Timber Harvesting in Wildlife Management Area Generates Controversy

Jamies Pond“We want to create the best wildlife habitat we can.” Those words, from Keel Kemper, a wildlife biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, summed up his agency’s goals for the Jamies Pond Wildlife Management Area in Hallowell, and helped critics understand a proposed timber harvesting plan that has generated quite a bit of concern and controversy.

The Jamies Pond Wildlife Management Area is 915 acres in size and features a 107 acre pond as well as 808 acres of upland habitat with is predominantly mixed wood forest. This WMA is set to undergo its first timber harvesting project in more than a decade, covering about 70 percent of the area, prompting questions from folks who enjoy this area about the size and scope of the initiative.

I first heard of the controversy from Ted Elliot, whose family lives near James Pond, a place he hikes on a regular basis. After digging into the plan, and getting lots of information from Keel Kemper and Ryan Robicheau, DIF&W’s Wildlife Management Section Supervisor, I have to report that the agency has done a good job of creating their harvesting plan. They consulted with a range of people from local conservation commissions in Hallowell and Manchester to officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, and have been working on the plan for more than 3 years.

Unfortunately, the process did not include some folks who most value this wonderful place: neighbors, camp owners, and people in the area who love to spend time here, fishing, kayaking, hiking, picnicking, and just enjoying this beautiful place. Quite a few years ago Jon Lund, the longtime publisher of The Maine Sportsman and a former Maine Attorney General and legislator, led an effort that created a lot of hiking trails at Jamies Pond. And those trails helped make Jamies Pond a very popular place.

That has made this an unusual Wildlife Management Area, many of which have no trails at all. I think the very active public use of the WMA was overlooked in all of the planning – mostly because most WMAs don’t have this kind of public use.

WMA Management Mission

DIF&W’s mission on WMAs is very clearly focused on wildlife habitat management, with public use only allowed when it does not interfere with habitat and wildlife management. The plan for Jamies Pond spells this out:

“Provide for consumptive and non-consumptive public recreational opportunities when they do not conflict with wildlife management objectives. It has been department policy to allow public access and recreational uses on WMA’s when it does not conflict with wildlife management objectives.  These recreational opportunities consist of consumptive (i.e. hunting, fishing), and nonconsumptive (i.e. hiking, biking) uses.  Intensive recreational opportunities such as overnight camping are generally not permitted activities on Wildlife Management Areas.”

I believe a lot of people don’t realize that WMAs are not managed, primarily, for public use. On most WMAs, this is not an issue. But Jamies Pond is very popular, and lots of people enjoy this place, making it unique in the WMA arena.

The Plan

I credit DIF&W with scheduling two important gatherings, after questions were raised, to explain their plan to members of the public who have expressed concerns. A good group turned out on Tuesday morning for a gathering at Jamies Pond, where DIF&W wildlife biologists and foresters outlined the plan, answered questions, and led a walk through some of the area where trees will but cut. I was there, along with a local news reporter and photographer, to hear the presentation and see the area.

I did ask a few questions at this gathering. One was about the plan’s principle focus on improving deer wintering habitat. We have plenty of that in central Maine, and I wondered why we needed to cut these trees at Jamies Pond to create more. And when we got to one area where they plan to cut mature oak trees to benefit hemlocks, I was astonished, because I’ve always thought mature oaks are critically important for many species, including deer.

Keel, Ryan, and Eric Hoar, a DIF&W forester, answered my questions, although I am still surprised by the plan to cut mature oaks.

DIF&W also hosted a public meeting in Hallowell on Wednesday night to present their plan and answer questions, and the turnout was a good indication that lots of folks in that area are concerned.

If you would like to read the Jamies Pond harvesting plan, I have posted it on my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com,  in the Outdoor News section.

Lessons Learned

I’ve talked with Judy Camuso, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, about this project, and my belief that the public – including sportsmen – should be informed of tree cutting and other plans for Wildlife Management Areas – and given a chance to comment if they wish. Judy agreed.

After all, we own these areas, and we have certainly have a stake in what is done there. I don’t think the outcry about the Jamies Pond plan would have been nearly so great, if the public had been informed earlier in the process, and given a chance to ask questions.

That’s not to say everyone is happy with the plan. One key critic told me she is “resigned” to the harvest, but not supportive of it. Let’s hope that, after the harvest is completed, everyone agrees that it did not impact the beauty of this very special place.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.