Forests provide us with a wealth of free benefits like clean water, scenic backdrops for a rural tourism industry, habitat and biodiversity, recreation opportunities, privacy from neighbors, and valuable wood products and job opportunities. The healthier forests are, the better able they are to rebound from disturbances such as hurricanes or ice storms. Yet, forest health is difficult to assess.
If a tree dies, does that indicate a sick forest? Or does that dead tree contribute to the health of the overall forest by providing new habitat for woodpeckers, insects, and cavity-nesting flying squirrels and owls? Thus, forest health is a matter of scale: one or two dead trees on a property might be a natural part of a healthy forest. Hundreds of acres of dead trees might not be healthy.
Trees and forests have a well-evolved ability to rebound from natural disturbances like hurricanes, fire, and other events, but how well can they respond if already weakened by unnatural problems like exotic insects or diseases, air pollution, or altered climate? Many plants, insects, and diseases are a natural part of our forests. However, global trade has introduced new threats. Invasive species have no natural enemy or resistance and pose an increasing threat.
To learn more about current forest health threats, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/current-forest-health-threats.
To learn more about invasive plants, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/invasive-plants or a larger listing of invasive plants in Massachusetts at Invasive Plants (massaudubon.org)
Read the US Forest Service’s 2016 report on Forest Health Highlights for Massachusetts: https://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/docs/fhh/MA_FHH_2016.pdf.
If you are concerned about a potential invasive on your property, it is important to speak with your local state service forester or a private, licensed professional forester regarding the status of your trees. Additionally, learn more about DCR’s forest health program: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/forest-health-program.