FAQ's About Maine's Forests - Overview
- How much forest does Maine have?
- What trees grow in Maine‘s woods?
- How do trees vary thoughout the state?
- How has the forest changed over time?
- Who owns Maine’s forests?
- How much do they contribute to Maine’s economy?
- What about outdoor recreation?
- What about the environmental benefits of the forest?
- How much wood is harvested in the state?
- What is sustainable forestry?
- What about clear cutting?
About 90 percent of Maine is forested, the highest percentage of any state. This includes some 12 million acres in the northern part of Maine where few people live.
Maine has 39 commercial tree species. Among them: aspen, birch, red and sugar maples, several types of oaks, white and red pines, spruces, balsam fir and others.
While we talk of the Maine forest, it would be more correct to talk of Maine forests. Trees vary depending on soils,location and climate. To simplify: hardwoods like oaks and maples tend to dominate in southern Maine, softwoods like spruces and firs in northern Maine, mixed woods in between. To put numbers on it, 39 percent of the forest is softwoods and 61 percent hardwoods.
Maine has been harvested for timber for well over two centuries, yet the state has more forest today than 100 years ago. During the 1700s and 1800s much of southern and central Maine was cleared for farms. But since agriculture began declining in the 1800s much of that land has grown back to woods. Evidence of that is all over in the rock walls snaking through stands of mature trees.
About 95 percent of the forest is privately owned. Family forestland owners own 33 percent of it, private companies 61 percent and the federal government a mere 1 percent.
Global economic changes and otherfactors have hurt Maine’s forest resourcesindustry. However, forest products are still a key part of the state’s economy. Maine has 200 forest products businesses employing some 24,000 people. The forest products industry directly contributes some $1.8 billion to the state’s economy each year. Maine is the second largest paper producing state.
Maine has for decades been a mecca for recreationists since the 1800s. Fishing and hunting; hiking,whitewater rafting, quiet water canoeing and kayaking; skiing and snowmobiling; mountain biking; moose watching; fall foliage touring draw tens of thousands of people to Maine’s forest every year. It’s estimated that those activities and others pump $1 billion a year into the state’s economy.
Maine’s huge block of woodland provides habitat for numerous creatures, including moose, white-trailed deer and black bear; bobcats and the endangered Canada lynx; hawks, owls and bald eagles; wild turkeys; and the largest population of native brook trout in the lower 48 states. The forest protects the waters of brooks and ponds, cleans the air, limits soil erosion, and locks up carbon.
The Maine Forest Service estimates that some 500,000 acres of forest is harvested each year, with about six million cords of wood removed. The wood harvest has remained largely stable for several years.
Simply put, sustainable forestry means that trees are not harvested faster than they can grow back. Beyond that, it means that forest management is aimed at producing high-quality pulpwood and timber, protecting or enhancing habitat for wildlife, and ensuring water quality is protected for future generations to enjoy.
Clear cutting, the removal of all or most of the trees on a large tract of land, has been declining in Maine. Now only about five percent of harvests are clearcuts. Maine law puts limits on clearcut size.