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FALMOUTH — The Town Council was split Monday night over harvesting plans in one forest, but unanimously approved harvesting in another.
Councilors voted 6-0 for the 2015 Forest Harvesting Plan for the Woods Road Community Forest, but defeated a harvesting plan in the Blackstrap Hill Community Forest, 3-3.
Councilors Claudia King, Sean Mahoney and Charlie McBrady voted against the Blackstrap plan. Councilor Russell Anderson was absent.
The council originally heard about the harvesting plan at its Oct. 15 meeting, when Town Forrester Paul Larrivee presented the plans to cut selectively in both properties. Councilors asked to hear more information from a forest ecologist, and Andy Cutko presented with the Land Management and Acquisition Committee on Nov. 24.
Cutko said the age of forests in southern Maine is not very diverse, with a majority of trees between 40 and 80 years old. He said there are very few trees younger than 20 years old, and barely any trees that are older than 100.
“Old forests aren’t necessarily pretty, but they are biologically important,” Cutko said.
The plans were drawn from the 2013 open space management plans for both properties. A selective cut in both properties would “take out less desirable trees and encourage new species to exist there,” Larrivee said at the Oct. 15 meeting.
The Woods Road plan calls for harvesting up to a third of the trees in a 36-acre zone, to create an area where deer can find food. A 100-acre zone in the forest would be left alone, so the deer could have shelter.
Because the council accepted this motion, the harvesting plan will continue, and will likely begin in the winter, depending on the weather. The council would have had to continue harvesting in this parcel regardless of its decision, because the land was taken over from the Woodlands, and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife mandated harvesting there every 10 years.
When the Woodlands was created, the land was required to be kept as open space. The town eventually came to own 100 acres of the 140-acre parcel, but the Woodlands was still in charge of stewardship and management of the parcel.
The easement was transferred to the town in April 2013 and approved by the Town Council because, Town Manager Nathan Poore said, “the town is in land management business and the Woodlands isn’t, so it made more sense for the town to be the steward.”
“Woods Road is unique,” Poore added. “There’s nothing like it in town.”
The Blackstrap Road plan would call for harvesting to a lesser scale on three different lots in more than 60 acres of the more than 200-acre forest. The goal would be to remove lower-value, poor-quality trees over-topped by larger ones.
When discussing the Woods Road plan, councilors agreed that there are obligations to fulfill, regarding open space management plans for both parcels.
“You have to stand by your obligations,” Chairwoman Karen Farber said.
But with Blackstrap, Mahoney initially said he wasn’t sure if the council is ready to make a decision, and said he didn’t want to see this parcel end up like the Hadlock Community Forest, which he said people have described as looking “like a bomb went off” because of harvesting.
Councilor Caleb Hemphill disagreed, saying while having more information is “laudable,” he didn’t see the need because this item had been on the table for a while.
“I don’t see the same value in pausing,” Hemphill said.
King said the value would be “clarity of vision.”
“It’s not clear how clear the vision is here,” she said.
Councilor David Goldberg agreed with Hemphill and Farber, saying there was already received an expert opinion that it would be OK to harvest in Blackstrap.
“If we ask for an expert’s opinion,” Goldberg said, “we should listen to the expertise.”
The Town Council suggested that a broader ecological survey of parcels with management plans was needed, so LMAC will take a look at this and see what the cost will be before coming back to the council.