With spruce budworm populations expected to grow in northern Maine forests, Matt Gregg of Maple Meadow Farms is among several woodlot owners who are getting ahead of the problem.
A farmer and auctioneer, Gregg is harvesting balsam fir trees this winter from the farm’s 180-acre mixed woodlot north of Route 163 in Mapleton. He drives into the area in a small truck. along with the family dog, Wilson, and enlists the help of a Belgian draft horse to pull the trees up to the trail.
Gregg hasn’t seen any signs of the spruce budworm, which killed more than 20 percent of Maine’s fir trees in the 1970s and 1980s, but he believes the predictions of researchers who say the bugs are going to start growing in number.
“Right now we’re concentrating on the fir because we’d like to get it out as quickly as we can,” he said.
The spruce budworm feeds on the new growths of balsam fir and white spruce trees. Populations are thought to boom in 30 to 60 year cycles that coincide with the maturing of the trees. Spruce budworm populations in Quebec have been growing for a decade, and an estimated 15 million acres of forestland in Quebec and New Brunswick have been damaged so far.
The woodlot Gregg manages has a diversity of ash, beech, maple, tamarack, cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock and a small red pine plantation, which he is in the process of thinning.
The draft horse is one of four that Matt and Andrea Gregg use in their grain and hay fields and in their woods. The horses are less disruptive to the evolving mixed forest and the young trees that they’re hoping to favor in the canopy.
“Cutting the firs will allow some of the smaller maple and yellow birch trees to get more sun,” Gregg said.
“Really with a woodlot, you’ve got to let it grow the way it wants to grow,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of big trees left. The younger trees are slender and straight that will grow into good commercial wood after a decade.”
Gregg sells some wood to local mills or uses his own sawmill to cut wood for projects at the farm or for custom orders. Birch from their woodlot will be used in bench seats at Presque Isle’s new community center, and some of the older hemlocks are going to be used for new planks in the horse barn.
Mill wood and pulpwood prices aren’t great these days. But for a farmer and landowner, a mixed woodlot “is a good thing to have,” Gregg said.