August 15, 2012

Maine Forests Teacher Tour Adventure

This summer I joined fifteen educators on the Northern Forests Teacher Tour sponsored by the Maine Tree Foundation. I had looked at this option several times over the years and the tour that was based in at Leen's Lodge on the shore of West Grand Lake worked into my summer. We were warmly greeted by Pat Maloney who is the state coordinator of Maine Project Learning Tree, the state forester for Washington County and Project Learning Tree Facilitators who immersed us in activities of creating a forest plot, perusing the Project Learning Tree K-12 guides and practicing lessons using computer access to GIS to view worldwide data.


Early the second morning we traveled to the 100,000+ acre Baskahegan forest that is owned an managed by the Milliken Family. This forest has been certified to follow sustainability and biodiversity practices that show exemplary stewardship. The foresters explained the complex management tools that are used to harvest stands and guarantee the ongoing availability of mature trees. A forester walks each stand of the forest, mapping the types of trees, the health of each one, the deer or wildlife activity and records everything on a GPS device. The information recorded is then uploaded to GIS so that in an office setting a team can click anywhere on a map and see the specific information about a particular stand. 


The actual piece of equipment (called a Processor/Harvester) used to harvest trees costs $200,000-$400,000 and has the capacity to select trees, cut them down, strip the branches and pile them up by size and type. I took this video with my phone:


From the forest we traveled to the Stinson Wind Farm to see some of the windmills that were built on logging roads by First Wind. The 80 foot towers are equipped with anemometers and mini-weather stations that feed information to computers that automatically adjust the turbines or they can be managed offsite from remote computers. 
The second day we traveled to a large investor partnership landholding (600,000+ acres) managed by Wagner Forest Management Company. There we saw more large, sophisticated equipment that selected, cut and piled trees so that the next machine could strip the branches and stack the trees for loading on lumber trucks. Here are photos and videos of a Feller/Buncher and a Delimber at work.

One of the many new learnings for me as we toured these forested roads was how much attention is being paid to the importance of creating culverts under the logging roads that will allow the passage of salmon, brook trout and other water dwellers. Some of the culverts are taller than a person and cost over $20,000 to build. The engineers talked about the efforts being made to develop designs and materials that will make culverts easier to build and more affordable. As teachers we started talking about how we could use this real issue as a design challenge in the classroom setting.

We then went to the Domtar Paper Mill which is owned by Chinese interests. Every few minutes a truck full of logs would pull into the yard, huge sets of logs would be unloaded by some of the world's largest cranes to be processed into chips and then sheets of pulp. The sheets of pulp are stacked and wrapped in a warehouse, trucked to Eastport, ME and loaded into the holds of ships that take them to China. Once in China, the pulp sheets are finished into paper.

Some of the participants on the tour were members of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust which works closely with businesses and residents of this part of Maine. As individuals and a group they work to educate people about the need to preserve shoreline and watersheds for the protection of water, recreation pursuits and the overall health of the environment.

I look forward to connecting what I learned to the 4th grade unit on Trees, Plants and Forest Ecology and other environmental education opportunities in our school.