Thank you timber sale; hello birds

Dana Little and Doug Boyd, both with the Androscoggin Land Trust and Two Trees Forestry owner Harold Burnett

Androscoggin Land Trust was naturally thrilled when a wildlife lover bequeathed 102 acres of woods and field to the land trust in 2007. But over time, the responsibility of honoring the wishes of the late Katherine Breton began to weigh on trust members. Her house needed repairs to become rentable, the property was mostly unvisited by the public, and Katherine’s desire for ALT to manage for the benefit of wildlife was mostly being provided by a hands-off approach. The land trust decided it needed to take a more active role. “Before, we were doing nothing,” explained land trust member Dana Little. “We wondered how we could make it better.”

Plans were formulated to develop a recreational trail, upgrade the house, and see what could be done to perhaps combine those needs while improving the land’s suitability for birds and other wildlife. Little and fellow board member, Doug Boyd, both avid birders, are particularly interested in how forestry might improve conditions for wildlife, an outcome they are certain Breton would have approved of. “She loved deer and turkey,” explained Little. “She had bird houses and bird feeders. This was really consistent with her wishes.” Little was eager to practice the kind of forestry popularized by Maine Audubon, whereby conditions for an entire suite of birds can be enhanced by focusing on priority species. “I got really excited by that,” said Little. And so the land trust hired Two Trees Forestry to update their management plan and make recommendations.

Timber harvesting has long been accepted practice with Androscoggin Land Trust. The trust had initiated periodic timber harvests on 1,500 acres inherited from Verso Paper years ago and has conducted a variety of forestry interventions on other properties, explained Boyd “We’ve been willing to try different things,” he said.

On a site visit with Little and Boyd, Two Trees’ Harold Burnett noticed the property was already attractive to wildlife because of the varied conditions – commercially cultivated vegetable fields, stream-laced gullies, Androscoggin River frontage, field and woods edges, and a forest of varied species compositions. But he also noticed that the woods were uniformly shady. “What that property significantly lacked, from a bird and wildlife standpoint, were canopy layers. It was one tall canopy. There was no young stuff growing,” explained Burnett.

Two Trees recommended periodic timber harvests to bring partial sunlight into portions of the woods, in order to stimulate herbaceous growth on the forest floor and create multiple canopy layers, while not disturbing the environmentally sensitive brook-drained gullies. The wooded areas, away from the gullies, were then split into three potential harvest areas, with one scheduled for harvest every six to eight years, so as to stagger disturbance, provide nearby refugia for wildlife to move to as necessary during harvests, and earn periodic income to help maintain the property. With Board approval, plans advanced for the initial 22- acre harvest.

That harvest, conducted last summer by Brown and Brown Trucking from Norway, removed about a third of the trees in harvested areas, leaving the woods more open in character. The new conditions won’t produce wildlife abundance overnight, explained Burnett, but early signs are encouraging. Little heard the chipping trill of pine warblers all summer long, even during logging operations. He has also spotted or heard two kinds of thrushes, three kinds of hawks, a handful of warblers and grouse. “If I went in and seriously birded, I could probably identify 30 or 40 species,” he said with satisfaction. The harvest also netted the land trust $17,000, which will go toward badly needed home repairs and a stewardship endowment.

And so going forward the land trust is grant writing to secure funds to build trails so others can enjoy the beauty of the property, and hopefully observe an abundance and variety of birds and wildlife. Burnett credits the land trust with accomplishing multiple goals with its harvest and long-term strategy. “They walked a line between meeting the desires of the donor, to benefit wildlife, and the financial realities and liabilities of her gift.”