Downeast Initiative on Implementing Low Impact Forestry

by Ron Poitras

Also see article on Low Impact Forestry gaining ground in Maine.

My father spent most of his young adult life working with horses in the northern Maine woods. It wasn't an easy job and he was grateful when a better opportunity to earn a living became available to him at Loring Air Force Base.

I remember from my visits to his logging camps how much he cared for his horses, how carefully he laid out his skidding trails for them, and how the animals responded in turn. Mike, a large and very gentle Belgian, was his favorite. He could hook up a log to Mike and send him to the yard on his own. If Mike got tangled, he knew to back up and try again at a different angle. When Dad retired in Lewiston, he spent many of his days at the race track, not to wager, but because he wanted to be around horses.

Woodswork today is not any easier than it was during those depression years; it's become more difficult with bottom line economic pressures bearing on loggers who must cut more and more to simply make ends meet. Trends in logging techniques have been oriented towards productivity of timber removal, with large, increasingly sophisticated mechanical harvesters dominating cutting practices.

As one logger commented at a recent meeting, "a load of pulp is worth a bag of pennies." He pointed out that the nitrogen and potassium value of a ton of pulp exceeds the market value of the wood. With the global market forcing lower prices, there are many in Maine who want to know whether we can get off this resource-depleting, technology-driven treadmill.

Low impact forestry is a way of managing the forest to achieve multiple goals, to favor long-term resource conservation, local labor and markets, and value-added processes. Although certainly not a panacea, it's a direction that most of us in our hearts know must be taken; and there are many among the ranks of small woodlot owners who would agree.

Landowner Survey

According to the 1996 survey of small woodlot owners in Hancock County conducted by the Hancock County Planning Commission:


These survey results, coupled with the fact that during the last decade Hancock County has shown some of the highest growth rates in volume of wood per acre in Maine, are persuasive indication of the potential for low im pact forestry in Hancock County. The results also suggest potential application to other regions of the state where there are many small woodlot owners.

Low Impact Forestry Conference

On May 3rd of this year, Hancock County's Planning Commission, working closely with members of the Maine Low Impact Forestry Project Team, organized a statewide low impact forestry conference. One hundred forty persons attended. The purpose of the conference was to explore the potential for greater utilization of low impact forest harvesting methods in Downeast Maine. The conference featured experts from throughout the state as well as representatives of the New Brunswick Forest Products Marketing Board and the Menominee Indians Tribe of Wisconsin. During the conference the following were addressed:


Many small woodlot owners seek a more environmentally benign approach to wood harvesting with greater care. Machinery used in most commercial forest operations is often viewed by small woodlot owners as destructive. For many, wildlife, aesthetic s and long term sustainability are as important as current economic yield in pulp and saw logs. Recent changes in the state's law is forcing small woodlot owners to manage more actively, to maintain eligibility for property tax relief under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law. Thus, there is a need for more information on low impact forest harvesting and management options.

Next Steps

To build on the momentum generated as a result of last year's activities, the Hancock Planning Commission has requested grant funds from the Rural Development through Forestry Grant Program for the following:

1. Development of clear and specific criteria and standards defining low impact forestry

2. Establishment of a low impact forestry network and education program with bulletins, demonstrations, forester and logger referrals and niche market information of interest to small woodlot owners. This effort would rely on existing networks such as the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) to distribute information.

3. Preparation of a landowners information packet with guidance for low impact harvest. This might entail a model contract that could be utilized between a logger, forester, and landowner that would ensure a low impact harvest.

4. Work with the Certified Logging Professional (CLP) program to incorporate low impact harvesting criteria and to provide for low impact training and possible certification.

These efforts will rely on continued partnerships with several organizations. The Low Impact Forestry Project team, originator of the overall project, will help arrange demonstrations and develop training requirements for those interested in these methods. SWOAM, Downeast RC & D, and the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District have also agreed to distribute information to its membership about low impact forestry.

An advisory committee consisting of the project partners and other interested individuals will provide guidance and assistance. In short, as a result of this project effort, there will be a central place for people to obtain low impact forestry information. Results here should have potential for application elsewhere.

Ron Poitras is director of the Hancock County Planning Commission. Contact the Commission at RFD 4, Box 22, Ellsworth, ME 04605. Phone: 207-667-7131 Fax: 207-667-2099. Email:

This article originally appeared in the Northern Forest Forum, Volume 6, No. 1. Subscriptions to the Forum are $15/year to: NFF, POB 6, Lancaster, NH 03584.

FEN Home Page / Join FEN / Email FEN

Forest Ecology Network
283 Water Street, 3rd Floor, POB 2118, Augusta, Maine 04338. Phone 207-623-7140. Fax: 207-623-7512