Falmouth wants residents to weigh in on forest management plan

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FALMOUTH — The town is seeking public input on a proposed management plan for eight forested properties totalling 758 acres.

The Conservation Commission’s Open Space Implementation Subcommittee will hold a forum at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 24, at the Falmouth Memorial Library to gather opinions and answer questions from residents about the plan, which was prepared by Rene Noel of the Southern Maine Forestry Services.

With recreation, wildlife and tree growth the primary management objectives, the report focuses on Town Forest, Pine Grove Park, Blackstrap Hill Community Forest, Hadlock Community Forest, Woods Road Community Forest, Falmouth Nature Preserve and Falmouth Community Park.

The $15,000 management plan was commissioned using $5,000 of town money and $10,000 from a Maine Forest Service Project Canopy grant.

The report is in two parts, Noel said. The first assesses the properties and their resources and the second recommends a course of management to keep the forests healthy. When asked why a forest should be managed rather than left alone, he said, “We can do a better job than nature can do. Mother Nature will give us whatever she gives us. … We can do things Mother Nature wouldn’t naturally do.”

Most of the forested land Falmouth owns has been neglected for years, Noel said. The trees are all roughly the same age and are overstocked, meaning there are too many per square acre, which causes them to be undersized and prevents them from getting the light and nutrients they need. There are also many old, diseased and damaged trees that he said should be removed to improve the overall health of the forest.

Because there is little understory growth – trees and shrubs that grow closer to the ground – the wildlife habitat suffers because there is little protection for certain ground or low-nesting birds and for mammals, such as foxes, fishers, moles and voles, that need cover. endangered species like the New England cottontail need the understory if they are to survive, he said.

But management can also include financial benefit for the town, Falmouth Open Space Ombudsman Bob Shafto said.

“(A forest preserve is) not an exercise of putting land up on a shelf,” Shafto said. “It’s a productive asset, it pays dividends.”

Just as interest has grown in raising food locally, prudent forest management can grow fuel for the town by providing timber for the new wood chip boiler planned for the new elementary school, he said.

“There is about $250,000 worth of wood ready to be harvested on town-owned properties,” Shafto said.

The timber would be harvested responsibly to the standard of the American Tree Farm Program, using certified professional loggers, Shafto said. Not only would it be a source of income to the town, it would provide jobs for loggers and mill workers. The first pass would remove diseased, old and unhealthy trees, culling less desirable species to allow those that are more disease resistant or have greater value for fuel to remain.

Another aspect of the management plan would concentrate on eradicating or reducing the invasive species that are prevalent in all but two of the town’s forested properties. These plants can crowd out some native species and are also not hosts for native insects that are eaten by birds or that keep down the population of certain destructive insects.

According to Shafto, some people resist managing forests because of a fear of clear-cutting, a reverence for trees that attributes them with an eternal quality or because they should simply be left alone. But Shafto said if done the right way, managing the forests should make them healthier, encourage a greater diversity of plant and animal life and make the areas safer for those who walk among their boughs.

And the plan is to spread the care and maintenance out, making it continuous.

“We don’t intend to swoop in and harvest everything we can in the next six months,” Shafto said.

Copies of the Forest Management Plan are available at Town Hall or electronically on the town’s Web site, town.falmouth.me.us. A video that covers the relationship between forestry and wildlife can be viewed on the Web site and will also be shown every night this week on the town’s Community Access channel.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.