HALLOWELL — Wildlife officials hosted a site walk at the Jamies Pond Wildlife Management Area in Hallowell on Tuesday to shed some light on an upcoming timber harvesting project that has drawn criticism from hikers and others.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has begun preparations for the project at the nearly 1,000-acre property in Hallowell, Farmingdale and Manchester, which is expected to begin later this summer. It’s the first timber harvesting project at Jamies Pond in more than 10 years.

G. Keel Kemper, a regional wildlife biologist for the wildlife agency, tried to alleviate the concerns of several of the two dozen or so people who attended the walk. Kemper said it’s not the agency’s intention to disrupt the management area’s vast and expansive trail system and to cut down 70 percent of the trees, as one person feared.

“There will be activity on 70 percent of the property, but we aren’t cutting 70 percent of the forest,” Kemper said. “If we were going to cut up that much of the forest, they’d rightfully string us up.”

The agency’s plan for the management area includes removal of certain trees to allow other trees to flourish, thus increasing foraging opportunities for deer, snowshoe hare and turkey, work on a deer wintering area to increase browse, and patching openings in aspen-dominated areas to provide habitat for both grouse and woodcock.

Much of the opposition to the plan is because people are afraid that their hiking trails and walking trails will be disturbed. Joan Sturmthal, of Hallowell, wrote a letter; to the Kennebec Journal blasting the plan, and her opinion didn’t change after walking with and speaking to the wildlife officials on Tuesday.

“I would rather see it as a park, and I haven’t been swayed,” Sturmthal said. “I think they’ll feel like they went through the process to inform people, and they are a great bunch of guys just doing what they were hired to do, but it’ll still change the nature of the park.”

Biologist Eric Hoar, the ground manager for the project, led the 45-minute walk through the forest, stopping at three different spots to illustrate what kind of work would be done and why the work was necessary. Several trees were marked with an X, which means they were to be saved, while others were marked for removal.

Hoar described why several oak trees were set to be removed in order to release hemlock trees, much to the dismay of many, including George Smith, who said he couldn’t understand why hemlocks were valued more than oak trees. Smith is the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and is a Kennebec Journal columnist.

Kemper said while there is plenty of value placed on the area’s oak trees, in this specific location, the oaks’ removal is necessary for the hemlocks to flourish.

Ted Elliott, of Augusta, said he understands that ultimately it is a wildlife management area being managed for wildlife.

“It is kind of my wishful thinking that it just stays the way it is,” Elliott said after the walk was over. “It sounds like they are going to do a better job than I thought, so I am cautiously optimistic.”

Ryan Robicheau, wildlife management section supervisor for the department, and Kemper acknowledged that the area is a popular destination for hikers, cross-country skiers and fishermen. He said some people get the impression that Jamies Pond is a park and they want it to stay a certain way.

“It will change after we’re done,” Robicheau said. “But we’re not looking to impact people’s use or enjoyment of the property.”

Robicheau and Kemper said the department takes into account all of the recreational activities that happen at Jamies Pond. But first and foremost the project and treatments involved are geared toward wildlife and wildlife management.

“We are equal opportunity recreationalists,” Kemper said. “But for the most part, our primary management objective is wildlife management.”

The wildlife agency manages 62 areas in the state, representing about 105,000 acres. Kemper said this was the fourth public event about this project, and he wanted to make sure everyone knows how much planning went into the project.

“This didn’t just happen willy-nilly,” Kemper said. “We’ve been planning this for about four years.”

There will be an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the City Hall Auditorium in Hallowell, and Kemper said to expect extensive details and a “much more in-depth Power Point presentation.”

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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