Schoodic Institute names new Forest Ecology Program director

WINTER HARBOR — Maine has more forests — nearly 90 percent of its land mass — than any other state in the country, which makes it a good home for forest ecologist Nicholas Fisichelli.

Fisichelli, 39, recently was appointed by the Schoodic Institute to be the organization’s first Forest Ecology Program director.

He will begin work in mid-May.

Mark Berry, president of the Schoodic Institute, said Fisichelli was selected from a large pool of top-notch candidates.

“We worked with Nick in 2015 on climate change scenario planning for Acadia National Park,” Berry said. “He is extremely knowledgeable and skilled at communicating about the complexities of ecology and climate change.”

Fisichelli is leaving his post with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colo., to pioneer forest ecology at the institute, which is located in the heart of Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula.

“Maine’s maritime forests are a foundational component of the landscape, a valued resource and inspiration for residents and visitors alike,” said Fisichelli of his upcoming home.

He said the Forest Ecology Program, funded by a grant from the Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust, will have three core areas: scientific research, education and resource stewardship.

A native of Nashua, N.H., Fisichelli earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan and his doctorate in forest ecology from the University of Minnesota.

“The forests were a foundation element of my youth — hiking, backpacking and camping in the North woods,” he said. “As soon as I realized forests could be my classroom, I was hooked for life.”

After earning his Ph.D., he spent a year in Germany as a Fulbright Fellow and studied the effects of changing climatic conditions on European tree seedlings.

Fisichelli describes climate change as shifts in average conditions, changes in variability and extreme events.

His studies as a Fulbright Fellow are of particular interest here since the tree species in Germany are closely related to the trees found in Maine: pine, spruce, oak and maple.

Using greenhouse facilities, Fisichelli simulated warming average temperatures and late spring frosts.

The late spring frosts can damage plants attempting to take advantage of warmer, early spring conditions.

Fisichelli also has worked at Shenandoah National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park and most recently was an adaptation ecologist with the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program.

His assignment with the climate change program was to understand it, examine resource responses and develop effective adaptation strategies.

“I was helping the parks to understand what types of changes in climate are already happening and what the projections are for the future,” he said.

Fisichelli said the effects of climate change radiate to forests, birds, park operations and visitor use.

“Warmer temperatures later in the fall could mean a longer visitor use season and changes to bird migration patterns,” he said.

Fisichelli said frequent heavy rain could stress the park infrastructure, historical buildings, carriage roads and trails and require increased maintenance activity.

“Directional” changes are those that are likely to happen in the future, while other changes are uncertain.

One example of a directional change, said Fisichelli, is that temperatures are likely to continue warming.

Future storm intensities, however, would fall under the category of uncertain.

Because the future is uncertain, Fisichelli and his colleagues use methods such as scenario planning — a strategy used in the military and by large corporations — to help managers plan for a range of plausible conditions.

“It’s about understanding what are the critical factors that are going to influence the system you are managing and developing these divergent, challenging scenarios about how the future might play out,” he said.

Although his focus more recently has been on climate change, Fisichelli’s interests and expertise also include non-native plant species, tree pests and diseases, nitrogen deposition and land use and management practices.

The Schoodic Institute, he said, is the perfect place to employ his range of skills.

“Maine is a mosaic of different land ownerships, different forests, but they are all part of the broader landscape in which we work and play,” Fisichelli said.

He said his new position is an opportunity to return to his forest ecology roots and engage with individuals and organizations invested in national parks.

Fisichelli also plans to join the institute in finding ways to draw the public into citizen science and education.

Asked what the average person can do in regards to climate change, Fisichelli said:

“Get out and visit your parks. See what is happening and what is changing. Nature is incredibly dynamic and fascinating to observe. We understand a lot about nature, but there are always surprises and new wonders to discover.”

The nonprofit Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park engages the public in science research and learning experiences and works in close partnership with the National Park Service.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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