Landowner Case Studies

Identifying rare and endangered species and financial assistance opportunities

In the fall of 1947 wildfires swept across much of southern Maine. Over 200,000 acres of town, farm, and forest burned including the lands of Richard Rhames’ family in Biddeford. Today Richard, a vegetable farmer, manages the family land, much of which has regrown into forests of poorly formed over-crowded trees. Because of their poor timber value, the regrowing forests have gone mostly untouched since the fires, but it has also been limited in its wildlife value. The forest isn’t old enough to naturally have the large trees, snags, cavity trees, forest gaps, and downed wood that provide extra value to wildlife; and the forest has a closed canopy that limits the growth of berries, flowers, and dense low vegetation that would otherwise provide food and shelter to more diverse wildlife.

With the help of Beginning with Habitat (BwH) resources and the BwH landowner outreach biologist, Richard learned about the unique natural resources he did have and the opportunities available to him. He learned about the rare turtles that lived on his land, the wading bird and waterfowl wetlands, vernal pools, and the streams that run out to the Saco River. Richard also learned that his property was in a focus area for New England cottontail where young forest management is needed. Young forest habitats are necessary for the survival of many declining wildlife, including this state endangered rabbit. He wanted to help the wildlife, but also wanted to improve the timber production on his land to make his ownership more sustainable. For some of the habitats and species like the turtles and vernal pools, it was best to give them their space, whereas active management was necessary to create and maintain the young forest habitat for the cottontails and many associated songbirds.

Working with the BwH biologist, BwH guidance materials, partners at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and a consulting forester, Richard developed a forest management plan that identified critical areas to preserve, areas to cut back to make young forest habitat for the cottontails, and areas for a selection harvest to thin the over-crowded trees so the remaining trees could grow bigger and the understory could grow thicker. This silvicultural management would be a boon for future timber growth, and for more diverse wildlife. The first tract of forest was harvested in late 2017. Richard was so pleased that he has proceeded to implement his management plan with harvests on the rest of his land.

Following management recommendations for the local rare species, the harvests have all occurred in winter when the turtles of the area are safely overwintering in the wetlands. The earliest stages of regeneration in the young forest patches will also offer nesting opportunities for the turtles. Richard’s forester is managing the harvests, and the NRCS is providing financial assistance for the planning and implementation of the forest management, and it started with the maps and guidance available through MDIFW’s Beginning with Habitat program. Richard’s wildlife and forest management goals had always seemed out of reach, but through the programs, partnerships, and resources available to Maine landowners, Richard received the guidance and assistance he needed to improve his family’s forestlands for him and its wild inhabitants.