October 6, 2013
On the one hand Connecticut forests good: lush and leafy. They may in fact be as robustly wooded and healthy as they have been since the beginning of the 19th Century. The fall foliage color should be great.
The Asian long horned beetle is an invasive pest species already identified in New York and Massachusetts that can do enormous damage to Connecticut forests if it became established. Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Click to enlarge.
On the other hand, development, an onslaught of new invasive insect species and climate change seriously threaten their health and viability in the immediate future.
“Connecticut forests in the latter part of the last century and now are in about as good shape as they have been in two centuries,” said David R. Foster, director of Harvard University’s Harvard Forest in Petersham, Ma., and chairman of the board of Highstead, a forest conservation and education organization based in Redding.
But the state’s forests “are starting to be whittled away. That is the other piece of it,” he said. “They are in great shape, but we have to do something to hang on to them.”
It is a critical time for Connecticut forests, and these woodlands are environmentally and aesthetically invaluable.
“Forests lend beauty and character to the New England landscape where they play a vital role in local industry, as habitat, and as a source of natural infrastructure that cleans our water and air,” Foster said.
Connecticut forests continue to be carved up into smaller blocks of trees to make way for roads, businesses and homes, with major implications for forest health and wildlife habitat. Development pressures eased with the crash of the economy late in 2008, but the conservation community expects another surge of development as the economy rebounds.
It was only a decade ago that researchers identified a significant and troubling trend with Connecticut forests.
Prior to European settlement, what is now Connecticut was heavily forested. But by the mid-19th Century, practically all of the state was cleared for farming, leaving a vast, almost-treeless landscape. As larger scale farming developed to the west, Connecticut farming went into a steep decline after about 1850, and thousands of acres of land were left to revert to forest.
That reforestation continued until about 10 years, leaving Connecticut about 60 percent wooded. But now the total acreage of forests in the state is in decline once again. My story on the condition of Connecticut forests and the threats they face can be found today on the front page of The Hartford Courant, with photos and graphics.