It’s a warm, sunny late September day. The leaves on the trees are golden yellow, with splashes of red and orange. Further down a gravel road, Steve Tatko, AMC’s Vice President of Conservation Research and Land Management, points out a cluster of boulders blocking an overgrown walking trail.
“All of these have to come out,” he says. One of the many goals here is to have the trails re-opened to the public.
I’m standing on land that’s part of the Barnard Forest, which AMC and The Conservation Fund are working to acquire and permanently protect. Situated near Brownville, Maine, the Barnard Forest is the newest part of the Maine Woods Initiative.
In alignment with AMC’s mission to foster the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the outdoors, the Maine Woods Initiative offers trails and lodges for folks to explore and enjoy the outdoors. But there’s so much more.
The MWI project balances land conservation, recreation, and responsible forestry in the 100-Mile Wilderness region. It offers a different way to think about forest management which shows how forestry can promote ecological health and resilience while still playing a part in local economies and communities.
Land conservation does not have to be an “either-or” that pits wilderness against timber production. This narrative, though popular, can be harmful, especially for local communities.
Roughly 90% of the state of Maine is forested — the highest percentage of any state. Forest products are one of the biggest contributors to Maine’s economy, contributing to over 31,000 full and part-time jobs in 2019. Wood products are the foundations of the economy in Piscataquis County, where MWI is located, and most likely will be for a long time.
Through MWI, AMC is upholding the local economy while maintaining nearly half of the forest in a natural condition which emphasizes the restoration of older, more diverse forests. This protects ecological, scenic, and recreational resources.
Careful, conservative timber harvests at MWI seek to rehabilitate this former heavily harvested industrial timber land while continuing to support the local economy. Instead of focusing on maximizing timber production, AMC harvests less, focusing on maintaining ecosystems in their full complexity. This helps forests recovering from industrial clear-cuts, and forests planted just for logging, which make up some of MWI’s acquired land.
“You can think about it like prescriptions,” Steve Tatko explains. “We’re taking the worst and saving the best [of the forest]. We try to find the right prescription that fits the forest conditions we’re seeing, and then we figure out what exactly we need the logger to do to achieve that result.”
When AMC does choose to selectively log forests, we work with local logging and road maintenance contractors, like our forester consultant at Huber Resources Corporation, to ensure our forestry remains part of the local community.
“We don’t own any equipment,” Tatko says. “The logger does all the work. They have to understand the science, they have to be able to understand everything we understand. So those partnerships are critical.”
All income is reinvested back into MWI programs and offsets land ownership costs.
Responsible forestry goes beyond ecosystem health. It also contributes to combatting the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration.
Reducing Our Carbon Footprint
MWI’s forests play an important role in reducing AMC’s, and the region’s, carbon footprint.
In 2019, AMC’s Board of Directors adopted a “Net Zero by 2050” organizational priority. “Net Zero” means balancing our greenhouse gas emissions with removals from the atmosphere.
AMC was steadily working to decrease emissions even before the 2019 Net Zero priority. Over the past 20 years, we’ve improved building insulation, heating, and lighting efficiency to reduce energy needs, purchased more efficient vehicles including electric vehicles, reduced staff travel, and installed and purchased renewable energy.
There’s another way to balance emissions and removals: carbon offsets.
Forests sequester carbon, meaning they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as organic carbon in their leaves, branches, stems, bark, and roots. When they shed material or die, carbon is stored as dead organic matter like leaves and twigs on the forest floor or in dead wood and soil.
As forests grow, they store more carbon. If the rate of carbon storage is greater than the rate of carbon loss from the forest —through decomposition, burning, or harvesting — then the forest is a carbon “sink” and helps reduce the CO2 in our atmosphere.
AMC owns forests – and we make sure to protect them. Could our forests be sequestering enough carbon to balance our total emissions?
David Publicover, AMC Senior Staff Scientist, did the math. AMC’s emissions from buildings and vehicles average around 1,500 metric tons of CO2 per year. He estimated that our Katahdin Ironworks (KIW) Ecological Reserve – less than 10% of our total forest ownership — sequesters at least 10 times that much carbon per year.
The KIW reserve is just one of four verified carbon offset projects on AMC land. The carbon credits generated by these projects will help AMC offset its carbon footprint — and could help other organizations offset their emissions, too.
The story doesn’t end there, though. AMC isn’t taking the “easy way” out — we continue to work to lower our emissions, rather than simply offset them.
“The world can’t offset its way out of the climate crisis – our actual emissions have to [keep] going down,” Publicover says. “If they’re not, we’re failing. That’s a critical part of our Net Zero goals.”
At MWI, recreation, conservation, and responsible forestry come together to create a one-of-a-kind project.
The hope, Publicover says, is to create a model that can be looked at by other conservation organizations and the forest landowners nationwide.
Part of that model is re-writing the narrative surrounding forestry. In the Northeast, forestry is deeply intertwined with local economies and livelihoods. Supporting that community culture doesn’t have to mean industrial clear-cuts or monoculture plantations.
Instead, outdoor lovers can explore the trails, which are part of forests managed for ecosystem health and resilience. Responsible forestry has a key role to play in re-defining what landscape use can look like.
As a result, both forest and people win.