Bethel selectmen accept IF&W advice on harvesting in town forest
Despite the protestations of selectmen Dennis Doyon that packs of coyotes, not lack of suitable wintering areas, are responsible for the area's declining deer population; and Jack Cross that “logging is the best thing for deer,” the Bethel Board of Selectmen has agreed informally to have recommendations from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife incorporated into the harvesting plan for the Town Forest.
The land in question, approximately 100 acres on the side of Mt. Will, has not been logged for several years, Town Manager Jim Doar said.
In an Oct. 28 letter to Doar, IF&W Biologist Chuck Halsey noted that he and Doar had walked the forest earlier in the month, “to discuss ways your planned timber harvest might be designed to meet, or not compromise, the habitat needs of wintering deer.”
He also said that he himself was already familiar with the area in question, because it includes part of the Mt. Will Deer Wintering Area, and during the winter he makes weekly visits to the IF&W's winter weather station there.
He provided the following overview of the situation:
“Timber harvesting can be compatible, even beneficial to the long-term management of these habitats. Alternative, timber harvesting can degrade such habitats with the effects lasting decades. Compatible timber harvesting occurs when trees are grown for longer periods of time (rotations) and cutting is light and periodic. Timing, volume removal, and species selection needs to be designed so to maintain or increase conifer (softwood) stands of certain species. Spruce, fir, cedar, and hemlock that are over 35 feet tall and with canopy closure over 50 percent provides the type of shelter deer require to survive Maine winters.
“The conifer stands on the town's property are dominated by hemlock and this is a good news-bad news situation. The good news is that hemlock provides high-quality shelter and the species is long-lived. The bad news is that it is challenging to regenerate. It regenerates only by seed, whereas hardwood can regenerate by seed, stump sprouting, or root sprouting after harvest. If the timing isn't just right, hardwoods will get the jump on the new site and take over. Alternately, hemlock can regenerate if cutting is timed to a cone year, and when there is still a lot of shade from the residual (post-harvest) stand. This is why my recommendation calls for a light harvest.”
“Deer population objectives are set by the public. Deer numbers in western, northern, and eastern Maine are not only below those objectives but declining. The number one reason for this is a steady decline in both the quality and quantity of winter shelter. The Maine Legislature has addressed this issue by tasking MDIFW to work directly with forest landowners lagre and small to work cooperatively to increase the amount of DWAs. If this effort does not succeed, the Legislature indicated that they would consider strengthening land use regulations associated with DWAs.
“DWA management can be beneficial to landowners such as town. Light, frequent harvests can increase the quality and growth potential of woodlands if they are designed to take out the worst and leave the best each entry. In short, growth potential should be continually placed on the better trees. It does mean taking less now for the benefit of more later. This strategy also provides for a steady stream of income.
Selectman Don Bennett, who has worked in the woods for nearly four decades, said the biologist's view was sound.
“You do tend to know where [the deer] end up, and they're smart enough to know that if they get under some fairly heave canopied spruces or first ... it's easier for them to move around. So they overnight there and work out into areas that have been cut and sprouted, and they browse out there.”
As for the IF&W's overall proposal (more-technical details are contained in a letter from Halsey to Sherman Small, the town's consulting forester), Bennett said: “Personally I don't think this is far-fetched, and, quite frankly, the wood might be worth a little more in a year.”
The selectmen agreed to hold off on harvesting for this year, and Doar said the IF&W suggestions would be incorporated into the plan for the following year's cutting.