Academic journal article Human Organization

Maine: On the Cusp of the Forest Transition

Academic journal article Human Organization

Maine: On the Cusp of the Forest Transition

Article excerpt

Deforestation is a serious problem in many parts of the world. Recently, deforestation is being reversed in some areas, a process called the "forest transition." This article describes the historic changes occurring in Maine's forests, and discusses the implications of those changes. Large scale deforestation occurred as land was cleared for agriculture in the southern and central parts of the state; the forests in the north were heavily harvested by industry. Recently, a turnaround of sorts has occurred in the condition of the forests, and the latest [2005] forest inventory is quite optimistic. However, it is difficult to argue that a forest transition has occurred because improvements made by some forest landowners are counterbalanced by declines in forest conditions due to the activities of other landowners. As a result, the amount of forested land is likely to fall again as the acreage of agricultural land reverting to forest is overwhelmed by a larger amount of land being converted to housing and development. Moreover, forest quality is poor with almost 79 percent of Maine's forest land in saplings or pole timber. In comparative perspective, the factors that are linked to deforestation and reforestation in Maine are quite different from those identified in the literature on the forest transition.

Key words: forest transition, Maine, deforestation, forest landowners, forest history


Deforestation has occurred over large parts of the world in the past several centuries. At present, the problem is especially acute in developing countries-especially those in Latin America and Africa-where the forest cover has declined at a rapid rate due to conversion to agriculture, uncontrolled forest fires, large scale logging, and the activities of millions of peasants who are cutting trees for firewood and building materials. Between 1980 and 1990, Haiti, Costa Rica, and Paraguay lost more than a quarter of their forests; the Philippines and Thailand lost close to 40 percent in the same time period, while several African countries have experienced serious deforestation (Ascher 1995:3). The world lost three percent of its wooded areas between 1995 and 2000 (FAO 2007:64).

In the past few years, there is evidence that deforestation is being reversed in some parts of the world (Rudel 1998:337). Between 2000 and 2005, there was a net increase in wooded areas in Asia and Europe. In the United States in the 1990s, there was an annual increase in the amount of forested area of .12 percent, and from 2000 to 2005 there was an increase in .05 percent (Falconi 2007). This turnaround in forest cover trends Mather (1990) has called the "forest transition." While it is clear that the transition occurs when more acres of forest are reforested than deforested, it is not all that clear under what conditions such transition occurs. Rudel (1998) has developed a model for explaining the forest transition. In simplest form, he argues that deforestation occurs as land is cleared for agriculture; reforestation occurs as farmers abandon agriculture and move to cities to take industrial jobs.

This article focuses on the situation in Maine where, over the course of the past two hundred years, a good deal of land was cleared of forests, and most of the remaining forest was heavily harvested. However, causes of deforestation in the past are very different from those in the present. In recent years, reforestation has occurred, but the factors influencing the amount and quality of the forest in one part of the state are very different from those affecting forests in another.1 In this article, I first discuss the history of forests in the southern part of Maine from colonial times to the 1980s, then I do the same for the northern part of the state. Second, I examine the current condition of Maine's forests and the decisions of various classes of landowners that are producing these conditions. This analysis demonstrates that what is happening to forests in southern Maine is quite different from what is occurring in the north. …

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