What you may not know about Connecticut's forests
As more people are hiking and enjoying Connecticut’s forests, an action plan is being updated on the condition and future of`the state’s wooded areas.
The Connecticut Forest Action Plan is updated every 10 years, but often goes unnoticed. But with a record number of people visiting state forests and parks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report offers an opportunity to learn more about the forests’ flora and fauna, along with the environmental and economic pressures that threaten it.
The report is required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to receive federal money for forestry programs.
“Connecticut’s Forest Action Plan serves as a guide for DEEP Forestry and hopefully inspires others to improve and protect Connecticut’s forest resources for future generations,” the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said.
“It aims to identify issues and prioritize important areas, values and needs; it analyzes current conditions and trends of Connecticut’s forest resources; and it lays out strategies and action steps to best plan for the future of the forested landscape. It is the result of collaboration with many partners and stakeholders.”
The entire 241-page report can be found online.
Here are some numerical highlights of the report:
Connecticut is approximately 61 percent forested.
The University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research used remote sensing to measure the amount of forest in the state.
It found 1,873,471 forested acres (includes deciduous and coniferous forest, forested wetland, and utility right-of-way) out of 3,078,017 total land acres in the state.
Connecticut is the 14th most forested state in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
“This is remarkable, considering Connecticut, the fourth most-densely populated state. Only Massachusetts is similarly dense and as heavily forested,” the report said.
In 2010, according to “U.S. Urban Forest Statistics, Values,and Projections,” Connecticut had the fourth-highest percentage of urban land at 37.7 percent and the highest urban tree cover in the nation at 61.6 percent.
By 2060, Connecticut’s urban land is projected to increase to 65.3 percent, which will only make 12 urban forests more relevant in the coming years.
The average annual mortality of trees, in cubic feet, increased 41 percent between 2013 and 2018.
Connecticut has seen increased tree mortality in recent years due to several factors:
Connecticut’s forests are aging and there is likely increased natural mortality as stands age.
Since 2012, the emerald ash borer insect has become established and widespread across Connecticut and ash mortality is following this wave.
Between 2015 and 2019, a major outbreak of gypsy moth occurred with many areas receiving multiple years of defoliation, which was also coupled with two years of drought across much of the state in 2015, 2016, and through the spring of 2017.
Several intense wind events also hit parts of the state during that period.
The percentage of Connecticut’s forests that are classified as an oak/hickory forest-type group.
The estimated number of red maple trees in Connecticut’s forests is 189 million.
The number of white oaks — the official state tree — in Connecticut forests is 231 million.
Eight-four percent of Connecticut trees are over 61 years of age.
“The creation of the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s brought about large-scale tree plantings, suppression of large forest fires, and the development of the state forest road infrastructure. All of these factors have resulted in the high percentage of trees estimated to be older than 60 years old,” the report said.
Approximately 950,655 acres, or 53 percent, of forestland is considered core forest. Core forest is defined as being at least 300 feet away from non-forested areas.
“Large, unfragmented blocks of forest offer habitat for edge-intolerant species, provide connectivity and corridors for species migration in response to climate change, including warming temperatures and changes in precipitation, and increased opportunity to maintain overall biodiversity.”
Nearly 72 percent of Connecticut’s forests are privately owned, which has remained relatively stable since at least 2007.
About 87 percent of the primary private forestland owners are older than 51 years old.
There are 84 species of mammals, 335 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, 169 species of fish and an estimated 20,000 species of invertebrates.
“This diversity is due to the state’s wide range of landscapes, water scapes, and habitats from the coastal plain and Long Island Sound in the south to the Northwest Hills.”
According to the State of the Birds 2019 report, forest birds have seen a 22 percent decrease nationally since 1970 and grassland birds have decreased 53 percent in that same time. Shorebird populations decreased 37 percent nationally since 1974.
Trends in Connecticut have mirrored those nationally.
Citizens reported only 12 deer in Connecticut in 1893 because of the loss of mature forests and unrestricted hunting in the late 1800s.
“With increased suburbanization, maturing oak forests, and an overall decline in hunting, the deer population has grown exponentially.
“Deer are the most damaging animal to forest ecosystems and dynamics. In addition to spreading invasive plants by seed dispersal, high populations of deer can transform under story diversity and structure by browsing. Desirable species such as oak often have a difficult time regenerating in areas with high deer populations and deer also eat many threatened plant species.”
The latest statewide assessment showed that 76 percent of Connecticut’s steams are healthy and meet aquatic life use support goals.
“Forests are important to water quality acting as a filter to keep water clean, providing shade to keep water cool, and providing critical habitat both near and in permanent and temporary surface water that help certain species thrive. Not only do forests protect the water quality for organisms living in or near the water, but they are the best tool to keep the surface drinking water clean for humans to use,” the report said.
“The New York City drinking water supply system, the largest unfiltered water supply in the U.S. has found that keeping their watersheds forested has allowed them to avoid having to build a multi-billion-dollar filtration plant while providing some of the best drinking water anywhere.”
There are more than 2,000 miles of trails in DEEP’s mapping data across Connecticut. These range from the Appalachian Trail and the Connecticut Blue-Blazed trails to local trails and unauthorized trails.
“There are likely many more trails on public and private land that are not part of the DEEP’s data as well. These trails vary widely in types of use, amount of use, amount of maintenance, and condition. With walking, running, and hiking far and away the most common recreational activity and with the amount of use increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, overuse of trails and inadequate maintenance in some cases can lead to erosion and other issues.”
Between 2010 and 2020, the amount of forestland in Connecticut was relatively stable.
While some forestland was converted to developed land and turf/grass, there were also areas that were reforested, most likely through natural processes, but including some areas where trees were planted.
“This relative stability in forest cover in Connecticut may have several influences. Population between 2010 and 2019 actually decreased 0.2 percent and development was slower than previous eras due to the lack of population growth alongside the slow recovery of the economy following the Great Recession.
The Connecticut Forest & Park Association held an informational webinar related to the plan on Friday. Comments can be made to Forest Planner Dan Peracchio before Dec. 11 at email@example.com