A Deeper Look At River Bend Farm's Forest Ecosystem

Written by Harold Burnett, Two Trees Forestry

One can only imagine how the pre-colonial landscape appeared near a sharp bend in the Chouacoet River (what the early Jesuit missionaries then called the Saco), though we know it was entirely forested with American chestnut, red and white oak, hickory, and probably hemlock trees, among others. Since then farmers entirely cleared and farmed what, in 1794, became known as the River Bend Farm. In time though, farmers pulled back their agricultural activities to areas closest to the farmhouse, leaving most of the hillier and more gullied terrain to revert to the pine, oak, maple, ash, and hemlock forests of today. The last major field abandonment occurred in the 1950s on the lot's southwestern end. Interestingly, though all on-site chestnut trees left by way of the axe, virtually all of what survived along the Appalachian chain succumbed in the early 1900s to the non-native chestnut blight. Today they have returned to a back field where a trial planting of hybrids (conducted by University of New England's Professor Thomas Klak) hopes to resist the blight while maintaining the stately form, smooth-grained, fast growing, and nut producing traits that that first farm family would have known. After 100 years of research and trials the potential of chestnut's return to RBF's landscape is brightening.

However, today's more important task is to work with the existing forest of pines, oaks, hickories, hemlocks, and maples (and non-native barberry, honey-suckle, and bittersweet!) to teach TES participants and others about the values, potential, and threats to Maine's forests. We initiated the process with the help of ecologists Tom Wessels and Andy Wood. I will couple Wessel's and Wood's findings of plant, mammal, and bird life with my own tree and forest measurements in a forest management plan that will document current conditions and recommend how best to manipulate, or not, the forest to benefit TES curriculums, farm activities, ecological research, recreation, and business sustainability, while also managing threats such as invasive shrubs, insects, and diseases. The plan will include a timetable of recommended activities and the resulting incomes/expenses, between now and 2028 and will be completed during September 2018.