WINDHAM – The second phase of a 10-year logging project at Lowell Preserve off Falmouth Road in East Windham has been endangered by charges of forestry mismanagement.

At a Dec. 19 Windham Town Council meeting, residents of Cottage Road lambasted last year’s timber harvest, arguing that the logger’s unnecessarily large staging ground and skidder roads had operationally and aesthetically destroyed the popular Virginia Loop trail, threatened water quality at nearby Highland Lake with runoff, increased the risk of invasive plant species that can attract Lyme disease-carrying ticks, and driven off deer.

Windham’s seven councilors, most of whom had not seen the preserve since the end of the harvest that took place from May through June of last year, unanimously agreed that the project seemed to have suffered from harmful delays, poor management and poor execution.

According to Councilor Donna Chapman, that means that there will be no winter cut this year, as scheduled in the Lowell Preserve forest management plan, until the council inspects the site to determine the extent of the damage.

“There is supposed to have been one scheduled, but that’s not going to happen now, because of these concerns,” Chapman said, in an interview. “I want to make sure what we’re doing is enhance Lowell Preserve, and by the sound of it, we didn’t do any enhancing.

“I believe the whole council as a consensus has agreed that we’re going to hold off doing another cutting until a site walk can be done and an evaluation taken in as far as these allegations from citizens in the area,” Chapman said.

The net income from the first harvest was $6,720, according to Parks and Recreation Director Brian Ross’s Dec. 11 memo to the council, in which he proposed a second phase of cutting beginning this month. According to Ross’ memo, the 2014 harvest area would cover about 70 acres and is located north and northwest of the 2013 harvest location.

“In an attempt to learn and improve from the 2013 harvest experience, we plan to space skid trails farther apart so that the skid trail density is lower,” Ross wrote. “We also plan to make increased use of bumper trees along skid trails to contain the skidded hitches of trees so that trees not immediately adjacent to the skid trails are damaged as little as possible.”

At the Dec. 19 meeting, Theresa Theodose, an associate professor of biology at the University of Southern Maine and resident of Cottage Road, questioned whether the forest management plan for Lowell Preserve, prepared by forester Michael Maines of Gray, was necessary.

“I just want to say that the forest would be fine if it was left alone,” Theodose said. “This idea that we have to manage nature comes from the idea of managing a forest as something we’re going to harvest in the future – to maximize the growth of economically important trees. And that, as a biologist, I see it more as a place where you want to maximize the ecosystem and the biodiversity, keep out invasives, and maximize soil and water quality, and that would involve leaving it alone.

“As a biologist, I got a Ph.D. in biology and plant ecology, and so I have a totally different perspective on what is a healthy forest,” Theodose said, after handing Town Manager Tony Plante a petition, signed by 41 individuals, calling for an end to the logging at Lowell Preserve.

In an interview, Maines, when asked to respond to Theodose’s comment, agreed that the forest management was designed to “generate some revenue.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Maines said. “The forest will be fine. Some trees will die from disease or insects or old age, but the forests will be fine, she’s absolutely correct. But it really comes down to the owner objectives, and the owner in this case is the town of Windham, and their owner objective is not only recreation and wildlife habitat, but also to harvest some trees, but also to improve the mixture of age classes, but also to generate some revenue.”

Plante said that the forest management plan was primarily focused on improving the forest’s long-term sustainability, not generating income.

“Going back to the forestry management plan, it was to manage the forest so we would have healthy stands of trees,” Plante said. “It was not to make money.”

“We maybe expected to get a little bit of revenue out of it but it would mainly pay for the cost of the forester’s services,” he said.

At the meeting, Chapman read a letter submitted by Kylie Allen of Cottage Road into the record.

“The Lowell family sold their property to the town of Windham at a very reduced price to preserve its character as a recreational area for the people of Windham,” Allen wrote. “The Lowell land was designated by the family as a preserve, not a tree farm, and as Parks and Recreation property, it belongs to the people of Windham.”

After reading Allen’s letter, Chapman noted that the forest-management plan had called for the first cut to take place in the winter of 2013, not the late spring.

“That makes me sad, and kind of angry,” she said. “I don’t like the fact that this logger was allowed to go in in the spring when best management practices, we’re told, [would be] to do it in the winter.”

Maines, who did not attend the Dec. 19 council meeting, said that last year’s cut was delayed because the loggers were forced to wait until the Jan. 22, 2013, meeting, when the council approved the sale of the timber. By that point, the contracted logger, Bob Atkinson, of South Windham, had committed to another job, and so Maines decided it was best to wait out the mud season.

At the meeting, councilors were in agreement that the logging had not gone well.

“It sounds like the feedback, to me anyhow, and I’m not a professional in that line of work, seems to be that it was poorly executed,” said Matt Noel. “The biggest problem that I’m hearing is that it didn’t fall in line with the forestry plan that we adopted. It went south somewhere along the line, and that’s the problem.”

“Why it was done in the springtime like that, it should never have been done,” said Tommy Gleason.

“What we approved wasn’t quite what we got,” said Dave Nadeau. “One, we approved that to be done in the winter … it should have waited until this year. I live in the area. I use this. Some of the skidder trails are a lot bigger than expected.”

Although it was widely conceded that there had been mismanagement, the council did not place blame on any particular individuals at the meeting.

In the interview, Chapman said she did not know who was in charge of overseeing the execution of the logging.

“It was a management oversight,” she said. “So whether the forester was hired and it was supposed to be his role to oversee the logging part of it, or whether it should have been Brian Ross, that’s not clear yet.”

Plante said Maines and Ross were both responsible for managing the logging.

At the meeting, Ross said he had been taken aback by the width of the logging roads.

“I think the biggest surprise to me were the size of the skidder trails,” he said. “When you do see it, the visual effect, it is an issue. But I think if we did the second phase, the plan is to use the same setup area on a private piece of property and use some of the existing skidder trails to get over to the area where the new harvesting would be.”

According to Maines, when loggers use small skidders, they are forced to use chainsaws – a process that inevitably leaves brush, limbs and treetops scattered throughout the forest and in the sightlines of future skiers and hikers. Maines said that town officials were well aware before the 2013 cut that the plan was to use grapple skidders and other large apparatus in order to avoid unsightly brush buildup.

“We decided, and I think Brian was part of this decision, and I think even the Town Council weighed in on it as far as I can recall, we decided to go with the larger equipment, and in that system, the entire tree is skidded out to landing,” Maines said. “They use what’s called a feller buncher to cut the tree down, and then they use the grapple skidders, and that grabs the tree and then that skids the tree out, and since it’s the entire tree…it does create a wider skid trail.”

Maines said that he was “happy” with the 2013 cut.

Toward the end of the discussion, Chapman suggested that the town inaugurate an effort to plant new trees on the preserve, “fixing the mess that we made.”

“Hopefully we can do that with the $6,000 that’s left,” she said, referring to the income the town generated from the first cut.

Ross said that the second cut could always wait until next year.

“If we don’t do it this year, we can always do it next winter,” he said. “Like I said, there’s no hurry to get it done. If we want to do it during the wintertime, we have to move pretty quickly to make it all happen, otherwise it’s off until next year.”

With residents calling for an end to logging, town leaders look to evaluate recent forest damage.

A sunny and reasonably warm winter’s day brought Cindy Strumph, her Bernese mountain dogs, Brea and Pearl, and Chris Berg and her Bernese mountain dog, Tycho, to the Lowell Preserve in East Windham last weekend. Neighbors and those concerned with ecological impact from a recent timber harvest at the preserve are petitioning the town to prevent a second harvest this year.  

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