Witham, Hunter interviewed for Press Herald feature on Holt Research Forest
The Portland Press Herald interviewed Jack Witham, an associate scientist in the University of Maine School of Forest Resources, and Malcolm Hunter, a professor of wildlife ecology at UMaine, for the article, “Seeing the forest for the trees at the Holt Research Forest in Arrowsic.” A research center currently funded by the Maine Timber Research and Environmental Education (TREE) Foundation, the forest has been studied since 1983 but appears relatively untouched despite that, the article states. “It is definitely the most intensely studied forest in Maine,” said Hunter. “And it depends on what you measure, but it is also one of the most intensively studied in the world.” For example, a colleague of Hunter’s from China is using small mammal data from the forest, and will visit early next year to work on a paper. “He is not coming because he wants to come to Maine in February. He is coming because this data is unlike any other in the world. We have one of the best understandings in the world of how small mammals interact with seed production of trees,” said Hunter. While Witham denies popular myths about his knowing the name of each of the 32,000 trees in the forest, he agrees that he’s probably touched them all. Witham has conducted research in the forest for 36 years, at one point even living in a cabin on the land, according to the article. “I used to say you could blindfold me and drop me down anywhere in the forest, and I would be able to tell you exactly what block I was in,” said Witham. He interviewed for the job while doing research at UMaine on spruce budworm spraying, and remembers being asked if he was willing to commit for eight years. “At that point in my life I just laughed,” Witham said. “Eight years? Are you kidding me? Here I am, 36 years later.” The land was used for agricultural purposes from late 1600s to 1940s, then purchased by Bill and Winifred Holt, who planted white pines in the old farmland and later sold the land to UMaine, establishing an endowment for long-term research in the forest, the Press Herald reported. The land has been in possession of the Maine TREE Foundation for the past four years. Numerous research projects over the years have contributed to greater understanding of the forest and the role it plays in yielding information about Maine and the natural world. “You can count us as very lucky that we’ve had almost 40 years there,” said Hunter. “I do fear that our luck might run out.” Now that funding from the Holt family is gone, the Maine TREE Foundation is looking for other avenues to expand on the research that has been the core of the forest’s experience for so long. The foundation is considering implementing more educational opportunities, according to the article.