Preservation or destruction? Capisic cutting creates contention in Portland

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PORTLAND — Mowing done by the city in late October at Capisic Pond Park is being criticized by birders, who called the work excessive and believe it will encourage growth of invasive species.

“It was really a clear-cut,” Derek Lovitch and Jeanne Lovitch of Freeport Wild Bird Supply said in a Dec. 8 email. “The value of the park to both migrant and resident birds, as well as birders from near and far, has been greatly diminished – perhaps irreparably so.”

The mowing was done after city arborist Jeff Tarling walked the 1/2-mile park trail with members of the Friends of Capisic Pond, Tarling said Monday.

“I try to weigh the pluses and minuses of doing nothing. I am trying to stay in the middle ground here,” Tarling said.

Friends member Donna Williams, of Machigonne Street, has been working for 30 years to make sure the city takes care of the park, and said Dec. 11 the mowing will benefit park visitors in general.

“I think (Tarling) was careful about what he did, he didn’t just come through and cut things,” she said.

Lovitch disagrees, and said the mowing ignored a restoration plan he helped develop in 2011 after the city installed a new sewer main through the length of the park, which extends from Lucas to Capisic streets.

Following the work, a $150,000 federal grant funded replanting that Lovitch said was carefully designed to improve habitats with native plants.

“Increased biodiversity begets increased biodiversity,” he said, adding the results were visible as more species and increased numbers of birds were on view.

He said the park or nearby neighborhood is the only place in Maine where the orchard oriole breeds.

Tarling said this was the first year the city has extensively mowed the park since the planting, with the exception of some annual work near trails and a sledding hill. Citing practices used at other preserves, including the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, Tarling said the mowing was beneficial.

“How do you have a prescription? We look at successful stories in successful places,” he said.

Williams said the mowing increased visibility.

“There were some areas where I thought they might have cut some more,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for Jeff. I think he did this quite carefully.”

Lovitch described himself as a constant critic of Tarling and the city’s approach to open space management, including on the Eastern Promenade and Quarry Run Park.

“Portland repeatedly goes in with a big machine and mows things down,” he said. 

Tarling said he does not expect to mow again in the park for two or three years. He and the Friends will meet this week to talk about the work, he said.

“I’m really confident it will be fine, we want things like the spirea to come back,” Tarling said.

But Lovitch believes invasives, such as bittersweet and bush honeysuckle, will take root readily and choke out other plant life.

“You can’t just cut it and walk away,” he said. “It is not how nature works.”

Next year will bring more work to the park, as a long-planned dredging and removal of invasive plants in Capisic Brook and Pond is slated to be carried out in the fall.

The $2.3 million project will restore about 4.5 acres of open water by removing invasive cat tails and replanting the banks.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A trail in Capisic Pond Park in Portland before mowing by the city in October. Critics say the work was excessive and will lead to growth of invasive species.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.