Forestry 101 participants at Blue Hill Mountain.
Written by Gavi Mallory
Family-owned woodlots comprise over 30% of Maine’s forest, more than a quarter of the state’s total area. As climate change, a growing population, and a shifting forest economy feed conversations about the future of the Maine woods, family forests are a significant piece of the puzzle.
The future Maine forest we hope to foster supports persisting economic, ecological, and social well-being state-wide. This imagining is often summarized as sustainability. A sustainable Maine forest produces forest products that provide good jobs and support families. A sustainable Maine forest holds habitat for species ranging from migrating warblers to moose. A sustainable Maine forest provides enough clean water to support a growing population.
Family woodlands are often relatively small, particularly when compared to commercial and investment ownerships. The median size of family-owned forests state-wide is 38 acres, small enough to be perceived as negligible when considering the sustainability of 17 million forested acres in Maine. However, collectively, these woodlots are anything but negligible.
The challenge, from the perspective of sustainability statewide, is that family forests are not managed collectively. One 38-acre parcel cannot produce every type of forest product needed to feed Maine’s economy, nor can it provide habitat for all of the creatures occupying the northwoods. For this broad swath of Maine to meet our collective needs, family forest owners need access to the resources necessary to make informed, place-based management decisions. We also need to build relationships and work together.
Organizations across Maine are working to cultivate this collaboration and ensure family forest owners have the tools they need to manage their woodlands intentionally. Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust, and Maine Woodland Owners recently collaborated to offer a 6-part Forestry 101 series to small woodland owners interested in developing a deeper understanding of their forests and forest-management decisions.
Sandy Walczyk, Conservation Forest Manager at Blue Hill Heritage Trust, described the project saying, “Blue Hill Heritage Trust (BHHT) is a community-based land conservation organization that believes strongly in practicing and teaching stewardship of our natural resources. We recognize the importance of private land management in promoting ecological, economic, and community health. BHHT sees landowners as partners in our effort to protect and improve natural resources. Hosting educational events like the Forestry 101 course allows us to help landowners better understand and steward their resources, which improves the community that we all share.”
On a Saturday in early April, Maine TREE staff joined the Forestry 101 course for a woods walk at Blue Hill Mountain. Participants walked the property together, discussing methods of reading the forested landscape, tree identification, and the vast array of considerations that play into a management decision.
Beyond providing family forest owners with helpful information, programs like the Forestry 101 workshop foster community, an integral factor in promoting sustainability. This community can serve as a place to go with questions and ideas, a substantial dataset as new forest pests enter a region, and a hub for available resources. Regional communities also allow landowners to think bigger than their 38 (+/-) acreage. Understanding their neighbors’ management approach and objectives can enable a landowner to see more clearly how their woodlot is an integral piece of a much larger puzzle.
The Maine Tree Farm Stewardship Hub model works towards a similar goal of fostering regional community between family woodland owners. Stewardship Hubs are an extension of the Maine Tree Farm Program, a statewide stewardship recognition program known for its green and white sign of good forestry. Hubs act as regional network nodes for Maine Tree Farmers. The model allows the Tree Farm Program to not only encourage connection between family forest owners and their woodlands but also encourage connection between woodland owners and their neighbors. The first of its kind, Sebago Stewardship Hub is hosted by Loon Echo Land Trust in Bridgton. Sebago Stewardship Hub hosts annual educational and community events, similar to the Forestry 101 workshop, to provide landowners with opportunities to learn, connect, and appreciate their regional forest.
Funding at the state and national levels has also been directed toward providing family forest owners with the resources they need to make informed decisions about their woodlands. WoodsWISE East, a collaboration between Maine Tree Farm, Maine TREE, Forest Stewards Guild, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Maine Forest Service, is a regionally concentrated incentive program supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Explicitly focused on eastern Maine, WoodWISE East funds events, like the Forestry 101 series, that provide resources and bolster networks in the project region. The program also provides financial support directly to family forest owners. For a limited time, WoodsWISE East is offering funding to landowners in eastern Maine who commit to forestry activities that benefit wildlife. Program participants are connected with local experts to incorporate wildlife considerations into their management plan.
As Forestry 101 participants returned to the fields at the bottom of Blue Hill, Maine TREE staff discussed the value of developing regional community. Over lunch, facilitators and participants told stories about their own forest management journeys and shared available tools and resources. “The spring 2023 [Forestry 101] course has been wonderful so far, and we are grateful to be out in the woods with such an engaged, enthusiastic group,” Walczyk reflected on the series’ success. It’s clear that this collaborative effort has been a substantial step towards sustainable forest management in eastern Maine.
Interested in building regional community and developing resources for family woodland owners in your area? Reach out to Maine TREE’s Forest Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.