Spring 1998

A Three-part Strategy to Save and Restore Forests

By William Sugg

Members of the Forest Ecology Network (FEN) are visiting a tree harvesting operation in Piscataquis county, but it’s not a protest: They like what they see. Ideally they are looking at the future of forestry in Maine – Low Impact Forestry.

Low Impact Forestry (LIF) could be considered a window to the past of forest practices as well as to the future. Many landowners in Maine have been using LIF on their woodlots for decades. This time honored technique leaves behind something industrial forestry does not – a functional forest.

Mel Ames has been harvesting wood from his 600-acre woodlot since 1947. When he purchased the land, there were about 17 cords of wood per acre standing there; fifty years later he estimates there are about thirty five. “Now let me just tell you,” Ames warns FEN members on a tour of his property, “when you cut trees, sometimes it’s just not that pretty.” But an inspection of the recent cutting reveals a few large stumps in a small area, with barely an opening in the canopy and with most adjacent trees left carefully in place for a future generation of the Ames family. In contrast to the huge clearcuts and forest devastation many FEN members have witnessed, Mel’s warning hardly seems necessary.

“Those large landowners are not just cheating themselves out of making more money over the long run,” notes Ames, “when you cut all the trees you lose lots of warblers that eat your pests, like spruce budworms.” He ads with a trademark grin, “plus the birds keep me comp’ny here in the woods.”

The Ames property holds great diversity of wildlife and plants. Species richness (number of species per unit area) is much higher here than in the sprayed, monoculture, even-aged stands created by industrial forestry.

Forest Aesthetics, Ecology, and Wood Production Are Priorities

At the heart of Low Impact Forestry is the goal of maintaining a healthy and diverse native forest environment while extracting quality wood from it – forever. Sometimes called “sustainable forestry” or even “ecoforestry,” Low Impact Forestry might best be described as ‘thoughtful forestry,’ as demonstrated so well in a recent FEN tour of a harvesting operation run by logger Sam Brown in Piscataquis county. (See The MOF&G, Sept.-Nov. 1996, p.38)

“See this small ash?” asks Sam as he gently shakes the small tree. “This tree represents several years of growth already, and in 40 years or so it will really be worth something.” Most loggers would not take the time to save such a tree because they are already making so little money that any decrease in efficiency, especially for the profit of someone decades in the future, is unacceptable. “You see,” Brown points out, “if I just lead the cable on the fallen tree 2 feet this way, this little tree will survive to be marketable.”

Sam is rightly proud of his tree harvesting equipment. “This rig is easily repairable using common tools, and all the parts are available locally from auto parts stores, salvage yards, and Radio Shack.” The less than 6-foot-wide ‘forwarder’ is made by a company in Canada, and Sam has added some innovative accessories, including a garage door opener – not so he can park it beside the family wagon, but to allow his grapple winch to drag a fallen tree about 75 feet from the main logging trail while he remains where the tree was felled. The tree is limbed in the forest: this ‘slash’ is purposefully left to rot and nourish future tree growth. Sam then starts the winch with a switch in his shirt pocket and the log is carefully dragged to the forwarder and loaded.

The rig cuts a narrow, closed canopy path through the woods. From the air you would not even see this logging trail, which is purposefully covered with arm-sized logs that protect the soil from significant damage. The trails are spaced out 75 to 150 feet apart, and the logs are yarded in small areas, greatly minimizing the damage to the forest caused by the yard. No swath of damage is created when Sam has filled the forwarder with the 1-1/2 cords that make up a full load – instead of turning around, he sits in a seat facing away from the load and drives his load to the yard. Powered tracks on the log trailer also minimize damage, as the load is not dragged across the trail.

Show Me the Money

Earlier in the visit to Sam’s operation, FEN members were treated to a presentation at the North Woods Arts Center, a 10,000-acre educational facility and demonstration forest in Atkinson, by noted author and forest policy analyst Mitch Lanksy. His book Beyond the Beauty Strip: Saving What’s Left of Our Forests is the definitive critique of industrial forestry. If this book could be considered an expose on how forestry should not be done, Mitch’s work with the newly established Low Impact Forestry Institute might be considered a work in progress on how it should be done.

“This logging system has low impact on the environment and is economically viable, when taken in context of long term forest management,” said Lansky. He described how operations like Sam’s work technically, ecologically and economically. “It’s forestry as if the future mattered. Under this model, the landowner receives a financial benefit over time while allowing the natural system to develop in height, volume, complexity and quality.”

Mitch explained that when analyzing the economics of LIF, the returns from a long-term, holistic perspective must be examined. “A proper evaluation looks not at just the value of what is cut, but also the value of what is retained. Without such an accounting, one runs the risk of calling capital depletion ‘income.’ Removing more than what can be sustained over time becomes a cost, because it … reduces future yields and values.”

He also pointed out that while a LIF managed site could produce more income over time, when calculated using a high discount rate (economists discount future costs and benefits to calculate what they are worth today), “even the yields obtained from Low Impact Forestry decades into the future are not sufficient to beat the costs of cutting heavily over the short term. Trees just don’t grow fast enough. Calculations involving multi-generational discounting do not send a very pleasant message to our children or grandchildren. We are saying in effect that consumption of aquifers, old-growth, fisheries, or topsoil now is better than availability of these resources to future generations. This is economics without a sense of cultural continuity.”

More Jobs, Community Stability, and Forested Land

Low Impact Forestry could be considered a jobs creation program, as it employs around three times the number of loggers as mechanized high-grade and clearcutting operations. Industrial forestry has yielded a near 50% decline in forest-related jobs in Maine over the past decade.

The higher quality wood from LIF managed forests is more appropriately used for products such as furniture and lumber, which require more labor to produce than if the wood was pulped. If the harvested wood is then processed locally, more dollars remain in the community and more jobs are created. If “no fish should leave Maine with it’s head on,” no raw logs should leave the state for value-added processing either.

The higher valued residual wood (read: a forest) on LIF managed sites produces greater opportunities for recreation, as the forest is not only attractive to people and wildlife, the numerous trails on LIF sites are great for hikers, hunters, snowmobilers and cross country skiers. This helps support a vibrant tourist economy.

High-graded and clearcut areas not only decrease the biodiversity (number of all species of plants, animals and fungi), water quality, and wilderness experience, they give the impression that a community is not concerned about its environment, or its future. Correspondingly, property values adjacent to destroyed forests plummet, further compounding community instability and despair.

Downeast Initiative on Low Impact Forestry

“My father spent most of his young adult life working with horses in the northern Maine woods,” remembers Ron Poitras; “It wasn’t an easy job.” With the creation of a major initiative to implement Low Impact Forestry in Hancock County, Ron has taken on quite a challenge as well. “With the global market forcing lower prices, there are many in Maine who want to know whether we can get off this resource-depleting treadmill,” explains Poitras, director of the Hancock County Planning Commission. “LIF is a way of managing the forest to achieve multiple goals, to favor long-term resource conservation, local labor and markets, and value-added processes.”

Poitras uses a recent survey the Commission conducted of small woodlot owners in Hancock County, and the fact that the area has shown some of the highest growth rates in volume of wood per acre in Maine, as an indicator of LIF’s potential for local landowners and wood processors. The survey reveals that 72% of the landowners make decisions on wood harvesting operations with the long-term productivity of the woodlot in mind, and that 60% use only selective logging and do not allow clearcutting on their woodlots. Encouragingly, nearly one-half of the landowners would be willing to receive less payment for stumpage from their woodlot in order to improve its future health and productivity, and another 29% said they might be willing to.

Last May the Commission organized a successful conference, “Exploring Opportunities for Low Impact Forestry in Hancock County,” that drew 140 attendees. It is working on an educational module for Maine’s Certified Logging Professionals (CLP) program that would give loggers hands-on training in LIF techniques as part of the certification process or in a continuing education program, and it is creating a landowner information packet with guidance for low impact harvest. In addition, the Commission is conducting a survey of secondary wood processors in Downeast Maine. It hopes to identify niche markets, find out about the amount and types of wood being used, and get a feel for these manufacturers’ willingness to use wood obtained from LIF managed forests.

The Beginning

Implementing Low Impact Forestry in Maine remains a great challenge. Although the economic and ecological arguments are persuasive, the reality is that they are not yet loud enough to be heard over the din of feller-bunchers that are currently on the ground clearcutting tens of thousands of acres of Maine’s forests annually. LIF is clearly an attractive proposition to the smaller landowner who has a well-stocked forest and a long-term commitment to the land, community, and future generations, but what about the landowner who makes decisions based on quarterly profits and may never set foot in Maine?

It is difficult to lobby for future generations. They have no voice and no money, but they should have the same right to enjoy the natural beauty and economic bounty of Maine’s North Woods, and the rest of the Earth, as we have today.

William Sugg was the editor of The Maine Woods, a publication of the Forest Ecology Network.


Low Impact Forestry Industrial Forestry
Industrial Forestry increasing decreasing
Community stability higher lower
Dollars earned/acre higher lower
Cords removed/acre more less
Tree size larger smaller
Property values higher low
Recreation value higher lower
Wildlife habitat better worse
Aesthetics closed canopy disaster zone
Water quality higher lower
Wind Damage lower higher
Pest, fire catastrophe less likely more likely
Chemical spraying no yes
Clearcutting no yes


A Three-part Strategy to Save and Restore Forests

By Mitch Lanksy

Any strategy to protect forest biodiversity and ensure the sustainable use of forest products would have to contain reserves, low-impact forestry, and demand reduction. All three parts of this strategy work together for forest protection. If one of them is absent, this means that forests, wildlife, or people will be harmed either at another location or another time.


We need wild, unmanaged areas as a baseline against which to measure our impacts and as a place to allow and study natural processes and forest dynamics. We need reserves to ensure that all habitats and species are protected – including ones that are sensitive to human encroachment or that require old growth. We also need wild places for spiritual renewal.

Low Impact Forestry

We need forest products. Wood can be a renewable resource if forests are managed in a sustainable manner. Obtaining wood products can cause less environmental harm than obtaining some wood substitutes. Low-impact forestry strives to reduce the known undesirable impacts so that after the cutting is done, there is still a recognizable and functional forest. Low-impact forestry also ensures that forests are not overcut – they can continue to grow in height, volume, and complexity.

Demand Reduction

Demand reduction ensures that any local reduction in cut, due to reserves or lower-impact forestry, does not get translated into greater environmental or social damage elsewhere. Demand reduction deals with waste and inefficiency, but it must also address the trend of unlimited growth of consumption. One does not have to live near the forests to participate in demand reduction. All citizens have a role in protecting forests.


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