Manomet and the Forest Guild held a workshop late last month to promote sustainable forest management to safeguard the drinking water supply in Maine’s Sebago Lake watershed. 


The lake provides drinking water for 200,000 residents of Portland and surrounding communities and has traditionally not required filtration because of its pristine water quality. The US Forest Service recently identified the watershed as particularly vulnerable to the effects of development and other land management practices that lead to polluted runoff.


The region’s water quality is so good because upstream areas are heavily forested, providing excellent storm water filtration, flood prevention, and erosion control. However, poor practices at upstream timber harvesting sites can lead to water quality degradation downstream.


On June 28, Manomet and the Forest Guild hosted the sustainable forest management workshop in Norway, Maine. The workshop included a discussion of the “Three Bs” (stream buffers, biomass and best management practices), and a tour of a recently-harvested site owned by Chadbourne Tree Farms near the Crooked River, which empties into Sebago Lake.


The workshop had more than 20 attendees, ranging from foresters to conservation professionals and landowners. A walking tour of the Chadbourne property focused on examples of how the three Bs can be implemented on the ground.


“The site for the workshop highlights a private landowner that is managing his forest very well,” said Manomet Senior Program Leader John Gunn. “We are hoping that the foresters and landowners at this workshop will take what they’ve learned here and apply it to the forests that they own and manage.” 


In the forestry realm, best management practices (BMPs) refer to activities that protect water quality in harvested areas near rivers and streams by preventing sedimentation, maintaining natural water flow and protecting shoreline vegetation. These include constructing bridges and culverts at stream crossings, using sediment barriers at stream edges, and leaving biomass in harvested sites to maintain productivity and wildlife habitat. Manomet and its partners in the watershed have been trying to bring attention to the need to implement these activities through a three-year project funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant focused on creating market incentives for watershed protection. 


“The workshop attendees were very engaged, which helped to create some great discussion within the group,” said Amanda Mahaffey of the Forest Guild.


Maine Forest Service District Forester Merle Ring said that landowners will face challenges in following the BMPs, such as maintenance and upfront expense. As he pointed out, “a culvert is almost always cheaper than a bridge but is not as effective, which is part of the tradeoff.”


But according to Ring, good forest management practices can reduce future expenses by reducing damage from future storm damage.   


“A good time to check if your BMPs are effective is now,” (after a big rain event) Ring said. “It’s way cheaper than dealing with repairing damage down the road.” 


Ring also stressed the value of focusing on the long-term viability of the land being harvested instead of on short-term monetary gain.


“It’s important to switch from short-term fiber-oriented harvesting to long-term sustainability,” Ring said. “That’s what will keep the land productive and protect water quality in the long run.”


– Haley Jordan and Emma Riedel