The Wabanaki-Acadian forest has been stewarded and used by indigenous peoples for millennia. They have traditionally used low-impact land use planning practices to enhance its productivity, and the forest supported a vibrant suite of animals, as well as medicinal and edible plants.
There are still pockets of forest that contain the legacy of historical Wabanaki-Acadian forest. However, these become fewer every year. Less than 5% of pre-settlement Wabanaki-Acadian forest exists today, leading to the designation of critically endangered status by the World Wildlife Fund. While forest is the dominant land cover in the Nashwaak Watershed (92.5%), only a small percentage of this is old growth forest (3.63%).
Human activities since the colonial period, such as forest clearing for settlement and agriculture as well as harvesting wood, have largely replaced any natural disturbances as the main influences on the Wabanaki-Acadian forest. Forest harvesting techniques, including clearcutting, have replaced most of the old growth forest with younger forests that are often evenly aged and contain different and fewer species. Temperate, shade-tolerant species that would have once dominated much of the forests (e.g., red spruce, sugar maple, yellow birch, eastern hemlock and beech), have all declined in abundance. Exposure-tolerant species that more closely associated with the boreal forest, including balsam fir, white birch, black and white spruce, and poplars, have significantly increased on the landscape, due to years of high-grading, clearing, re-establishment of forests on cleared land, clear-cutting and intensive silviculture. Unfortunately, these boreal species are not predicted to thrive in a warming climate, leaving our forests prone to further decline.
Younger and less diverse forests are not able to offer the same valuable environmental services that older, more diverse forests offer. Wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, climate resilience, and aquatic habitat all suffer under our current dominant forest management practices. But change is possible. Through the use of more sustainable harvesting and stewardship practices we can restore resilience to our forests.
Mosseler, A., J.A.Lynds, and J.E. Major. 2003. “Old-growth forests of the Acadia Forest Region.” Environ. Rev. 11: S47–S77. NRC Canada; Loo, J. and N. Ives. 2003. “The Acadian forest: Historical condition and human impacts.” The Forestry Chronicle. 79: 462-474; World Wildlife Fund. New England-Acadian Forests.
Noseworthy, J. and T.M. Beckley. 2020. Borealization of the New England-Acadian Forest: a review of the evidence. Environmental Reviews 28: 284-293.