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Cracking the Code on Sustainable Forestry

When other landowners see us making conservation pay, we have an opportunity to share our practices.
- Bill Patterson

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

A dozen years ago, your support helped The Nature Conservancy buy 185,000 acres of working forest along the Upper St. John River in Maine from a large paper company and do the last thing that local resident expected of a conservation group: start harvesting trees.

Why? The Conservancy is focused on finding solutions to the world’s toughest environmental challenges. By using the property as a lab for sustainable forestry, we can find what works for people and nature, and promote those methods to other landowners.

Now, Northern Maine Program Manager Bill Patterson is looking back at what we’ve learned from this experiment in melding forestry and conservation objectives at a scale never before attempted.

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A Q & A with Bill Patterson

Q: Can loggers and conservationists really work together?

Patterson: There was apprehension on the part of the forest industry, but we’ve come to know the community and learned a lot. Mainers care about the forests where they live and work. They want their kids to have access to the land to paddle, camp, hunt and fish. They want timber available for local mills. We’ve shown that conservation and people can coexist and even support the community’s needs.

Q: Can sustainable forestry be economically viable? Why does it matter to a conservation group?

Patterson: We’ve balanced conservation and forest management to average an almost 3 percent annual return on investment from timber—lower than some for-profit harvests but within the range of historical returns, given our conservative forestry. When other landowners see us making conservation pay, we have an opportunity to share our practices. Revenue is then reinvested in the land and community. We’re hiring local people, paying taxes and funding research.

Q: Can forestry be compatible with ecological management?

Patterson: Absolutely. We’ve set aside nearly a third of the forest as ecological reserves where nature can run its course with no harvesting, and our streamside no-cut zones are extra-large to protect water quality and provide an additional network of old forest habitat across the land. And our harvests are designed to consider the entire ecosystem. Cutting creates young forest for animals like the snowshoe hare and Canada lynx, while lighter harvests create large areas of mature forest that benefit species like the American marten.

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