Conifer classroom

UMaine’s mission — teaching, research and public engagement — flourishes in University Forests like the Dwight B. Demeritt
Photographs by Adam Küykendall
Keith Kanoti, University Forests manager with the University of Maine School of Forest Resources, surveys an Eastern white pine in the Demeritt Forest.

Conifer classroom

UMaine’s mission — teaching, research and public engagement — flourishes in University Forests like the Dwight B. Demeritt

Photographs by Adam Küykendall

Approximately 14,000 acres of forestland owned by the University of Maine System and University of Maine Foundation can be found statewide — from Chapman in the north near Presque Isle, to Bethel in the west, the midcoast near Damariscotta and Down East in Whitneyville.

However, the heart of the University Forests is located adjacent to or near the UMaine campus. The 1,865-acre Dwight B. Demeritt Forest in Old Town and Orono features mixed forest stands, fields and waterways. Its mission, as it is with all the University Forests: research, demonstration and education. All in keeping with the stewardship role and sustainability emphasis of the state’s public research and land grant university.

In Demeritt, approximately 6,451 trees are greater than 24 inches in diameter and 73% of those are white pine.

The more than 1,860-acre Demeritt Forest includes 91 acres of forest reserve with no timber harvesting, 81 acres of formal research areas, 118 acres of forested wetlands, 129 acres of riparian forest and 1,444 acres of managed timberland, according to Keith Kanoti, University Forests manager with the University of Maine School of Forest Resources.

Tree species include Eastern white pine, Eastern hemlock, red maple, red spruce, Northern white cedar, balsam fir and aspen.

UMaine has MANAGED
DEMERITT FOREST for 80 years.

The federal government purchased land in 1939 during the Great Depression that later became the forest. It was leased to the university to be managed by the forestry department before being deeded to UMaine in the 1950s, according to Keith Kanoti, University Forests manager with the School of Forest Resources.

“It’s the primary teaching forest for the university,” says Kanoti, adding the land is where students from a variety of disciplines, including forestry and wildlife, have labs and classes. “Not every university forest is located right on campus like ours is, which is a great benefit. Their laboratory space — the outdoors, the woods — is right close by.”

Research is made convenient by the forest’s proximity to campus, and owning land around the state allows researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students, access to varied forest types, according to Kanoti.

“From a research perspective, we can have lands that may have different issues down on the coast as opposed to up in Aroostook County because the climate is different,” he says. “It’s also nice just to have the diverse land base because with insects and diseases and threats like that, it’s always good to have your portfolio spread out a little bit.”

The Demeritt supports research on forest resources, according to manager Keith Kanoti. Faculty and students from a variety of disciplines take advantage of the living laboratory year-round.

Kelly French, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in forest resources, collaborates with Jay Wason, assistant professor of forest ecosystem physiology, on research looking at relationships between tree structures and how trees function physiologically.

The researchers
collect tree cores,
branches and leaves

to study the cells
to better understand
wood’s ability to store,
transport and release
water during a drought.

While the research,
education and
some of the outlying lands have additional
management objectives depending
on how the acreage was acquired.

Gifts of additional forestland are encouraged through the Green Endowment of forestland held at the University of Maine Foundation. The land can be managed with the donor’s specific priority in mind, such as wildife management.

Over a dozen UMaine forestry and wildlife classes use the Demeritt for multiple labs each year. Classes that convene in the woods focus on a range of topics, including forest management, silviculture, forest vegetation, remote sensing, coordinate geometry, wildlife ecology, outdoor leadership, forestland navigation and GPS, and outdoor preparedness. In addition, high school students from around the state visit for events such as the Maine Envirothon, a natural resource problem-solving competition. Old Town High School students also are using the land for watershed research.

Jay Wason, assistant professor of forest ecosystem physiology, and Ruth van Kampen, a master’s student in forest resources, simulate an extreme drought to study the effects in four tree species in the forest.

Preliminary results show red maple is able to store more water in its wood, and that water can easily be released to the leaves during dry conditions, according to Wason.

“This may be one of the reasons why red maple is able to be so competitive in the forest and could lead to its continued dominance with future climate change,” he says.

Other recent projects
include tick prevalence

and studying
personalities and
nut-caching decisions
of small mammals.

Bill Livingston, associate director for undergraduate education and associate professor of forest resources, has been studying white pine in the Demeritt for more than two decades.

White pine, the fastest-growing conifer in the Northeast, is used in several of the state’s mills. He is researching improved tree growth through active management and thinning, and the common diseases found in white pine.

“With pine forests like these, you can put in a study and you know it’s going to be maintained for the long term,” Livingston says of research in the Demeritt. “And when you’re dealing with trees, long term means you’re looking at decades for it to have any meaning. Having a resource like this for studies on trees is essential.”

Beyond research
and education,
students can enjoy the
forest year-round,
from snowshoeing
in the winter
to swimming
in the summer.

Members of the
UMaine community
to walk, run, mountain bike,
snowshoe, cross-country ski
and even swim in the river.

Sports teams, clubs and student groups, including Army ROTC, conduct physical and tactical training, as well as navigation, in the forest.

“The forest is in everybody’s backyard in Orono and Old Town,” Kanoti says. “It’s a big chunk of undeveloped land that people can use and recreate on.”

UMaine Campus Recreation
maintains the more than
15 miles of groomed
ski trails on campus

and a local
mountain bike
group keeps up
10 miles of
single-track trails.

Facilities Maintenance
and UMaine Athletics,
whose cross-country
teams use the forest
for practice and races,
also help improve
and clean up the
on-campus trails
after storms, says
Jeff Hunt, director
of Campus Recreation.

A Challenge Course, which includes a zip line, offers team-building programs for groups. “(The forest) gives students an outdoor recreation opportunity within walking distance from their dorm,” Hunt says. Here, recreation coexists with active forest management.

Photo by Ben Tero

UMaine classes that convene in the woods focus on a range of topics, including outdoor leadership.

Lauren Jacobs, a lecturer in kinesiology and physical education, leads the outdoor and adventure activities course, which focuses on helping students become confident and competent in environmental conditions and outdoor activities, such as safely using camp stoves and building shelters.

“In order to be a leader in outdoor settings, you need to be able to take care of yourself so that you can then take care of others,” Jacobs says.

The Demeritt has
been managed for
continues to be a working forest.

Kanoti oversees the forest management plan, which includes harvesting trees and selling wood to local mills. Revenue from harvesting goes back into operating the forest.

“There’s a real rhythm to the management of the forest,” Kanoti says. “It varies with the seasons. What the seasons are dictate what we’re doing because our jobs are very weather dependent.”

The majority of harvesting takes place in the winter when the ground is frozen, to cause less damage, according to Kanoti. During that time, classes and labs also use the forest.

Tony Guay, a remote sensing technical specialist, teaches a course on forestland navigation and outdoor preparedness for students majoring in natural resources.

In fall 2019, Guay had more than 50 students in the course that focused on mapping a forest boundary traverse using a tablet app.

“The close proximity of the Demeritt Forest to campus is essential to providing students with easy access to this ‘forest laboratory,’ which allows ample time to learn and practice forestland navigation during the semester,” he says. “We’re extremely lucky and grateful to have such an amazing resource for teaching and research so close to campus.”

Being a working
forest with
timber harvesting
allows for the
of practices.
In the Demeritt,
the public can
see forestry
in action.

The School of
Forest Resources
follows a forest
management plan
based on an inventory
every 10 years.
Eastern white pine
is the primary
species managed
in the forest.

Using a shelterwood system,
the harvest is timed
to abundant seed
years to achieve
natural regeneration,
Kanoti says. “We don’t
plant trees, we don’t
need to,” he says.
“They come back
on their own, if
we do it properly.”

The Demeritt
also has a
forestry best
practice area,
and is a setting
for professional
foresters and
loggers in the
region to complete
required training.

With spring comes
collecting and
boiling sap

“After sugaring, we tend to fix everything we broke in the winter because winter is our busiest season,” says Kanoti, referring to equipment and building maintenance.

Students are hired over the summer to assist with harvest planning, inventories and maintaining boundary lines around the state.

Thomas J. Corcoran Sugar House attracts more than 250 schoolchildren a year.

Each spring, students and University Forests staff, including forest technician Charlie Koch (left) and manager Keith Kanoti, tap and collect sap from more than 400 maple trees in the university’s sugarbush, and boil it into maple syrup at the sugar house.

“We’re open on
Maine Maple Sunday,”
Kanoti says. “People just
stop by and discover us,
and get to see the
sugar house. Everyone
likes it, that’s a fun
part of the season.
A lot of work,
but it’s fun.”

Research involving the maple sugar operation includes geographic information system projects to map tubing systems, physiology studies on trees and food safety studies on sap.

The original sugar
house was built
in the 1980s and
was replaced
with a larger,
more modern
structure in
spring 2020.

In the fall, staff and
students PREPARE

SEASON, with tasks including
pre-commercial thinning,
timber harvest layout and
marking timber for harvest.

The most challenging aspect of Kanoti’s job, he says, is juggling the many uses of the forest and interacting with all the people who have an interest in the land.

“That’s why we’re here, to assist with the research, assist with the education, to manage recreation,” Kanoti says. “It’s way more about managing people than managing trees, which forestry is in general, that’s what we tell the students all the time. The sooner they figure out it’s more about people than trees, the better off they’re going to be.”

“We’re very fortunate.
There aren’t that
many (forestry) programs
in the country where
you have miles and
miles of forest adjacent
to campus,” says
Bill Livingston,
associate director for
undergraduate education
and associate professor
of forest resources.

“Teaching forestry
here in Maine is
not an abstract effort
trying to let students
imagine what it’s like
to be out in the woods.
We bring them out here
and they have their
hands-on education.”

Livingston conducts
labs in the woods for
courses including
forest vegetation, forest
measurement, and
tree pests and diseases.
For the first eight weeks
of the fall semester,
Livingston estimates
that about 70 students
have come to the forest
for his vegetation course.

“I can tell you from firsthand experience that the Demeritt Forest served as a building block of my budding career in forestry,” says Patty Cormier, director of the Maine Forest Service and a 1988 UMaine alumna. “I can think of many classes and labs in that particular forest of which I still use the knowledge gained there. It gives me much pleasure to congratulate Keith and the university for the outstanding stewardship of the University Forests, and the learning that happens in them. May they continue as outdoor classrooms for many years to come.”

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