A Working Forest

The St. John River Project: Balancing Conservation and Forest Management Since 1999, a report on the 12 years of sustainable forestry in the St. John Forest Preserve.

See Protecting Nature, Harvesting Timber, in Northern Woodlands magazine.

The morning bell rings at 4:30 a.m., and the crew awakes to darkness. They wolf down breakfast in the mess hall, then don layers of wool and high-tech thermals before trudging out into the January chill. They will work the season’s harvest, then return after dark for dinner and an early bed time. For the length of the winter logging season in the St. John River Forest, these crews sleep at camp every weekday night and return to their homes and families in Northern Maine and nearby Quebec each weekend. 

Benefiting Conservation and the Regional Economy

The communities and culture of Maine’s North Woods have long been closely intertwined with the logging industry. Some even claim that the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan called Northern Maine his home. The question many ask is this: can we support the economy, culture and communities of the North Woods as we move forward with conservation and environmental stewardship? The Nature Conservancy believes that this is possible, and that conservation is most successful when it integrates the needs of regional communities.

Significant portions of the St. John River Forest are managed as forever-wild lands, allowing those areas to exist and thrive as nature intends. The Conservancy manages the remaining acreage in a way that benefits both nature and the economy of human communities nearby. The forest was originally owned by paper mills, and the Conservancy continues timber operations on a portion of the lands. The acres still harvested are all certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), meaning that state-of-the-art sustainable practices are used. In fact, the forestry operation in the Forest serves as a model of sustainable silviculture that the Conservancy hopes can be applied worldwide.

“If the Conservancy can’t deliver FSC forestry, then no one can,” says Jim O’Malley, St. John district forester for J.M. Huber Resources, which currently manages the forestry program in the Forest. “Looking back, there was a lot of apprehension on the part of the forestry industry up here when the deal closed. They saw NGOs as groups that complained to the government about how forests were managed. Now, the industry respects that the Conservancy works like businesses do — they buy the land themselves and manage it.

O’Malley is quick to share the pride and pleasure he takes in his job. He says that receiving FSC certification is rewarding, but he is just as proud of the economic viability of the operations. “We are generating a reasonable rate of return,” he explains. “And  we’re doing exemplary work in the field that gets noticed by others.”


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