise to assume that there will be a problem. The CFRU has taken a giant step forward by starting a dialogue among people to get everyone involved in what to do next if another outbreak occurs.”
Struble said that the knowledge gained during the first outbreak “has given us the tools we did not have 30 years ago.”
Struble said Maine officials are watching the situation in Canada and talking to officials across the border about the problem.
Ron Lovaglio, a forest certification, fiber procurement and personnel placement consultant, said preparation was the best defense against a future outbreak and credited CFRU with getting the ball rolling.
Lovaglio noted that millions of acres of spruce and fir forests were cut as a result of the outbreak in the ’70s and ’80s.
Before the event ended, participants took a field tour of Irving Woodlands property to see how they are managing spruce-fir stands in anticipation of the next spruce budworm outbreak.