Reprinted from the Portland Daily Sun
By Casey Conley
Three years ago, the city used funds from a Maine Forest Service grant to study forest conditions in Pine Grove Park, in North Deering.
Data from that exercise showed that old-growth pine trees were preventing sunlight from reaching the ground, preventing new growth, said city arborist Jeff Tarling. Eventually, that data was used to create a new forest management plan for the 6.5-acre park that includes removal of some older trees.
"We looked at that (data) and said, 'We need to do some thinning,'" Tarling recalled, or run the risk that many of the trees would fall over on their own.
This week, the city received another sustainable forestry grant through the state's Project Canopy program for $2,400 (with another in $2,400 local match). This time around, the city plans to survey about 200 acres of city-owned forest land along the Presumpscot River.
The city is planning to use the funds to create similar management plans for Oatnuts Park, Riverton Trolley Park, Presumpscot River Preserve and roughly 90 acres of forest land along Riverside Golf Course.
"This will be the first time these woods have been looked at from a forest perspective," said Tarling, who expects to hire a consultant to assist with the effort.
That's not to say Tarling and other city staff are clueless about these woods.
They know Riverton Trolley Park, in the early 1900s a getaway spot for city residents complete with a casino, amphitheater and dance hall, is experiencing erosion along the river banks and becoming overrun with invasive species.
"What happens in a forest situation, is that they will come in and take over," he said of the Norway maples, Japanese honeysuckles and other non-native species that are crowding out native plants.
The city is planning to hire a forestry consultant to actually do most of the surveys, which will include tree counts and inventories of various species and architectural elements within each forest. The survey is expected to begin this fall and wrap up next spring.
"We are hoping that through the development of forest management plans, the city will be able to manage not only for recreation and species, but also create some revenue through timber harvesting," said Jan Santerre, the Project Canopy coordinator with Maine Forest Service.
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, she said the removal of trees actually improves overall forest health and can prevent spread of invasive plant species, insects and lessen damage during storms.
"A lot of people ... don't realize that to really keep those forest lands aesthetically the way they are today that some management does have to take place," she said.
If past surveys are any indication, the consultant will likely uncover some hidden gems in the city's forest lands. For instance, the 2008 study that covered about 140 acres led to the discovery in Evergreen Cemetary of "one of the nicest oak stands" the forester had ever been in.
"There is all of those interesting little gems" that are there to be discovered, Santerre said.
The creation of forestry management plans can also impact nearby waterways - in this case the Presumpscot River.
The areas to be studied by the grant "are all part of this watershed that feeds the river, and one of the lowest cost an most effective ways to keep the river clean is to keep the forest as forest," Santerre said.