Potential impacts of insect-induced harvests in the mixed forests of New England.
Forest insects and pathogens have significant impacts on U.S. forests, annually affecting an area nearly three times that of wildfires and timber harvesting combined. However, coupled with these direct effects of forest insects and pathogens are the indirect impacts through influencing forest management practices, such as harvesting. In an earlier study, we surveyed private woodland owners in the northeastern U.S. and 84% of respondents indicated they intended to harvest in at least one of the presented insect invasion scenarios. This harvest response to insects represents a potentially significant shift in the timing, extent, and species selection of harvesting. Here we used the results from the landowner survey, regional forest inventory data, and characteristics of the emerald ash borer (Species: Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, 1888) invasion to examine the potential for a rapidly spreading invasive insect to alter harvest regimes and affect regional forest conditions. Our analysis suggests that 25% of the woodland parcels in the Connecticut River Watershed in New England may intend to harvest in response to emerald ash borer. If the emerald ash borer continues to spread at its current rate within the region, and therefore the associated management response occurs in the next decade, this could result in an increase in harvest frequencies, from 2.6% year-1 (historically) to 3.7% year-1 through to approximately 2030. If harvest intensities remain at levels found in remeasured Forest Inventory and Analysis plots, this insect-initiated harvesting would result in the removal of 12%-13% of the total aboveground biomass. Eighty-one percent of the removed biomass would be from species other than ash, creating a forest disturbance that is over twice the magnitude than that created by emerald ash borer alone, with the most valuable co-occurring species most vulnerable to biomass loss.