University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Researchers Say Spruce was Seriously Damaged Last Year

Release Date: 10-14-2004

Author: Cheryl Ann Dorschner
Phone: 802-656-4308 Fax: (802) 656-3203

It may be the reds, golds and yellows of maple, ash and birch that visitors to the Northern Forest “ooh and ahh” over, but it’s the backdrop of spruce spires that form the contrast in much of the woodlands that stretch from eastern Maine through New Hampshire, Vermont and northern New York.

So the research community was alarmed when University of Vermont scientists documented that winter injury to red spruce (needle death from freezing) was severe in 2003 – twice as high as the highest previously measured year, 1989 – so alarmed that the Canadian Journal of Forest Research published the research in its September issue, just four months after it was submitted.

The discovery was part of the master’s thesis of Brynne Lazarus, who published the findings along with her mentors at the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources: researcher Gary Hawley, adjunct faculty member Paul Schaberg; and dean Don DeHayes. Lazarus is a graduate student in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and a U.S. Forest Service researcher.

“In 2003, an average of 46 percent of current-year spruce foliage was killed at our study sites, and injury was about 65 percent for the largest forest trees. What was worse was that many buds were also killed,” summarizes Lazarus.

“Losing buds means losing the potential to create new foliage, and this can be devastating for the growth and health of the tree,” says Schaberg, who is a U.S. Forest Service scientist.

Data indicate that precipitation in the northeastern United States remains highly acidic. Lazarus has created statistical models based on 28 locations in the northeastern U.S. to determine whether the damage was uniform throughout the environment or different in various locations. These models indicate that areas worst hit by winter injury included high elevations, locations in the western part of the region and west-facing slopes – places that receive more acidic deposition, according to Lazarus. They also found a three-fold decrease in winter injury in areas that had been treated with calcium.

Lazarus and her colleagues will continue to unravel the causes of the injury and to monitor injured trees for signs of recovery or of further decline.