By Andy McEvoy
Most folks see only the swath of forest along the Pine Road on their way into or out of the Common Ground Country Fair. The Low-Impact Forestry Project (LIF) at MOFGA has been working within sight of the Pine Road at various times over the past decade. If you’ve been this way, you’ll have noticed that the south side of the road abutting the railroad tracks is dense, dark and generally growing poorly. That area was intentionally left unmanaged for comparison. The opposite side of the road has towering, well-spaced, pruned white pines. Using the Pine Road as our main axis, along with several other roads extending from it, we have judiciously thinned a large portion of MOFGA’s Common Woodlot. What began as overcrowded pasture pine lacking quality has slowly morphed into a well-maintained white pine woodlot that is growing in value and increasing in ecological diversity. Where we have reduced tree density and opened space in the canopy, patches of regenerating pine have sprung up. Oak seedlings are taking root where they wouldn’t have just 10 years ago.
Over the past decade, most LIF work has been within site of the Pine Road or close to MOFGA’s campus. However, well north of the Pine Road, heading out of the sawmill demonstration area, is a section of woods that neither the LIF Project nor anyone else in recent history has ever managed. This lack of management in no way indicates a precious mature forest spared the fate of harvesting. In this case, much of the parcel continues the same forest type – an abandoned field that has grown up in white pine; but some of this parcel is covered in balsam fir. Much of the pine is wolfish and damaged by weevils. Our forestry plan indicates that we should be doing the same kind of thinning and improving here as we have in the rest of the woodlot.
This section of woods is somewhat removed from the rest of our infrastructure, so we have not made much of an effort to get there until now. The improvised road we have used occasionally in the past to get there is hummocky, quite wet and impossible to work with except in the most frozen scenarios. Even then, the going can be very slow. So, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Maine Forest Service, MOFGA has begun building a small road to the farthest corner of its woodlot. The road building is part of a larger cost-sharing package with NRCS that also includes thinning the forest, pruning trees and controlling the spread of invasive plants. The whole contract will be completed over several years, but by the time this article is published, much, if not all, of the road will be complete. The road will be small and is intended for use by light machinery and draft animals; this is not a log truck road.
Most importantly, the road will prevent and mitigate the effects of soil erosion and compaction. We will install erosion protection where needed, culverts to allow water to move freely under the road, and fabric to maintain the road’s integrity for years. Having this road in place will allow MOFGA to manage remaining portions of its woodland. In addition, the road ensures that we will be able to return to this section of woods repeatedly as the management plan stipulates to continue thinning and improving the quality of tree growth. Eventually, this, and all our permanent roads, will allow MOFGA to keep investing in its woodlot, and one day realize the profit of our investing.
But MOFGA members don’t have to wait generations to see the return on investment. While the economic return might be slow – measured as it is by tree growth – these roads provide access to parts of MOFGA’s grounds that most folks never see. The Common Woodlot has many interesting habitat types. Tracks and signs of many animals lace the forest floor. The quiet, shaded pine forest provides respite from the busy Fair. And signs of a growing, maturing forest achieved with LIF principles are everywhere.
Come and see the Common Woodlot, and especially our new road – it’s not just for logging. While the road itself might not seem exciting, what the road makes possible is.
Andy McEvoy is MOFGA’s low-impact forestry coordinator. Contact him with forestry questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.