Magazine article American Forests

Resurrection of a Forgotten Forest

Magazine article American Forests

Resurrection of a Forgotten Forest

Article excerpt

On a fall day in 1985, Gordon Mott drove along a forest road in north-central Maine. He skirted the dramatic massif of 5,267-foot Mt. Katahdin, Maine's highest peak, and bumped his way into a rolling and isolated stretch of woods.

Mott, a respected Maine forester, was en route to a 29,537-acre parcel-part of one of the nation's most farsighted land donations-that 30 years earlier had been given to the people of Maine to develop an exemplary working forest. The land sat dormant for nearly three decades until the early 1980s, when officials decided it was time to achieve its lofty mission. A management plan was written, and logging crews went to work on 3,000 acres.

As Mott drove to the site that day five years, ago, he thought about what had compelled him to drop his daily work and make this trip. He had heard the logging crews were doing their jobs too well. And the visit confirmed his worst fears.

"It was exploitive logging," he recalls. "It certainly wasn't a model."

Crews cut the best trees, dragged them through the understory, and limbed them alongside new roads of questionable quality, creating wide rows of slash. The operation left poor seed stock, encouraged growth of low-value trees, ignored wildlife habitat, and washed sediment from roads.

One forester had been assigned to oversee 13 crews. And worse, all this activity had occurred during a period of low wood prices. Mott felt the operation betrayed the land's mission, and he claimed it was economically unjustified. Others agreed. Mott's findings caused an uproar; cutting ceased, and a committee of forest professionals convened to determine how to make things right.

The committee recommended shuffling management and, most important, creating a new position of resource manager to focus solely on meeting the forest's goals. Both recommendations were adopted.

Five years later, a pickup winds along the same road Gordon Mott drove. At the wheel is Jensen Bissell, a 35-year-old forester hired in 1986 as resource manager for the Baxter State Park Scientific Forest Management Area.

Bissell is part practical woodsman, part forest philosopher. He's at ease discussing the merits of particular equipment with seasoned loggers, and equally lucid arguing the need for a new relationship between society and forestry. And he's thankful for the opportunity these 29,537 acres provide to explore that possibility.

"As we get more people in the world," says Bissell, "we end up with more demands on forest resources and more of a requirement that management of those lands address a wide variety of needs in a responsible way."

So far his thinking is paying off. Bissell's new plan for the Scientific Forest Management Area (SFMA), now in its second year, has won applause from a wide range of forest interests. The plan is an attempt to show that a working forest can be managed for a variety of values-aesthetic, wildlife, recreational, silvicultural-and still be profitable in the long run.

Bissell stresses long run." The SFMA was established as a working forest, not an experimental forest, so in order to serve as an example, it must be profitable. However, management decisions must never be driven by immediate economic needs, Bissell says. "There is value in treating the land ethically-how you harvest the wood, and what attention you pay to the integrity of the land as you set up your methods. Good forestry does not have to mean short-term economic forestry."

This emphasis differs dramatically from the approach exhibited by many large corporate landowners with mills to feed and quarterly earnings to report. Yet given the rise of public concern over the future of the nation's forests, particularly in the Northeast, the SFMA could become a valuable model.

"Somewhere along the line in forestry, we seem to have missed the boat," says Bissell. Many practices developed by the profession now meet strong opposition, which has resulted in a loss of public confidence. …

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