By Sam Brown
The Low Impact Forestry (LIF) Project was formed in the early 1990s by a small group of central Maine loggers, foresters, scientists and landowners concerned about effects that then-current forest harvesting practices were having on Maine’s soils, waters, plants and humans. The LIF Project was committed to finding examples of excellent forestry, analyzing why they were successful, and communicating results to the public.
Since 1996, the LIF Project has been associated with MOFGA, when a booth in the Agriculture Area at the Common Ground Fair in Windsor featured LIF information and machinery. Soon after, the LIF group (then informally sponsored by the Hancock County Planning Commission) was asked to begin a forestry area at the 1998 Fair – the first Fair at MOFGA’s new home in Unity.
MOFGA bought the Unity property primarily for its open fields, which would support the Fair and, eventually, educational and agricultural buildings. Along with those agricultural lands came forestland, which MOFGA eventually asked the LIF group to manage.
In October 1999, forester Barrie Brusila wrote the first forest management plan for the original 89 acres of woodland, identifying educational and silvicultural goals and reflecting MOFGA’s mission to teach rural skills. The LIF group then decided to increase its activity beyond the Fair, to begin to implement the plan’s recommendations, and to figure out how to share our members’ knowledge and experience with each other and with those who want to care for their woodlots better.
Thus, in November of 1999, the first LIF workshop attracted students and instructors to Unity to spend two and a half days teaching and learning about LIF, draft animals and chainsaw safety. A spirit of sharing and hopefulness pervaded this initial attempt to “communicate to the public” LIF principles and goals.
Since that workshop, 386 people have passed through the annual draft-animal and forestry program, with another 174 participating in chainsaw instruction.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the workshop’s success is its sense of sharing: Aside from a few MOFGA office staff, about two dozen core volunteers have done all the teaching and demonstrations. This willingness to give is clearly reflected in the volunteer staff’s dedication to the LIF project and in students’ enjoyment and participation.
The LIF group has come to recognize that for us, teaching forest management is secondary to showing how individuals fit into a community, which is done most simply by sharing our skills, time, food and fellowship.
One workshop student wrote, after returning home: “… I need to thank you again for the LIF workshop… I can’t thank you enough… for your kindnesses, the ready acceptance I felt from everyone, and the spirit of gentle, quiet boisterousness that pervaded… I’ll even go so far as to say it was a life-altering event for me. Not because of what I learned of LIF or work horses, but what I learned about Life and the people who really Live, or are trying to. …”
The 1999 forestry plan recommended removing inferior trees so that better trees could grow and regenerate. While we did cut some of these trees during workshops and Fair demonstrations, most remained standing. So, in the winter of 2008, we organized a week-long MOFGA woodlot harvest, bringing together LIF chainsaw operators, horse and oxen teamsters, and tractor drivers to try to remove the rest of the inferior trees.
We selected participants who had demonstrated skills appropriate to the tasks involved, i.e., “graduates” of the system, although neither the LIF group nor MOFGA formally certifies such skills. Some volunteered their time; others were hired as professional contractors, which required developing some innovative accounting measures to evaluate overall performance.
This harvest tested logging techniques (i.e., how to effectively organize many people, animals and machines over space and time) and served as a potential business model for smaller groups in other areas. Two subsequent winter harvests (and one planned, as we went to press, for February 2011) supplied more logs and information for LIF.
MOFGA benefits from the improved woodlot and from the harvested lumber – about 30,000 board feet of it harvested and sawn for MOFGA projects in the last 10 years. An estimated 14,000 board feet can be cut annually for the next five years while improving the overall long-term woodlot quality.
In acquiring neighboring properties, MOFGA now has a total of about 129 woodlot acres. A new campaign to expand the classroom and office space at MOFGA offers potential to use much of the forest’s production and to supply heat (with a central, district-heating system burning low-quality wood for all the campus).
LIF became a full standing committee of MOFGA in January 2011, with budgetary and operational support. Volunteers now manage LIF, with part-time assistance from the MOFGA staff, but the amount of work and organization required to meet these new expansion opportunities is demanding that LIF soon find a part-time paid Forestry Coordinator. This search is now beginning, and will bring a new level of effectiveness and outreach to MOFGA’s forestry work.