Student Group WesCFPA, Outhouse, and the general Connecticut Forests and Parks Association (CFPA) co-sponsored a panel discussing the past, present, and future of Connecticut’s forests. Students and faculty members were treated to a complimentary dinner in the Daniel Family Commons on Monday, March 23 for the panel, titled “Into the Woods of Connecticut: Then & Now.” Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Helen Poulos, Visiting Scholar in History Amrys Williams, and Connecticut State Forester Christopher Martin served as panelists, with Pierre Gerard ’16 as moderator.
Each panelist began by describing their personal connection with forests and how that early fascination translated into their careers. All three shared fond memories of them and their families’ fondness for nature and the outdoors. In particular, Martin had an extensive career in different areas of the agriculture and forestry sectors before becoming the state forester as a result of advice he received from his high school guidance counselor.
“I got into quite a bit of mischief when I was in high school,” Martin said. “I studied just about everything but what I was supposed to, so my guidance counselor gave me great advice and said, ‘Make your hobby your job.’”
Gerard then asked the three experts about the main issues facing Connecticut’s forests, both presently and throughout its history.
Poulos addressed the growing problem of global warming and the effect that the unpredictability of future climate change can have on the health of the forests.
“[We need to think about] building resistance and resilience into these forests so that we can have a dynamic forest system that can absorb some of the unpredictable disturbances that are to come with increases in invasive pathogens, insects, climate change, and the unpredictability that goes with warmer, hotter environments,” Poulos said.
Williams responded from a historical point-of-view, describing the problems posed over time by human interaction with the environment, namely residential development and economic changes that led to the abandonment of many New England Farms, which ultimately led to reforestation and afforestation of lands once cleared for crop production.
In response to another question, Williams also described the forces that have shaped the forests of Connecticut over time.
“I think the long trajectory [of the interaction between humans and forests] is one of forest modifications, followed by deforestation primarily related to European settlement and agriculture, and then afforestation and reforestation,” Williams said. “If we want to think about uses of forests and trees and wood over time in this part of the world, we need to think about forests as habitats and also as a source of food and subsistence for humans. We need to think about forests as fuel, as firewood, which was a really important use of forests for a very long period of human history.”
On the topic of conservation, Williams discussed the interaction between humans and the environment relating to the need to supply water to urban areas. The need to maintain clean water supplies was directly related to the creation of forest reserves and parks, where reservoirs were generally located.
“This is where the history of forests, particularly in a place like New England, starts to become really intimately connected with urbanization,” Williams said. “As populations begin to grow, you begin to need to have things like a municipal water system. Often you need to go to a remote place to get it, and what is the way to ensure that you have a fresh supply of water in the long term? To create a forest reserve.”
The panelists then addressed the problems facing biodiversity in forests, particularly as a result of the introduction of invasive species to Connecticut’s forests. Martin discussed how this is a result of globalization and the development of a world economy.
“Our forests are suffering [from global trade] because it is introducing things to forests here in the United States and Connecticut that they have never experienced before,” Martin said. “A variety of invasive species have the potential to really change our landscape, dramatically, and de-diversify our forests.”
The invasive species also threaten the fall foliage for which Connecticut and New England are famous, as invasive species will continue to diminish the extraordinary diversity of trees that render that display possible.
As far as legislation is concerned, Connecticut House Bill 5710 aims to authorize the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to enforce laws pertaining to the encroachment on state-owned open land. This would expand jurisdiction from solely the state’s Attorney General and allow for more public input and transparency in the process, according to Martin.
However, private citizens own 80 percent of forestland in Connecticut, and it is up to them in to properly maintain it, though many who inherit land sell it to developers.
Sonya Sternlieb ’18 attended the panel and explained that she finds this statistic unsettling.
“I’d never before thought of the fact that most of the forest land is owned by private individuals who will one day divvy up their turf and pass it on to descendants who may have little to no connection to it or knowledge of how to take care of it” Sternlieb said. “The future of something like eighty percent of Connecticut’s forests sort of depends on somewhat random individuals, which is sort of scary.”
The panel concluded with a discussion of future conservation efforts in which students can take part, including caring for the parks and trails surrounding campus.