Spruce Budworm threatens deer yards and other fish and wildlife habitat

spruce budwormA new risk assessment and plan for dealing with the expected arrival in Maine of the very damaging Spruce Budworm is sobering for all who love Maine’s fish and wildlife, especially for those of us who had hoped that the deer herd in the north woods might be rebuilt. Wild trout advocates should also be concerned.

This column is the first of two that examines the report, recommendations, and plan. Today we’ll provide an overview and give you access to the entire 90 page report. Tomorrow I’ll report on the details of the plan’s assessment and plan for deer wintering areas.

The eastern spruce budworm (SBW) is the most damaging insect in Maine’s forest. Returning on a natural 30-60 year cycle, the next outbreak is now at the state’s doorstep. The last SBW outbreak during the 1970s-80s killed millions of acres of spruce-fir forest, cost the state’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars, and helped “set the stage” for political conflict over Maine’s forestry practices during the decades that followed.

That’s the report’s very first paragraph and it certainly grabbed my attention! I remember the earlier budworm epidemic well, because I monitored the response of the federal and state government, and private landowners, on behalf of then-Congressman David Emery. To say the budworm epidemic was catastrophic to wildlife habitat is not an exaggeration.

The new plan, now available for public comment, addresses the following key aspects of the coming outbreak:

• Wood supply & economic impacts

• Monitoring & protection

• Forest management

• Policy, regulatory, & funding

• Wildlife habitat

• Public communications & outreach

• Research priorities

Wildlife Habitat

In the summary of Wildlife Habitat Issues on page 8, you will read: Because the SBW generally has a substantial impact on forest composition and structure over large areas, provides a food source for birds and other species, and changes harvest patterns of forest landowners, major outbreaks generally have a substantial influence on wildlife habitat over a long period of time. Four specific aspects of the coming SBW outbreak that could affect wildlife and wildlife habitat, include: mortality of mature spruce-fir, changes in harvest patterns, non-target impacts of insecticides, and increased forest fire risk.

The five wildlife issues reported to be of greatest concern are:

• Mature softwood songbirds

• Deer wintering areas (DWAs)

• Riparian zones and coldwater fish habitat

• Early/mid-successional species of concern (lynx / snowshoe hare / moose)

• Rare northern butterfly habitat

• High-elevation habitats and bird species

Deer Wintering Areas

The key recommendations for deer wintering areas (DWAs) are:

• Adaptive harvesting to reduce high-risk SBW areas should focus on areas outside of current DWAs.

• Maintaining viable, mature softwood cover within and adjacent to active DWAs where

• Strengthening forest landowner and Maine Department of Inland of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) communications and combining expertise to address stand- and landscape-level management of DWAs during the outbreak.

• Exploring funding or other options for insecticide spraying to protect high-risk DWAs.

• Incorporating SBW impacts on DWA habitat into MDIFW Deer Species Assessment and management goals.

Cold Water Fisheries

Key recommendations for Riparian zones and coldwater fish habitat are:

• Encouraging protection of high-risk SBW stands using B.t.k. or other appropriate insecticide applications in watersheds that are critical for coldwater fish species.

• Minimizing salvage operations of high-risk SBW stands within riparian zones and watersheds near high-value coldwater fish habitats.

Maintaining current riparian management standards and allow for natural tree death and woody debris additions to streams in SBW-killed areas.

Public Communications

The plan also notes the importance of public outreach and communications. A vital part to responding successfully to the coming SBW outbreak will include effective public communications, especially regarding progress of the outbreak, damage caused to the forest and wildlife, economic impacts, what actions are being taken to mitigate and respond to the damage, and how the forest is recovering.

Read and Comment!

You can read the entire plan here.

And you can send your comments on the plan to Patrick Strauch at patrick@maineforest.org.



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.