Picture yourself in a late-successional Maine forest, walking through a cool, park-like understory of mottled light and shadow among tall, tapering tree trunks supporting dense evergreen growth. The giant hemlock trees that create these unique Maine forests may soon be a thing of the past. In southern New England, including southern Maine, hemlock populations have dropped precipitously owing to the northward march of a non-native insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid. Once infested by this invasive aphid-like insect, nearly all hemlock trees die within 10 years.
Unity College faculty, with funding through Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, are conducting the multi-year Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study (HEMS) to determine how the loss of eastern hemlocks will affect the ecology, economy, and people of Maine. Unity students will work with faculty to map the distribution of hemlock-dominant stands in Maine and measure the effects of pre-emptive logging of hemlock, as well as of the trees dying slowly. The results will help land managers understand what kind of forest to expect after hemlock tree disturbances.
The HEMS team is using a collaborative Sustainability Science process to see how stakeholders representing ecological, social, economic, recreational, and land-management interests can work together to produce scientific and policy responses to complex problems. Their work will attempt to provide an array of possible management solutions for landowners, and discover how our use of resources can remain sustainable within changing ecosystems.