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Massabesic Experimental Forest

York County, Maine

Sunlight filters through a stand of trees on the Massabesic Experimental ForestThe Massabesic Experimental Forest is in the process of revitalization. Ravaged by fire and windstorms, underutilized for decades, it is once again serving as a location for forest ecology and management research and demonstration.

It is typical of much nonindustrial forest land in New England. Located in York County, Maine’s southernmost, the Massabesic is grown-over farmland abandoned between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Eastern white pine and northern red oak colonized its old fields and still dominate those sites.

Ownership of the Massabesic is not typical of that of other experimental forests in that the Northeastern Forest Experiment Station purchased the land under the Weeks Act between 1937 and 1942. The 1,497-ha forest consists of two units (North and South) that are about the same size. There are a number of special ecological features, including one of the largest Atlantic white-cedar wetlands in New England, many vernal pools, and numerous plants and animals that are rare or uncommon.

As one of the largest blocks of public land in southern Maine, the Massabesic is popular for recreation. It is managed by one of the units at the Northern Research Station Laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire, and is the only experimental forest with appreciable amounts of white pine and red oak.

The history of Massabesic is one of change and challenge. Soon after establishment, it closed for World War II. It reopened in 1946, and studies on white pine management were planned and installed.

Following years of drought, 1,214 ha burned in October 1947, in a 61,000-ha fire that consumed entire villages in southwestern Maine. On the Massabesic, the fire was a stand-replacing disturbance in some places, while in other areas only part of the forest floor was consumed, or skipped entirely. Although many trees killed in the fire were harvested the next year, 80 percent of the timber was destroyed or salvaged. Over the next few years, windstorms blew down many more trees in fire-weakened stands.

Following the fire and windstorms, research emphasis shifted from stand management to artificial regeneration, both direct seeding and planting, and later to forest genetics.


The Massabesic climate is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which is fewer than 20 mi (32 km) southeast of either unit. Average annual temperature is 46.6 °F (8.1 °C), with July normally warmest (70.2 °F, 33.9 °C) and January coldest (21.5 °F, -5.8 °C). Total annual precipitation averages 46.8 in (1,188 mm), with September typically the driest and November the wettest month. May 4 is the average date of the last killing frost and the growing season averages 157 days.


Soils are of 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, Udorthents, and Udipsamments. The land is flat to gently rolling, lying at elevations from 200-450 ft (61 to 137 m) elevation.


The eastern white pine-northern red oak forest type > dominates upland sites. Eastern hemlock and red maple are also well represented throughout the forest. Nearly pure stands of paper birch occupy some areas cleared by the 1947 fire and subsequent salvage. Other cleared areas were planted or direct seeded to white pine or a mixture of white and red pine. Exotic species, including western white and Scots pines, were also planted. Common woody shrubs include beaked hazelnut, several species of Viburnum, winterberry, witch-hazel, sheep-laurel, and Vaccinium species. Common herbaceous plants are star flower, Canada mayflower, bracken fern, wild sarsaparilla, wintergreen, wild oats, and mountain rice. There are few nonnative invasive plant species.

Research, Past and Present

When the Massabesic was established, permanent sample plots were installed but many plot location stakes were lost in the 1947 fire and never reestablished. Following the fire, white pine management research was reinitiated but emphasis shifted to artificial regeneration research, including a number of pesticide trials to control competing vegetation and white pine weevils. Management research closed in the 1960s and a series of genetics studies on white pine weevil resistance was initiated, followed by a broader focus on tree improvement research. Recent research includes investigations of soil nitrogen processes, aquatic insects, amphibian and owl ecology, and comparison of methods for sampling coarse woody material.

Major Research Accomplishments and Effects on Management

Some of the first recommendations for aerial seeding of burns and for herbicide use in white pine management were based on research on the Massabesic. In planted stands similar to those of the forest, about one-third of western white pines suffer weevil damage compared to two-thirds of eastern white pines.

Fifty years after farming ceased, its effects were still evident on soil pH, C:N, percent organic matter, and concentrations of total C and total N. The effects of fire on soil after the same period were much less clear. With its location in the most populous part of Maine, the Massabesic EF hosts a conservation education project that reaches hundreds of school children and adults every year.


Faculty members and graduate students from the University of Southern Maine and the University of New Hampshire are collaborating in studies at the Massabesic. The education project is a partnership with the state forestry agency, local soil and water conservation district, local conservation commission, and the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine. Numerous volunteers from local communities and state naturalist societies participated in the floristic inventory and continue to support activities on the forest.

Research Opportunities

There are ample opportunities for research on all aspects of ecology and management of pine-oak and other mixed-species forests, especially with regard to meeting information needs of nonindustrial landowners. Manipulative experiments are possible in collaboration with Northeastern Research Station scientists. Project staff members are willing to facilitate nonmanipulative studies that do not conflict with the long-term research and demonstration missions of the Massabesic.


The Massabesic has only minimal facilities. The Forest Service-owned buildings are occupied by state and local agencies under long-term use permits.
Lat. 43°27′8″ N, long. 70°40′44″ N

Contact Information

Massabesic Experimental Forest
USDA Forest Service
Northern Research Station
271 Mast Road
Durham, NH 03824
Tel: 603-868-7659

Related Publications

Brissette, John C.; Sendak, Paul E.; Dibble, Alison C.; Rees, Catherine A. 2005. Massabesic Experimental Forest. In: Kenefic, Laura S.; Twery, Mark J., eds. Changing Forests- Challenging Times: Proceedings of the New England Society of American Foresters 85th Winter Meeting; 2005 March 16-18; Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-325. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station: 36

Dibble, Alison C.; Rees, Catherine A.; Sendak, Paul E.; Brissette, John C. 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-391. 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.

Summary information presented here was originally published in:

Adams, Mary Beth; Loughry, Linda; Plaugher, Linda, comps. 2004. Experimental Forests and Ranges of the USDA Forest Service. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-321. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station. 178 p.

Information may have been updated since original publication.

Last Modified: 01/21/2016