Franklin-Based Forester Talks Managed Woodlands


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“When you walk through a forest that’s starting to age it just doesn’t look good,” said Joan Nichols, a professional forester based in Franklin Connecticut. “It would be like if the entire population of the state of Connecticut was all 90, it’s not good for the individuals and it’s not good for the state.” 

About 65 percent of Connecticut is forested.

“Anywhere you drive you see trees, and everyone loves to learn about trees,” she said. “They love to learn about trees, about forest health…everybody thinks it’s great until we got to cut trees down. Some people have a mindset that cutting trees is a bad thing.”

It’s a mindset that Nichols and other foresters are worried about. 

“It happened recently in Simsbury where the state put up a timber sale in Massacoe State Forest and a group of people showed up that didn’t like timber harvesting on state land,” Nichols said. “A few legislators showed up and joined in the protests and DEEP ended up shutting down the sale … that even has had a pretty harsh rippling effect.” 

A rippling effect that urged Nichols to invite state legislators to the Baltic Reservoir in Sprague where a tree harvesting project finished this past November. 

“My goal was to explain to legislators why this activity took place,” she said. “I want to show people that you can do good forestry. It’s a little messy and a little noisy for a couple months, but then it quiets down, the land heals over and the forest is better off.” 

In Sprague, the forest has been under management for the past 40 years and was suffering from a recent infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle. The most recent project removed more than 600 dead and dying ash trees across the 300 acres and paid the town $25,000 for the cut.

The removal not only brought money into the town’s conservation fund, but it also prevented these dying trees from becoming a falling hazard for people enjoying the property and allowed new, healthy trees to grow up in their place. This allows for a diversity of tree ages – not just the 80 to 125-year-old-trees that make up the majority of Connecticut’s forests. These mature forests are often devoid of an understory, more at risk for wildfires and storm damage and lead to stressed trees and less food and shelter for wildlife. 

“If we do forestry work and look at how to maintain forest health we should be harvesting or thinning three to four times in the course of 100 years,” Nichols said. “We are doing what mother nature would do anyway,” if left to her own devices. 

Nichols also pointed out that well managed forests are a safeguard against some of the consequences of climate change. They provide a large carbon sink and filter rainwater for reservoirs. 

“If you can give the healthiest trees out there plenty of room to grow and thrive by removing other trees regularly the forest is far better off,” she said. 

Nichols said she hopes legislators and residents alike will take the time to learn why tree removal is an essential part of taking care of a forest instead of leaping to conclusions when they see the large equipment arrive.

“The idea that a group of people showed up at one sale and they don’t like something and the state shut it down, that’s scary,” she said. “I want legislators to be informed so that if there is ever an initiative where people say they shouldn’t be cutting timer on state land they have a little bit of knowledge to make that decision with.”

Photo credit: Photo of the Baltic reservoir, courtesy of Joan Nichols