Behind the Scenes with American Loggers

What happens when you mix sustainable forestry with reality TV?

Sustainable Forestry on American Loggers

See the American Loggers episode where Maine loggers talk strategy with Conservancy scientists.


“Kinda like Jurassic Park, isn’t it?”
- Jim O'Malley, forester

By Misty Edgecomb

Clambering over snags and stumps along a frozen skidder trail in the St. John River Forest of far northern Maine as the winter sunlight dims to a purple-pink glow, you have to concentrate to keep one triple-sock-swaddled foot in front of the other.

I turn, squint through the tears that have frozen my eyelashes together, and have to look straight up to see the processor—a building-sized logging machine on tank treads cruising along, its cutting arm lurching as it rolls over the uneven ground.

“Kinda like Jurassic Park, isn’t it?” Jim O’Malley says with a grin.

The St. John River Forest is vaguely northwest of the middle of nowhere, closer to Quebec than to any Maine settlement. Jim O’Malley, a forester for Huber Resources, spends his winters here, managing this commercial forest for The Nature Conservancy.

Logging for income while leaving the best forests as ecological reserves and protecting habitat for Canada lynx, American marten and myriad birds is a constant challenge, but one that O’Malley was proud to explain to Eldon Pelletier and his crew on a recent episode of American Loggers.

“Challenges like this don’t come along every day. We’re paying the bills with the areas that other foresters purposely left behind,” O’Malley says.

During one of the coldest stretches of early 2011, O’Malley joined Bill Patterson and Nancy Sferra of The Nature Conservancy, to take their message to American Loggers—a popular Discovery Channel reality show about the big risks and big machinery that punctuate daily life in the Maine woods.

The Nature Conservancy has been harvesting this forest for much of the past ten years, demonstrating that sustainable logging can balance environmental and ecological sustainability—protecting both the wildlife and the people who live in and depend upon the North Maine Woods, Patterson says.

A decade later, other conservation groups are logging in Maine, and Nature Conservancy chapters around the world are looking to the St. John as a model. Yet, for many viewers, the idea of an environmental group harvesting the forest may come as a surprise.

So the Conservancy decided to open its land to the American Loggers production crew.

Sustainable forestry isn’t about putting up fences and keeping people out. At its most basic, it’s about not cutting more trees than you grow, Patterson explains.

“If it’s good for the forest, it’s good for The Nature Conservancy,” O’Malley says.