The health of the woods of Massachusetts is vitally important, but difficult to assess. 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 catastrophic events like hurricanes, ice storms, and other disturbance.
Healthy forests are good, but how do we assess health? 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.
In some ways, forest health can be thought of in the same way as human health. If you get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and don’t smoke, you’ll be in a good position to beat that cold going around school or the office because of a robust immune system. 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 such as the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid(pronounced A-dell-jid) and Japanese barberry. These invasive exotics, with no natural enemy or resistance, pose an increasing threat. It is critical to consider the role of invasive exotics when planning a harvest. Increasing the sunlight in your woods may help the proliferation of exotic invasive plants which may have detrimental impacts both ecologically and economically.
Though you may be considering the sale of timber out of fear of losing it to insect or disease, it is important to speak with your local state service forester or a private, licensed professional forester regarding the status of your trees.