BOWERBANK, Maine — Thanks to a cooperative agreement with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Plum Creek Timber Company is managing 16 deer wintering areas, covering more than 31,000 acres in the state.
Despite the harsh winter with a deeper-than-usual snowpack, the areas are thriving, according to Plum Creek wildlife biologist Henning Stabins. “We went through decades of data as far back as the 1950s, whittling down to what the essential areas were,” Stabins said. “In 2007, we completed the deer wintering agreement with guidelines for management. The important aspects are enhancing and maintaining softwood cover. In addition to spruce and fir, we also want to have hemlock and cedar in the mix.”
One of the more unique wintering areas is a 1,486-acre tract in Bowerbank, stretching from Little Grapevine Pond to the main road in the community.
The land was once owned by a lumber mill in Dover-Foxcroft in the early 1900s, which closed in the 1930s. The land changed hands several times and was owned by Huber Timber Corporation and Wagner Forest Products until Plum Creek acquired the tract in 2005.
Since then, about 213 acres have been selectively harvested to encourage “regeneration on a rotating basis,” Stabins explained. “We have a 90-year plan here, which allows for a lengthy rotation of tree harvesting. So this allows the yards to be ‘cycled’ over time.”
IF&W wildlife biologist Doug Kane said that the Bowerbank tract features a lot of “interlocking cover” featuring trees that are at least 35 feet tall. “So the structure is very important. We try to keep at least 50 percent of the complex of the softwood-dominated sites in conforming cover at all times,” he said.
It’s also important to have what Kane describes as “connectivity” where the trees are close enough to provide decent-sized shelter from the elements. “It wouldn’t do us any good in a complex like this [in Bowerbank] to have cover at one end and cover at the other end and nothing in the middle,” he explained. “With snow this deep, the deer would never be able to get back and forth.”
Kane said that the Bowerbank wintering area “has a significant amount of hemlock whereas some of our northern areas do not. We also have a lot of cedar here — another highly-valued species … This is very-digestible, high-quality forage for them.”
Stabins said that the entire Bowerbank tract “has been walked through and each forest stand has been assessed for deer habitat value … Then all of that has been mapped.”
So far, 120 acres have been harvested but the hemlock and cedar “were all retained,” Stabins said. “The trees that were taken out were the hardwoods.”
Striking a balance between logging operations and deer habitat isn’t easy, Stabins and Kane acknowledged, but it appears to be working well at the 16 wintering areas managed by Plum Creek.
The corporation is one of Maine’s largest private landowners with approximately 865,000 acres in six counties. They are currently using 55 logging contractors who employ approximately 225 people, according to Mark Doty, Plum Creek’s community affairs manager.