Fresh from the Woods

Prentiss & Carlisle president Donald White, left, Gov. John Baldacci, and P&C Chairman David Carlisle show off the Austin Wilkins Award plaque, carved of prime cherry wood. (Photo by Joe Rankin)

Prentiss & Carlisle: a proud history of forest stewardship

By Joe Rankin 

When it comes to good timberland management, spreadsheets and computer models only go so far. To go beyond you have to listen to the land, says Prentiss & Carlisle president Donald P. White.

“The ground tells you what it will grow and how it will grow it, when is the right time to harvest, what the harvest ought to be, depending on the stocking of the land,” he said in a recent interview.

White said his company uses the latest in GIS systems and software to help determine what and how to cut. It has five-year plans for each parcel it manages.

But when it comes right down to it, it’s the forester walking the ground that is the key to its success.

“We’re a bottom-up organization, the foresters that get the job done are very much empowered to do the right thing,” White said. “It’s science and boot leather. The combination gets you a really good result.”

On Oct. 7 the Bangor-based company was honored with the prestigious Austin Wilkins Award for Forest Stewardship.

White and Prentiss & Carlisle Chairman David M. Carlisle accepted the award from Gov. John E. Baldacci at a Blaine House ceremony. The award is given by the Maine Department of Conservation and the Maine TREE Foundation.

During the 6th Wilkins award ceremony Baldacci said that Prentiss & Carlisle‘s “longstanding commitment to sustainable forestry embodies the sentiment of this award completely.”

Austin Wilkins Award recipients
2004 Austin Wilkins
2005 Seven Islands Land Co. and Pingree Heirs
2006 No award
2007 Sherry Huber and John Hagen
2008 Roger Milliken Jr., president of Baskahegan Co.
2009 Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell and 
BSP Scientific Forest Management Area
2010 Prentiss & Carlisle Co.

Maine Forest Service Director Alec Giffen told the 50 people who attended the ceremony that Prentiss & Carlisle was a critical player in the Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative to develop a “shared vision” for the future of the state’s timberland.

Carlisle said he was “very, very proud and very honored” to accept the award on behalf the company’s clients, managers, and, especially, its foresters.

In his remarks White, the company’s president, also singled out the company’s foresters as a special reason for its growth and success. He said they view the land they manage as theirs, and it’s that relationship with the land that produces exceptional forestry.

Prentiss & Carlisle forester Bob Chandler measures a yellow birch. (Photo courtesy of Prentiss & Carlisle)

Prentiss & Carlisle’s roots in the Maine woods go back to the mid 1830s. The company itself has existed since 1924.

It has seen wood prices rise and fall. It has seen recessions and depressions come and go. It has seen wars begin and end. It has seen the ax and bucksaw give way to the chainsaw which in turn gave way to the feller buncher and the forwarder. It witnessed the end of the river drives and the advent of trucking. And it continues to harvest trees.

Today Prentiss & Carlisle has 80 employees, owns some 110,000 acres of Maine timberland and manages 1.5 million acres in Maine, the upper Midwest, and Quebec.

It offers a comprehensive portfolio of forest services, from resource management to consulting, appraisals, woodlot services, marketing, and timberland operations.

The Wilkins Award was named after Maine’s longtime forest commissioner, Austin Wilkins, who was its first recipient in 2004.

It recognizes exemplary forest management with an eye to sustainability and preserving the environment. Some 750,000 acres of Prentiss & Carlisle’s timberlands are certified for forest stewardship by an independent company.

“Throughout their 86 years of forest management, they have had one driving theme, to do what’s right for the client while doing what’s right for the forest,” said Sherry Huber, the executive director of the Maine TREE Foundation.

Conservation Commissioner Eliza Townsend said that “good forest stewardship is both a skill and an art that takes years of professional focus and dedication to accomplish.” She added that Prentiss & Carlisle has made a “distinguished contribution” to the managing of Maine’s most valuable resource, its forestlands.

The company’s history dates back to the 1834 arrival of Henry Prentiss in Bangor. By 1906 the Prentiss family owned 90,000 acres.

  Prentiss & Carlisle by the numbers

  • Founded: 1924
  • Employees: 80
  • Foresters: 35
  • Client groups: 80
  • Timberland owned: 110,000 acres
  • Timberland managed in Maine: 1 million acres
  • Timberland managed total: 1,450,000 acres
  • Annual harvest in Maine: 450,000 cords
  • Provides forestry services in U.S. and Canada


    George T. Carlisle was a 1909 graduate of the University of Maine’s forestry program. He moved to Bangor in 1917 at the behest of a large timberland owner and began developing a solid reputation as a forest manager. One of his clients was third generation timberland owner Henry Prentiss.

    The two became partners in 1924.

    Prentiss died in 1933. Carlisle in 1960. But Carlisle family members continue the tradition of managing the company.

    Interestingly, the paths of George T. Carlisle and Austin Wilkins intersected at what would become Baxter State Park. Both were involved in Maine Gov. Percival Proctor Baxter’s project to create a park centered around Katahdin, the state’s highest peak.

    Today Prentiss & Carlisle owns about 110,000 acres of Maine timberland.

    “We buy practically every year. We’re active buyers of timberland,” adding 5,000 to 10,000 acres a year, said White.

    It’s not only its acreage that Prentiss & Carlisle is growing. In 2005 the company bought a Wisconsin timberland management firm. And Prentiss & Carlisle has steadily expanded the scope of services it offers and added to its customer base, now serving some 80 client groups.

    Part of the reason behind the move into the upper Midwest was a worry about Maine’s business climate and “regulatory creep” that could hamper operations, White acknowledged in a recent interview.

    By expanding into a different region, and offering its consulting and other management services across the U.S. and Canada, Prentiss & Carlisle lessens its risks, he said.

    A harvester working on Prentiss & Carlisle lands. (Photo courtesy of Prentiss & Carlisle)

    White admits that he worries about a growing disconnect between consumers and the environment that he said sometimes has repercussions in overly restrictive forest policy. Just as many people don’t connect their hamburger to a cow, they often don’t realize that their furniture started life as trees, he said. No logging, no furniture.

    “People need to realize that wood is the most amazing product that Mother Nature offers us. You cut trees and they grow back. You can make anything with it. You can generate power, make furniture, make paper, make fuel,” he said.

    White said that these days there’s another disconnect: some timberland investors are too eager to subscribe to Wall Street’s short-term profits view rather than take the long view good forestry, and timberland profits, require.

    “There are times when people want us to go in and basically harvest pulpwood, when if they would wait five years it would be sawlogs” and make them much more money, he said.

    The burden of explaining that is, “harder than it used to be,” he said.

    Sometimes a client simply has to get money out of the land now, for estate tax purposes, say. In that case, the company doesn’t have a choice. “We understand that they have limitations on their side. It’s a complicated world we live in,” White said.

    Most clients, however, are “pretty rational” and Prentiss & Carlisle has, overall, been successful in convincing them to do what‘s best for their bottom line and for the forest, said White.

    “We’re blessed with clients who believe in managing timberland for the long term. And we try to set that tone at the top of the company.”

    Fresh from the Woods is produced by Forests for Maine’s Future, a collaboration of the University of Maine, Maine TREE Foundation, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and the Maine Forest Service.

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