|Healthy sugar maple forest.|
Fire however, strongly works against the maple tree. Remembering back to previous installments of this series on maple trees, you might remember that maples prefer very stable, undisturbed habitats. Anytime fire comes around one of these habitats where maples have become established, the maples are killed off. As a result, prior to European settlement of the eastern deciduous forest oaks, a fire adapted species were far more abundant, and maples, a fire intolerant species were far less abundant. By some estimates in some locations there may be up to three times more maples today than there was in the 1800's. The increase of maples over the last century is a result of fire suppression by European settlers. It was only on the best soils, in the most ideal habitats where fire didn't touch that maples were found in the 1800's and prior.
|Sugar Maples in fall.|
Maples moving into areas of less than ideal soil wasn't the best thing for the forest. Being maples are extremely picky about their environment, living in these less than ideal soils made them especially sensitive to drought. Oaks are adapted to drought but maples are not. Maples ideally overcome drought simply by living in the best soils in the forest. But in less than ideal soils, the maples were damaged during drought. The damage did not end with drought though. Drought damage made the tree more susceptible to other problems such as fungal infections and insect damage which often end up killing the tree. So the incline of maples was a direct result of fire suppression allowing maples to move into marginal habitats. Maple decline is a result of maples living in these marginal habitats.
|Forest where many of the maple trees are dying due to "maple decline".|