In early summer of 1997, when I was executive director of NFWF, and recently moved to Maine, I got a call out of the blue from John Cashwell inviting me to tour sections of the Pingree family’s million acres of forest lands managed by Seven Islands forest Land Company. I had never heard of the Pingrees, having grown up in coastal Maine remote from inland forests, and I knew little about the state of Maine’s forest lands. That trip with Caswell opened my eyes, and changed my life and brought Maine forests into focus as a natural resource that I have supported ever since.
On Tuesday 21 August, Brie Costello and I drove to Rangeley to meet Alex Ingraham, president of Pingree Associates, to tour the four townships (Oxbow, Upper Cupsuptic, Lower Cupsuptic, Davis) which lie north of Oquossoc and Rangeley.
Twenty years ago on my Cashwell tour, I was impressed by the Pingree family’s forest stewardship. They were early enrollees in both competing forest management certification programs; a few years later they committed to the largest conservation easement in the U.S. 762,000 acres! In the forest they were harvesting selectively with few clearcuts, often taking smaller size trees; they put in road culverts to maximize fish passage, and their forests abounded with wildlife.
Alex is only 30 and has taken the helm of Pingree Associates a year ago after several years of work in western forests in Oregon. He worked in the Pingree forests through high school and college and is currently the only member of his family, which is in its 8th generation of ownership, dating back to David Pingree’s initial forest acquisitions in the 1830s and 1840s, to work for Pingree Associates.
As we headed north into Lower Cupsuptic township through a swath of green, Alex explained that Seven Islands employs 4 foresters in the Rangeley district. He went on to say that once the trees are harvested and sorted according to type and destination; softwood goes locally to Stratton mill, pulp to Sappi, Verso or Rumford mills, and hardwood logs to Pingree mills in Ashland. We looked at Big Falls on the Cupsuptic River and Alex explained that spruce budworm –a forest pest that erupts every 30-40 years- is a misnomer as the bugs feed preferentially on fir trees, which are less merchantable and are harvested at 45-55 years, spruce at 60-70 years, white pine at 90-100 years. Every summer Pingree hosts family members for forest tours with a high level of family members participating.
We next watched a balsam, fir cut with the contractor, Greg Adams', new Scorpion King Machine which crawls through the woods on tank like treads and both cuts and delimbs trees in 30 second sequences. The Scorpions are state of art tree harvesting machines made by Finnish company Ponsse; they cost a cool $750,000. Pingree has long term contractors, the Nichols Brothers logging, who have worked on Pingree lands for around 43 years.
We inspected washed out bridges from a July 2nd storm which dumped 6 inches of rain and took out 3 or more bridges. Repairing bridges and culverts cost over $100,000, which blew out the Rangeley sector budget for the year. We circled back along the Kennbago river and ended the day at Bald Mountain camps for a beer while overlooking Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Pingree associates is a gem of family stewardship and one of our state’s and nation's best forest managers. My hat is off in admiration.
Pingree Associates exemplifies why we built Maine LandCAN. Private sector ownership and stewardship today is often vastly superior to public ownership and management as a glance westward to fires in California and throughout public forests in the west reminds us. Pingree is providing jobs and bolstering the rural economy of Maine and is training a significant workforce of forest managers. LandCAN provides an information platform so that other forest managers can follow this path.