Maine is well known for its dense and prosperous forests. From 1970 to 1990, there was a surge in demand for lumber, so the Northern Forest Lands Council passed 37 recommendations protecting the forests.

Although some recommendations regarding taxes and funding were partially successful, overall awareness remained low. Deforestation today is slightly less pressing, but the very important question of how to successfully regenerate the eliminated forests is not easily answered.

Stephen Elliott founded Thailand’s Forest Restoration Research Unit with a goal of recreating natural forests as efficiently as possible. The framework species method, used by the Forest Restoration Research Unit, utilizes natural seed-dispersal mechanisms to aid in biodiversity recovery. Scientists choose 20 to 30 species that have fast-growing fruits and thick canopies in order to shade out weeds and attract seed-dispersing animals.

This system has proved successful in Thailand. In many Forest Restoration Research Unit projects, only 14 years after planting seedlings, about 66 percent of species that are found in a neighboring, natural forest have migrated to the new forest. With a similar method, the places in Maine that have been exploited for lumber could return to fully functioning ecosystems in approximately 14 years.

Reforesting land is crucial for keeping carbon out of the air, as trees return carbon to its original place: the ground. Before reforestation, 20 tons of carbon were retained on 1 hectare (about 2½ acres) in Thailand. After planting trees, 150 tons of carbon were able to be retained.

One hectare of land can make 130 tons of difference. If all the available land were utilized to its potential, then significantly less carbon would be in the atmosphere.

The ecosystem in Maine could become more self-sustaining if reforestation were put into action and framework species were established that could, with assistance, re-create a natural forest environment.

Dana Peirce

Portland