October 16, 2013

Community forests make a comeback in Maine

Cities and towns are harvesting their own wood for town services, a newly recycled concept with a history in Maine going back 200 years.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The city of Portland has about 500 acres of community forests, including the 30-acre Baxter Woods between Forest and Stevens avenues.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Tom Hoerth, Bath’s city arborist and tree warden, cuts a white birch Tuesday in the Butler Head Preserve to increase the sunlight for the sugar maples. The work is part of the city’s community forest-management program. Schoolchildren learn a practical skill and produce a marketable item, maple syrup, in the forests.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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“The biggest thing that makes ... a community forest is that there is local leadership and stewardship,” Berry said.

Residents serve on the boards of directors and advisory committees, and they have a stake in the bounty the forests offer. As many as 100 timber jobs – about 30 direct and 70 indirect positions – are supported by the Downeast Land Trust’s Farm Cove Community Forest project, said Berry.

Trees are harvested in summer and winter at Farm Cove, and annually in parts of West Grand Lakes. Some 6,500 cords of wood are cut in Farm Cove during the summer and winter, said Berry.

The trust pays forestry companies – one from Washington County, another from Bangor – to harvest trees, said Berry. “And then we (the trust) get the proceeds from the sale of the wood.”


The renewed vitality of the community forest concept parallels a desire for local control and accountability in everything from politics to coastal planning, say representatives of land trusts, planning commissions and nature conservancies.

“It really is a grass-roots endeavor,” said Alan Hutchinson, executive director of the Forest Society of Maine in Bangor. “It’s (local residents) seeing that they can use the community forest to preserve the character, traditions and values of the town and guide development.”

Growing numbers of the nearly 170 municipalities in Maine that have town forests are taking a second look at the woods, which increasingly are being harvested for the economic value of the wood and for the health of the ecosystem, according to the Community Forest Collaborative study.

In woodlands, a portion of the trees have to be removed regularly to enhance the growing conditions, including available space, for those left standing. Maine municipalities are rediscovering how important that harvested wood can be, for town budgets, schools and low-income families – especially in financially stressed times.

Topper West, director of facilities, grounds and transportation for Falmouth schools, said heating with wood in the elementary, middle and high schools has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over only a few years.

In the last three years, the town has converted from oil to wood biomass-boiler heat. At the high school alone, that has reduced costs from more than $150,000 a year for oil to less than $50,000 – give or take the ups and downs in pricing in both markets, he said.

It has enabled Falmouth to eliminate the use of oil, except as a backup source, for heating schools, West said.

“It’s one-third the cost of oil,” he said. “It’s so simple; it’s such a savings. How could anybody not love it?”


Falmouth – along with Portland – has harvested wood from its own forests in the past and will again in the future, said Jan Santerre, Project Canopy coordinator with the Maine Forest Service.

Among its uses, besides heating, are recreation, education and tourism, which have prompted towns and cities to consider creative and inventive forest and wood-product programs close to home.

Some towns and regions have active forestry operations, selling wood and other forestry products for profit, Santerre said. Often, that money is funneled back into preserving woodlands and wild spaces. It has also been dedicated to the operations of the municipalities themselves, she said.

By far the largest community forests in the state cover more than 55,000 acres in two Downeast Land Trust projects in the rural regions of Hancock and Washington counties.

The Farm Cove Community Forest west of Grand Lake Stream has been preserved since 2008, with allowances for some harvesting, and an additional 22,000 acres of the West Grand Lake Community Forest is expected to be fully purchased for preservation by 2015, said Berry, with the Downeast Land Trust.

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Additional Photos

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John and Barbara Capasso of Falmouth walk with their dog Phoebe in Mayor Baxter Woods in Portland Friday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Topper West, maintenance, grounds and transportation director for Falmouth schools, shows the biomass furnace and conveyer belt filled with wood chips from Maine harvested wood. This is one of two and is located at the elementary school complex.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Mayor Baxter Woods in Portland

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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