Falmouth to conserve forests valued at $900K

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FALMOUTH — The town is acquiring 100 acres of forest, valued at just over $907,000, to add to its conservation corner.

The land is from three different sellers, according to Bob Shafto, the town’s open space ombudsman, who said the sales are likely to close in February 2015. The parcels will add to the North Falmouth Community Forest between Blackstrap and Babbage roads.

The total cost to purchase the four parcels is $477,075, which is mostly funded by grants from Land for Maine’s Future and the U.S. Forest Service. The cash provided by the town is about $1,500.

As part of an attachment to the deed agreement, the parcels will not be developed in the future. The deal has the same impact as an easement.

The town approached all three sellers to buy the land.

Two parcels, from former Town Councilor Fred Chase, were initially intended to be used for development. However, Shafto said Chase decided not to develop the property and the town paid him $246,000 for once parcel of 47 acres and a second of eight acres, which Shafto said was a fair price.

A second seller, James Hawkes, will sell nearly 39 acres to the town for less than the appraised value. The town bought his parcel for $180,000 while it was appraised at $245,000.

Wilshore Farm, the third seller, sold nearly seven acres to the town for $17,000. Unlike the other two parcels, this land was not considered very buildable, Shafto said, so its appraised value was much lower than the others.

The four new parcels will be coupled with three other parcels the town already owns, for a total of 374 acres in the area that will be protected from future development. The value of the donated easements on the three parcels is $365,000.

The new acquisitions will also have history attached to them.

In 18 places around the forests, there will be signs that can be scanned by smart phones that will bring users to a website explaining where they are and the area’s historical significance. For example, there is a path that used to be a rail bed that ran to Lewiston.

“When you really walk these trails and properties, you notice there’s a lot of history here that people have no idea of anymore, it’s completely erased from people’s memories,” Shafto said.

Falmouth Parks and Community Programs will be sponsoring a snowshoe hike in the property Feb. 8.

Most of the trees within the parcels, and within the North Falmouth Community Forest itself, are not valuable. There is an abundance of hemlock and beech, which are not good for timber or firewood. These new parcels come with a management plan that calls for actively managing the land, Shafto said.

Like most forests in Falmouth, he said, there is little age or species diversity. The lack of diversity has led to some, including Shafto, to call for harvesting in the forests to allow younger and different species of trees to grow.

“Forestry isn’t just about ‘let’s go cut some trees and make some money,'” he said.

Shafto said the goal shouldn’t be to acquire forests to create a pretty, green backdrop, or to treat it like a park, but that nature should be the preeminent focus, with human beings as visitors.

“Harvesting trees isn’t the end, it’s the means to create diversity,” he said.

To that end, Shafto said a recent split decision by the Town Council on two harvests plans will likely mean neither will happen. While the council signed off on a harvest plan for up to a third of the trees in the Woods Road Community Forest, it defeated a measure to harvest in the Blackstrap Community Forest.

“It’s very unlikely we’ll have a harvest on Woods Road because you can’t get a logger to come in on a small job like that to get unvaluable wood, which is what’s in there,” he said.

Together, the two harvests might have been an attractive job to a logger, Shafto said, but now given the time of year and the fact would only be a harvest of one spot for low-quality wood, there likely won’t be a harvest. He said the town will know for certain in a week or two.

“The job isn’t attractive enough financially, and it’s late in the year, so (loggers) have already got their jobs booked out for most of the year,” Shafto said.

He did say they were still working on it, though they may have to “sweeten the deal” to get a logger in, either by “forgoing any income from the harvest or actually paying the harvester an extra amount to do the job” in order to comply with the DEP order governing the property.

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

Sidebar Elements

Falmouth is set to buy 100 acres of forested land for conservation between Blackstrap and Babbage roads, to be incorporated into the North Falmouth Community Forest.

Signs like this, which can be scanned by smart phones with a QR reader app, have been placed along Falmouth trails to help tell the history of the land, forests and open space.

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.