Alexander/Crawford History

By John Dudley 

& Cassie Oakes

 

FOREST:  WHAT NEXT?

Last week we wrote about the fields, past, present and future.  We have limited open space in Alexander but huge amounts of forests.  Before the arrival of our first settlers our forests had experienced change mostly by natural events.  We were under a glacier 15,000 years ago.  As the climate warmed and the glaciers melted, the barren land was colonized by plants.  If we were to travel northerly we would pass over land with a climate that support the same plant life that was here at certain times after the glacier.

As the forests developed, lightning strikes started fires that burned for weeks and miles, stopped only by weather (snow or rain) or natural firebreaks (barren places or water bodies).

Native Americans used the forests passively as a place to get food (fish, meat and berries), material for clothing (animal skins) and for heat.  They occasionally used fire to drive animals or encourage the growth of certain foods such as blueberries.

European immigrants brought more people and a different culture of using the forest.  Permanent houses and wooden ships required harvesting bigger trees than the natives used.  Their culture had iron tools, understood the use of draft animals and could use waterpower to saw logs into usable lumber.

The market for this big wood was not only pines for the King’s Navy, but for ships to take the pines across the ocean, to bring more immigrants here and for trade between the colony and the mother country.  Great Britain and the Baltic countries had cut most of their forests and had excess people without jobs.  John Dudley expects, but doesn’t know for fact, that Alexander pines were being sawn at East Machias and Dennysville before our first settler arrived.

About 1880 the easy pine was gone and loggers began harvesting spruce.  First pine, then spruce provided buildings down the East Coast, buildings for homes, factories, schools, churches and, yes, sailing ships.  Of course railroad ties were in demand as had been firewood from earliest times.

The twentieth century brought paper made from wood fiber.  Man power and horsepower have been replaced by fossil fuel power and huge machines, but it is still paper from wood fiber.  We have grown up with this and see it keeping the economy of Washington County strong; but we know what has happened elsewhere in Maine.

Wildlands-and Woodlands.  Farmlands and Communities from the Harvard Forest Foundation n 2017 reports that New England lost 480,000 acres of farmland and forests between 1990 and 2010.  “Over the next 50 years…  The threat of changing land use to forests is greater than the threat of climate change to forests.”

If there is good news for forests in that report, it is for northern and eastern Maine.  Our farms may disappear, but our forests are expected to thrive.  We can’t eat trees, but our forests can provide that connection to nature that our fellow New Englanders to our south will cherish.  What can we do to make Washington County a nature magnet?