RWU-NRS 4155

Experimental Forests


Last modified 12/21/2006

by Tim Stone

Massabesic Experimental Forest

Alfred and Lyman, Maine

Click here to view New Management Plan (Released November, 2006) - 1.7MB PDF file


  • Introduction
  • Climate
  • Soils
  • Major Plant Communities
  • Data Bases
  • Ecosystem Level Inventory
  • Previous Research
  • Current Research
  • References Cited
  • Facilities and Administration
  • Location
  • Suggested Reading
  • Contact Address
  • (800 KB File)

    (800 KB File)


    The Massabesic Experimental Forest is owned and operated by the Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service. It consists of ca 3600 acres in two parcels in Alfred and Lyman, York Co., Maine. Land for the Experimental Forest was acquired under the Weeks Act between 1937 and 1942. About two-thirds of the land--2,500 acres (1012 ha)--was purchased from Bates College. This was part of a 10,000 acre (4050 ha) tract willed to the school by Benjamin Clark Jordan, an Alfred lumberman who died in 1912.

    The Forest was established in the late 1930's to study the management of eastern white pine. During World War II, it was shut down, and reopened again in 1946. Then, in 1947, the timber on approximately 3,000 acres (1215 ha) of the Forest was destroyed in the October blow-up of wildfires, which together burned 150,000 acres (60,700 ha) in southwestern Maine. Large areas of the State, including the town of Bar Harbor, burned that same year.

    Much of the timber killed in the fire--nearly 4.5 million board feet (10,620 cubic meters)--was salvaged the following year. In Early logging operation on the MEFmany places within the burn, where the fire had not crowned, many trees survived. Most of the surviving trees on the burn--another 1.75 million board feet (4,130 cubic meters)--were blown down by storms in 1950 and 1954. So, between fire and wind, the destruction of pre-1947 stands on about 3,000 acres (1215 ha) of the Massabesic was complete by 1954. Thus, almost at its outset, the Forest created to study management of white pine stands had to reset its priorities to include studies on re-establishment of pine on burned-over areas.

    The oak-pine forest is interspersed with diverse wetlands associated with three rivers and numerous streams, ponds, and swamps. Maximum elevation is 440 ft. With the more than 40% of the forest that burned in 1947; several unburned stands have potential as comparative controls. Immediately after the fire, plantations of red and white pine were established and research on birch regeneration followed. Other research has included hybrid poplar, white pine weevil resistance, influence of forest composition through aerial herbicide application, and harvest treatments appropriate for owners of small woodlots. Recent Old woods road on the MEFsurveys are of owls, amphibians of vernal pools, N cycling following fire, and vascular plants in a small area. The primary objective for use of the forest is research on sustainable forest management; this includes protection of biodiversity. Potential studies include silvicultural techniques, wildlife habitat, succession and natural regeneration, gypsy moth control, the role of woody material on the forest floor, and climate change. A longterm goal is to offer a demonstration forest in which these and other management aspects can be presented to public and private parties. Compatible uses include open space, protection of water quality, recreation, and deer hunting. A first step toward updating the management plan for the experimental forest is to conduct an ecosystem level inventory. This was designed in 1997 and implemented in 1998.


    The climate of the MEF is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which is < 20 mi southeast of both units. Prevailing winds are from the West but much of the precipitation results from northeast winds picking up moisture over the Atlantic. This proximity to the Ocean moderates both summer and winter temperatures. Average annual temperature is 46.6 °F, with July normally warmest at 70.2 °F ( 21.2 °C) and January coldest at 21.5 °F (-5.8°C). Total annual precipitation averages 46.8 inches (119 cm), with September typically driest and November wettest. May 4 is the average date of the last killing frost and the growing season averages 157 days.


    The land of the Massabesic is flat to gently rolling and between 200 feet (61 m) and 450 feet (137 m) above sea level. Soils are glacial origin over granite bedrock. Upland soils are typically stony to very stony sandy loams, ranging to sandy on outwash plains. Exposed ledge is common. Major soil taxa are Dystrochrepts, Udothents, and Udipsamments. The land is flat to gently rolling, lying between 200-450 ft elevation.


    After the wildfire of 1947

    These sandy soils were probably covered with a mix of eastern white pine, hemlock, and hardwoods when Europeans arrived in the 1600's. Most of the Experimental Forest was farmed prior to 1900 and old foundations, family cemeteries, and stone fences are still found throughout the Forest. The Northern Unit, which was almost entirely burned over in 1947, regenerated to hardwoods. Initally covered by grey birch, paper birch, and soft maple after the fire, that type is gradually being replaced by more tolerant hardwoods. Scattered pine regeneration work took place on this unit and there are a number of plantings of white pine, and others that contain both white and red pine.

    Cooks Brook on the MEFThis Unit also has a large amount of water associated with it. There is a small lake (Tarwater Pond) surrounded on three sides by tamarack and spruce swamp. Except for a small area on the east side, this lake is bordered by forest land and drains into Robert's Pond, a large impoundment providing extensive shoreline and shallow water which is ideal habitat for numerous water birds, fish, and other mammals. Mill Brook, Bartlett Brook, and Cooks Brook are habitat for trout and other wildlife that favor moving water. Because of the gently rolling topography there are numerous small ponds that contain water all year and others that dry up during the summer. These vernal pools serve as choice habitat and breeding spots for various turtles, salamanders, and other mammals.

    Wet woods on the MEF

    The Southern Unit contains fairly large areas that were not burned in the 1947 fire and appear to be relatively undisturbed. Some of the burned areas on this Unit were planted to pine and the rest came back to hardwoods or mixed stands of hardwoods and conifers. The undisturbed areas of loamy sand support excellent stands of very large white pine and hemlock or white pine and red pine. Another area is course outwash sand and the natural vegetation on this site is pitch pine. Some of this area was planted to white and red pine and in the l960's some test plantings of hybrid poplars were established. There is a southeast to northwest drainage that supports one of the best examples of Atlantic white cedar along the East Coast. This area is available for non-destructive research but is protected under an agreement with the Maine Critical Areas program. Flowage from Bassett's Dam on F.S. Road 21 backs up on the Forest and provides good habitat for ducks, bats, and other wildlife. The Forest also borders Estes Lake (2000+ feet, 610 m) and touches the Lake in several other spots. Again, because of the topography, this Unit also contains numerous ponds, some of which dry up in years with little rainfall, that are ideal habitat for turtles, salamanders, and other wildlife.


    The entire Experimental Forest was gridded in the late 1930's and "permanent" plots established at the intersection of those lines. Data on woody vegetation was recorded at that time. Following the 1947 fire, and storms in the early 1950's, most of those plots were destroyed and that work was abandoned. Starting in 1950, a series of compartment-sized studies were established in the unburned portions of the Forest to evaluate management practices and regeneration of white pine. In 1966 the management of the Forest was turned over to a genetics project and the management studies were closed. In 1985 the genetics project was closed and the Forest came under the management of a northern hardwoods ecology project. All of the data from the old studies exists on paper but it largely consists of establishment and initial measurements. Very little follow up was done although plot boundaries still exist.

    Genetics studies of eastern and western white pine, white, blue and black spruce, and other species started in the the late 1950's are still active and records are available. Information on current work by cooperators looking at vernal pools, birds, stream chemistry, and forest response to historical land use patterns is also available.


    Atlantic White Cedar Swamp on the MEFIn 1997 a plan was developed to obtain a floristic description of the MEF. The primary focus was on upland vascular plants on well-drained sites, not wetlands. The inventory was designed to: 1) gather information needed to plan experiments in upland habitats that will answer questions about regeneration, individual tree and stand growth, productivity, and wildlife habitat; 2) provide information about forest structure and composition that could serve as a baseline for comparing the effects of change due to management practices, natural disturbance, and ecological succession; and 3) develop a geographic information system (GIS) database that can be queried to locate areas that meet defined criteria, such as tree size or species composition, so that experiments can be established in the most appropriate areas of the forest.


    A grid of permanent sample plots was placed across the upland portions of the forest to measure herbaceous and woody plants. Measurements were taken over three field seasons, 1998-2000. The results of this inventory were published (Dibble et al. 2004) and are available at the following link: Treesearch



    Herbicide studies: Because the initial goal was management of white pine, studies were initiated to eliminate competing hardwoods using chemicals applied by helicopters, as basal sprays, and as soil sterilants. During the 1940's and 1950's 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, under various trade names, were the chemicals of choice for vegetation control. Helicopter spraying of 2,4,5-T was the most satisfactory treatment and from 1954 through 1957 yearly applications were made on small blocks of the Forest. Of the 300 acres of burn that supported a fair stocking of white pine seedlings, 200 acres were sprayed to eliminate competition from hardwoods. Another 280 acres were sprayed to prepare sites for planting. All of these chemicals were subsequently banned by Federal and State reglatory agencies and were not used after the 1950's.

    Regeneration: Following the 1947 fire interest in regeneration of white pine increased. Although established young white pine seedlings grow best in full sunlight, temperatures on bare ground either retard germination or kill newly germinated seedlings. Where some vegetation was present to provide shade, pine seedlings did become established. Over much of the burn, ground cover developed so densely that it suppressed the surviving pines.

    Direct seeding from airplanes was begun in 1948 but was not considered successful. Seedlings did not become established on bare ground and on areas burned less severely it only produced a moderate increase in stocking-- usually in addition to sufficient natural reproduction. Hand seeding the following year was a failure because of predation by rodents. Covering seed with screens was more successful but the cost was prohibitive.

    In 1958, in cooperation with the Maine Forest Service, direct seeding was tried with some promising bird and animal repellents (Arasan and Endrin) developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These trials were generally more successful than previous tests. A few years later, again in cooperation with the Maine Forest Service, a modified beet-seeder was developed for pine seed. Placing the seed below the surface greatly reduced predation and increased survival.

    Management Studies: In 1950 a series of management studies were started on the unburned portions of the Forest on the Southern Unit. The main studies were long-term comparisons of different methods of cutting and culturing stands. These so-called "compartment studies" were large enough (30 acres) to permit commercial-scale harvesting operations. The study objective was to compare selected management practices over several decades in terms of labor and materials required, quantity and quality of timber yields, and changes in growing stock conditions that affect future productivity.

    Diameter-Limit Cutting: One compartment was to be managed by a diameter-limit method. With this method the stand was scheduled to be cut whenever there was enough volume in trees larger than 12 inches dbh to justify a logging operation. Requirements for labor and technical supervision are low: trees need not be marked for cutting, and no special work is done to encourage reproduction or to improve the composition or quality of the remaining stand. This compartment was cut in 1956 and yielded 4,800 board-feet per acre. The stumpage value at that time amounted to $121 per acre. It was anticipated that the next cut would be about 1976.

    Shelterwood Cutting: Four compartments were scheduled to be managed under shelterwood programs, with two scheduled for 5-year cutting cycles and two for 10-year cycles. The first cuttings were primarily for stand improvement. Unwanted species and trees with poor vigor or low quality, regardless of species, were removed or killed. In these compartments white pine crop trees were selected and released by removal of other stems. There was also some pruning of the residual crop trees. Later cuttings in this treatment are mostly thinnings to maintain rapid growth of the selected crop trees. In this type, cutting to stimulate reproduction begins at about age 60 with a final removal cutting when the reproduction is well established. In 1953 and 1954, two compartments received shelterwood cuttings. In 1955 a hurricane damaged one compartment and about 2,000 board-feet per acre of pine was salvaged. These compartments were to receive a second cut in 1962-63. The other two compartments were already at the stage where reproduction cuts needed to be made. The first compartment was selectively cut in 1952. The 1955 hurricane hit this area and an additional 3,300 board-feet per acre were salavaged. The next cut was scheduled for 1960. The second compartment was cut in 1959 after some site preparation to encourage reproduction.

    Patch Cutting: In this treatment clear-cutting patches of about 1/4 acre on two compartments encourages reproduction. Additional patches were to be cut at 10-year intervals. On two other compartments, patches were smaller but cuttings were to be made at 5-year intervals. The number and size of patches was calculated to allow approximately equal volumes of wood to be harvested at regular intervals. From 1952 to 1957 patches were cut on all four compartments and hardwood sprouts were controlled with chemicals.

    Strip Cutting: One compartment was to be reproduced using progressive strip cutting at 10-year intervals. The strips were to be about 75 feet in width with their long axis perpendicular to the prevailing winds. Each new strip was to be cut to the windward of the one previously cut. The first strip was cut in 1956 and the area treated to control understory growth. The second strip was scheduled for cutting in 1966.

    Other studies were done on the Forest prior to 1965. Because white-pine weevil is a serious impediment to plantation management of white pine in the Northeast, a series of studies was begun to control the weevil using pesticides. Individual leaders were sprayed with lindane and control was completely successful as long as the leader was drenched. Aerial spraying at several dosages was unsuccessful.

    Management of small timber holdings is one of the challenging problems in the white pine region. More than 1/4 (27%) of the commercial forest land in New England is in ownerships of less than 100 acres with the average being 39 acres. To look at the problems faced by small woodlot owners a 50-acre tract of the Experimental Forest was was set aside as a demonstration area. About 35 acres were in merchantable white pine (average volume 15,000 board-feet per acre) and the balance was in young unmerchantable stands and swamp. The idea was to thin the denser clumps of pine in the merchantable stands and remove the red maple and other less valuable hardwoods. Those treatments followed by chemical control of unmerchantable hardwoods would release pine saplings and improve conditions for pine reproduction. Every year the equivalent of a year's growth on the entire tract was to be harvested as sawlogs and pulpwood. Following the first cut in 1950, the average annual cut was 19,000 board-feet of sawlogs and 13 cords of pulpwood.

    Other studies looked at release of young white pine seedlings by cutting hardwood competition in 1952 and then following that up with chemical treatment (2,4,5-T) from a helicopter in 1956. All pine seedlings responded but the greatest response was from those seedlings with the most competition.

    In 1956 and 1957, thinnings were made in two 30-year-old plantations of mixed red and white pines. Half the trees were cut and the crop trees were pruned. A 9-year-old plantation was also thinned in the same way. Two natural stands, one 8-years-old and one 30-35 years old, were thinned. In the older stand the number of stems was reduced from 3,200 to 1,200 per acre. In each case part of the stand was left undisturbed as a check.

    During the life of this Forest a number of unrelated studies were started on the Forest and on private land adjacent to the Forest. The Pathology Project in Durham conducted a number of "wounding studies" on individual stems over a 10-15 year period. Trees were injured and then harvested at intervals to measure the response over time. More recent studies include injection of arboriculture chemicals designed to limit damage from tree wounds.



    In 1959-60 the Genetics Project established four provenance trials of white pine on old fields purchased by Chadbourn Lumber Company. These lands border the Forest on the Northern Unit. Thirty-two seed sources covering the entire range of the species are represented in each of these trials. Due to the presence of large numbers of white pine weevils in this area of the country all trees were sprayed with lindane for the first 10 years. The first year after spraying was discontinued more than 95 per cent of the terminal leaders were killed or severely damaged by the weevil. Follow-up studies were done to see if resistance was present in any source.

    In the 1970's a number of seed source studies were established on land owned by Lavalley Lumber Company on the west side of Estes's Lake. These plantings are a short distance from the Southern Unit of the Experimental Forest. One planting contains half-sib material from "select trees" from the New England Spruce-fir Improvement Program. A second study is a seed source of blue spruce from Michigan State University and a third planting contains provenances from the range of black spruce supplied by the Canadian government. The black spruce material has been used in studies of natural hybridization in spruces using DNA and isozyme techniques. Pollen from these plantings has been used to study spruce evolution.

    Other studies on the Southern Unit of the Forest are looking at comparisons of weevil resistance in "selected" half-sib western white pine and local eastern white pine. Western white pine appears to be much less susceptible and seed sources with growth equal to eastern white pine are available. A large planting of scotch pine was established to compare growth rate and form of selectively bred families. And a smaller planting of seed sources of Himalayan blue pine was established to compare growth rate and weevil resistance with that of eastern white pine. Because of the extreamly heavy attacks on the blue pine, growth rates between sources was not meaningful.

    Many areas on the Northern Unit, and elsewhere in Maine where fires occured, regenerated to pure stands of paper birch and other intolerant hardwood species. In an attempt to provide management prescriptions for paper birch a series of studies was established on the Northern Unit. Split-plot treatments using thinning, and thinning with fertilizer applications, were established. On these sites, thinning alone provides excellent results followed by thinning and nitrogen applications.

    Starting in 1991 the Ecology Project provided financial support to the University of Maine to look at vernal ponds on the Forest and surrounding private lands. Audubon Society has established points to study population fluctuations of migratory birds. A study is underway to look at aquatic fauna and stream chemistry by the University of Southern Maine, and a study has just been completed on soil nitrification processes resulting from past land use history on the Forest by the University of New Hampshire.



    Dibble, A.C., C.A. Rees, P.E. Sendak, J.C. Brissette. 2004. Vegetation of Forested Uplands in the Massabesic Experimental Forest. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-320. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station. 71 p.

    DeGraaf, R. M., M. Yamasaki, W. B. Leak, and J. W. Lanier. 1992. New England wildlife: Management of forested habitats. USDA Forest Service, NEFES, Gen. Tech. Report NE 144. 271 pp.

    Forest Survey. 1947. Location of pole timber and saw timber tracts in the Waterboro, Maine, fire area. USDA Forest Service, NEFES. RE NE SPECIAL. Philadelphia, PA.

    Forman, R. T. T. and P. N. Moore. 1992. Theoretical foundations for understanding boundaries in landscape mosaics. Ch. 11, pp. 236 258 in Hansen, A. J. and F. di Castri, eds. Landscape boundaries: consequences for biotic diversity and ecological flows. Springer Verlag, NY.

    Hunter, M. L., Jr. 1996. Benchmarks for managing ecosystems: Are human activities natural? Conservation Biology 10: 695 697.

    Maine Natural Areas Program. 1991. Natural landscapes of Maine: A classification of ecosystems and natural communities. Dept. of Economic and Community Development, Augusta, ME. 77 pp.

    USDA Soil Conservation Service. 1987. Soil survey of York County, Maine. (In cooperation with the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station and the Maine Soil and Water Conservation Commission.) 143 pp. + maps.

    Woodley, S. and G. Forbes, eds. 1997. Forest management guidelines to protect native biodiversity in the Fundy Model Forest. New Brunswick Co-operative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. 35 pp.


    The Northern Forest Experiment Station has an office and several garages and garage/shop buildings on the Administrative Unit on State Route 111 in Alfred, Maine. The State of Maine maintains a residence and office/garage complex for a forest ranger on this same site.


    The MEF is located in the towns of Alfred and Lyman, Maine.


    The following list of publications may be of interest to persons contemplating doing research on this Forest. All were developed using sites and data on the Forest, or on those lands made available for Forest Service research adjacent to the Experimental Forest.

    Dibble, A.C., C.A. Rees, P.E. Sendak, J.C. Brissette. 2004. Vegetation of Forested Uplands in the Massabesic Experimental Forest. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-320. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station. 71 p.

    Eckert, R.T. 1993. Population genetic analysis and interpretation for protection of Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides [L.] B.S.P.) in New Hampshire and Maine. In: Coastally Restricted Forest, A.D. Laderman, Ed. Oxford Univ. Press.

    Garrett, P.W. 1972. Resistance of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.) provenances to white pine weevil (Pissodes strobi Peck.). Silva Genetica 21: 119-121.

    Garrett, P.W., E.J. Schreiner, H. Kettlewood. 1973. Geographic variation of eastern white pine in the Northeast. Res. Pap. NE-274. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 14 p.

    Garrett, P.W., A.L. Shigo, J.Carter. 1976. Variation in diameter of central columns of discoloration in six hybrid poplar clones. Can. Jour. For. Res. 6: 475-477.

    Graber, R.E. 1965. Direct seeding white pine in furrows. In: Direct Seeding in the Northeast. Univ. Mass. Agr. Exp. Sta. Symp. Proc. 99-101.

    Graber, R.E. 1968. Planting site, shade, and local seed source: their effects on the emergence and survival of eastern white pine seedlings. Res. Pap. NE-94. Upper Darby, P:. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 12 p.

    McConkey, T.W. 1953. Growth behavior of white pine in an uncut stand in southeastern Maine. Res. Note 25. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 3 p.

    McConkey, T.W. 1955. Returns from a white pine woodlot. Society Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Forest Notes 46: 32-33.

    Perrilo, A. 1997. Vernal pools in southeastern Maine. MS thesis. University of Maine, Orono.

    Safford, L.O. 1989. Growth of birch increased by release and fall fertilization In: Proc. Joint Meeting Maine Division of New England SAF, Maine Chapter of Wildlife Society, and Atlantic International Chapter of American Fisheries Society. Maine Agri. Exp. Sta. Misc. Rep. 336. p. 262.

    Soulia, M. 1997. Changes in soil nitrogen processes resulting from previous cultivation and fire in a Maine Forest. MS thesis. Univ. New Hampshire. 74 p.

    Wilkinson, R.C. 1977. Inheritance of budbreak and correlation with early height growth on white spruce (Picea glauca) from New England. Res. Pap. NE-371. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 5 p.

    Wilkinson, R.C. 1980. Relationship between cortical monoterpenes and susceptibility of eastern white pine to white-pine weevil attack. For. Sci. 26(4): 581-589.

    Wilkinson, R.C. 1981. White-pine weevil attack: susceptibility of western white pine in the Northeast. Res. Pap. NE-483. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 3 p.

    Wilkinson, R.C. 1983. Leader and growth characteristics of eastern white pine associated with white-pine weevil attack susceptibility. Can. Jour. For. Res. 13(1): 78-84.


    Project Leader
    Ecology and Management of Northern Forests
    USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station
    Louis C Wyman Forest Sciences Laboratory
    271 Mast Rd.
    Durham, NH 03824-0640
    Tel: (603) 868-7632
    Fax: (603) 868-7604