WELLS – The notion of taking a woodlot and making it a healthy, money-making home for wild critters? That was enough to draw 35 people to the Wells Reserve and force the biologists there to turn other would-be foresters away.

Thirty years after the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve gave up on its Yankee Woodlot, the reserve’s staff wants to use it as an experimental forest. But it won’t just be a classroom for enhancing water quality and habitat for woodcock and New England cottontail — which the reserve is good at — it also will teach how to cut the timber to make money.

“The two are not mutually exclusive,” said Wells reserve director Paul Dest. “We never did any active forest management on the woodlot. Now we want to show with good science you can improve the timber value, the wildlife habitat and the recreational potential, all at once.”

Thirty years ago, the reserve attempted to do a modest harvest on the 34-acre woodlot, but the project fell to the wayside and the forest into disrepair. It wasn’t thinned in places where light was needed; in other areas, disease took its toll.

“Growing trees is all about managing light,” said Rob Bryan, the forester and ecologist who’s leading the class.

Now the goal is to develop older growth, high-qualilty timber that has value, along with wildlife habitat and excellent water quality along the river. And there’s much to learn in bringing back a woodlot that amounts to a dilapidated old house.

While the Yankee Woodlot boasts a river system, an overgrown 200-year-old homestead, and some big, beautiful, old red oaks, it mostly is home to a lot of dead trees and stands full of open space.

“We hope after walking through here, you will tell us your woodlot is better,” Tim Smith, the reserve’s stewardship coordinator, told the 35 who came to the class Thursday.

And yet, the woodlot also has evidence to suggest populations of turkeys, salamanders and deer.

“For this (vernal) pool to be here in August, it amounts to a gold mine for the spotted salamanders. They’ll have better survival here,” Bryan said.

The reserve opened the class to small landowners, but ended up with nearly 20 land trust representatives, which works out fine, Smith said. “They’ll go teach their membership,” he said.

The first class on Thursday drew potential foresters from land trusts in Alfred, Kittery, Scarborough, Wells and Falmouth; as well as the York County Soil and Water Conservation District and the South Berwick Conservation Commission. Dozens of small landowners who showed up had never logged their land, either.

When the class — which is closed to more participants — concludes in two months, the reserve will make money on the timber that’s harvested and have a management plan that will leave those trees that serve the most wildlife.

Eventually, Dest said, the reserve will work to put up panels that explain the plan and progress at its Yankee Woodlot, so visitors won’t need a class to teach them the forest management practices used there.

“It will be a living classroom. This is phase one, planning and carrying out our goals. The value for people is in participating in how to do this. As we continue to harvest the stand in five and 10 years, we’ll get grants to put up signage to show how we did it,” Dest said. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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