Managing for a Mix

Everett Towle is retired, but plenty active. As a sixth generation resident of Buxton, Maine, Towle inherited several parcels of forestland. He added more over the years, and now owns eight different properties totaling about 225 acres. “I think I’ve got all I can handle right now,” he says with a laugh.

Managing forestland is nothing new to Towle, who earned a degree in forestry from the University of Maine in 1956. A long career with the U.S. Forest Service took him to Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, California, and several states in the Northwest, before landing him in Washington D.C. in the role of senior forester for comprehensive planning. After retiring in 1990, Towle returned home to Maine, where he still loves to craft forest management plans for his own land, as well as those of other local landowners, municipalities, and conservation groups.

“One thing I try to do that most foresters don’t is to have at least two canopies, and sometimes even three canopies, in any area. That way, when I take off the top canopy, the second one will take over. I’ve found that this approach, you might call it shelterwood, works great for me,” said Towle. He first experimented with this method about 20 years ago.

Towle said there is no one right formula for how to achieve this mix of different canopies; it all depends on the individual site. Nor is it always feasible. “It might not be possible to make that happen in one generation, but that’s what I like, so if I get a chance, I try to do that,” he said. “I go look at the trees and see what they need. I don’t pre-judge.”

Achieving a mix of species is also important to Towle. “I’m in the white pine belt, so that’s the major species. There’s a lot of hemlock – and hemlock and pine like each other, which is good. The ideal is to have a third species, and, for me, I like oak. When you can grow those three together, that’s a lot of fun,” he said. Towle explains that he manages his woodlots to try to achieve that mix where he can, but doesn’t force the issue. “I don’t try to do the impossible. If the potential is there, then that’s what I try to do.”

The quality of the soil often determines the best way to manage a woodlot, Towle explains. “If I have clay soils – and you usually have some of that in any woodlot – I give those areas low priority. I pretty much write those areas off for wildlife. If there’s some activity in there that needs to be done for wildlife, I would do that. But otherwise I focus on other areas.”

Recently, Towle thinned an 18-acre plantation in a tract of about 100 acres that he purchased just a year ago. The result is impressive, he said, in large part due to the logger on the job. “A good logger is probably the most important thing there is in forest management,” said Towle, adding that Bob Carr, based in Limington, Maine, is among the best he’s ever worked with. “I had a client who went to look at the work I had done. He said, ‘I want my land to look just like that.’ I love to hear that.”

Over the decades, Towle says he’s seen a change in how landowners manage their woodlots. There was a time when many were content to let the land sit, rather than proactively working to manage their forests. “That’s still sometimes a problem, but not like it used to be,” he said. He points to the dramatic growth of the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine as evidence that more forest owners are now interested in – and educating themselves about – forest management. “And more women are involved now. And more families are involved. They’re all proud of their land.”

This series is underwritten by the Plum Creek Foundation, in keeping with the foundation’s focus on promoting environmental stewardship and place-based education in the communities it serves.

 
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