Falmouth deer to get helping hand, if weather cooperates

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FALMOUTH — While spring’s arrival might be a welcomed by most people, for Paul Larrivee it means one thing: crunch time.

Larrivee is the forester hired by the town to harvest in the Woods Road Community Forest, where up to a third of the trees will be selectively cut. The goal is to help out wildlife, Larrivee said, particularly deer.

“The deer are eating balsam fur and hemlock, meaning they’re very, very hungry,” Larrivee said.

Bob Shafto, the town’s open space ombudsman, said the deer only eat those trees to fill their stomachs; there is no nutritional value to them for the deer. Taller trees are blocking sunlight from reaching the floor, he said, meaning young trees can’t begin to sprout.

“We’re not clear-cutting,” Shafto said.

But Larrivee only has a few more weeks to get the job done. Harvesting has to be done in the winter, when the ground is frozen. He said while the job won’t be a long one, it is weather dependent.

“If it doesn’t stay cold, it won’t get done,” he said.

If the weather cooperates, the harvest would likely last for 2 1/2 weeks. But this weather has been anything but cooperative. The temperature has fluctuated considerably in recent days, with some days near single digits, only to see highs in the 40s days later.

“When the temperature goes up, everything gets soft. You want hard snow,” Larrivee said. “There will come a point where it’s too warm and too soft.”

Typically, that point for harvesting comes near the end of March. After that, Larrivee said, “it’s a crap shoot.”

The harvest, which Shafto said will hopefully begin this week, will take down taller, less desirable trees like red maple and white birch to allow sunlight to break through to the forest floor. This will allow sprouts to grow for deer to eat, Larrivee added.

Larrivee said the deer are using all of their reserve energy searching for food, meaning they’re becoming thin and weak. Because of that, they venture out of the forest and into people’s yards searching for food, often having to cross busy roads. And while Falmouth’s deer population is relatively large – 22 per square mile according to Shafto – Larrivee said having a high number of sick and weak deer is much worse.

“I think we can help them,” he said. “That’s the goal of this project.”

Larrivee said trees will be delimbed and cut to length directly at the stump, processed in the woods and brought out to a yard by a forwarder. Larrivee said he expects two truckloads of timber per day to leave the yard.

“This operation’s consideration was not to put crews in the neighborhood with a chipper running and six to 10 loads per day (leaving on trucks),” he said.

Brush from the trees will be left in the woods for deer to eat; Larrivee said he expects deer to be there eating the brush almost immediately.

“It’s fun, because I know when I’m done the deer will move right in,” he said.

Harvesting will be limited to a 36-acre zone, and Larrivee said it won’t be a “true selective harvest,” in that he won’t be cutting each acre identically. He said he’s looked through the forest “strictly finding the big, scrubby red maples to cut.”

A 100-acre portion of the forest will not be harvested, and will be allowed to remain wild. The area being harvested is a poorer area with wetter soil, Larrivee said. Shafto said this area is visited less often by the public.

The town acquired the forest from the Woodlands Club in April 2013. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife requires a harvest there every 10 years.

There will be a guided trip through the forest on March 14 at 10 a.m. For more information, contact Shafto at 878-8933 or openspace@maine.rr.com.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.