Local Wood Works to share lessons learned from local food movement

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Aldo Leopold was a renowned author, wildlife ecologist and forester who loved his 80-acre camp in Wisconsin. If he were alive today, he would certainly be celebrating the efforts of Maine’s 90 land trusts and our forestland conservation work. Collectively, we are a voice for a personal land ethic, for stewardship of the Earth’s finite natural resources, and for preservation of wild places in the midst of a civilized landscape. Increasingly, as well-regarded community organizations, we have the capacity to champion Leopold’s conservation principles.

Kennebec Land Trust’s 412,000-acre service region is geographically centered in Augusta, where we are working with many supporters to conserve Howard Hill, the 164-acre wooded hillside that frames our state’s Capitol. In many ways, Howard Hill symbolizes the connection between Maine people and the land.

Over the past 26 years, Kennebec Land Trust has conserved 4,800 acres that will forever benefit the people, wildlife and waters in our communities. As impressive as that work has been, however, our holdings represent just 1 percent of the land in our service region. So, as we continue to permanently protect forestland, wetlands and lake shorelines, farmland and ecologically important reserves, we also have recognized the importance of working with partners who focus on a landscape approach to forestland conservation in our communities.

In 2009, inspired by work at the Harvard Forest and with support from the Maine Forest Service, Kennebec Land Trust organized a forestland conservation lecture series. A year later, the forest service and land trust founded the Kennebec Woodland Partnership, a group that now includes 13 organizations.

The members recognize that our tourism, recreational and wood products economies, as well as our wildlife, water quality and sense of beauty and place, are directly connected to the long-term conservation and stewardship of Kennebec County’s 374,000 acres of forestland. As a diverse partnership, we have developed broad conservation education programs and have addressed many of the common misunderstandings inherent in the use of words like “conservation,” “preservation,” “forest management” and “sustainability.”

Two years ago, with support from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, the Kennebec Land Trust, Maine Forest Service, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, CEI and GrowSmart Maine launched a second forestland conservation project — Local Wood Works. This new initiative aims to highlight the benefits of regionally harvested and locally produced wood products.

Local Wood Works partners developed a set of principles that underscore our commitment to sustainable forestry, strong and resilient local economies, conservation of both working woodlands and ecological reserves, reduced energy consumption and transportation costs based on local products, and providing support to landowners, loggers, processors, manufacturers and consumers.

There are many untold stories of entrepreneurial ventures that source sustainably harvested Maine wood. As in the local food movement, we envision that consumers will be interested in how people and nature are connected to those products.

Maine’s first-ever Local Wood conference will be held Nov. 14 at the Augusta Civic Center and outdoors at several locations on Nov. 15. Presenters will highlight existing programs that encourage local wood economies in New England, growing for value, forestland sustainability, improvement forestry, lessons learned from the local food movement, landowner and business resources and many other topics.

Everyone is welcome — students, loggers, foresters, landowners, innovators, business owners and the general public. For more information, seewww.localwoodworksmaine.com for a schedule of speakers and panelists.

Fifty years from now, our communities’ well-being and our landscapes will reflect today’s ethics, conservation practices and partnerships. There is more hope for a sustainable commons if we work together now.

Theresa Kerchner is executive director of Kennebec Land Trust.