Forest Stewardship Council auditor checks out Wagner’s timber harvest sites

Forest Stewardship Council auditor checks out Wagner’s timber harvest sites

By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun

ERROL — John Auel of Mississippi spent three consecutive days earlier this month conducting a Forest Stewardship Council audit on lands managed by Wagner Forest Management, Ltd. Headquartered in Lyme, Wagner manages 2.7 million acres of forest in northeastern United States and eastern Canada, including 500,000 acres in northern New Hampshire and parts of western Maine.

Auel audited 15 logging sites, both active and closed out, interviewed 14 Wagner foresters and five loggers, and reviewed company policies and procedures, as well as detailed forest management plans. Ruel randomly chose the visitation sites from a list of all of Wagner’s harvest locations in New Hampshire and Maine.

On Friday, Sept. 8, the independent auditor, contracted through the Rainforest Alliance of Richmond, Vt., focused on timber harvests that Wagner recently managed or is now managing. He also visited Wagner’s log yard, a concentration yard to which logs are hauled from the acres under its management.

Auel explained that this year he is doing an annual “surveillance” audit. Each year, a portion of the 190 FSC indictors (of sustainability) are audited, covering 25 percent of them, some critical. In the fifth year, all the applicable indicators are covered in a longer “re-assessment” audit. Auel, who has been an auditor for a decade, earned bachelor and master of science degrees in forestry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and last year, a Ph.D. in forestry from Mississippi State University.

At each stop, the Wagner forester in charge of that job discussed the written harvest plan and maps with Auel, gaining an understanding of all the designated segregated areas, including individually selected trees as well as clearcuts, brook crossings and vernal pools. He asked questions about how harvest decisions had been made and also checked to see if the plan had been followed and how these decisions, based on principles of sustainability, are expected to play out in the future.

Third-party verification is crucial to the integrity of the Forest Stewardship Council system, the FSC-US website points out.

Gordon Gamble, whose responsibilities at Wagner include monitoring both the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards, said that an Forest Stewardship Council audit includes an opportunity for either positive or negative comments to be made by stakeholders: those with whom Wagner does business, state forestry officials, abutters and neighbors.

“We provide auditors with an extensive list from which they select some, and the Rainforest Alliance has their own list from which they seek comments before each audit begins,” Gamble said.

Auel noted that the active timber harvest off Middle Dam Road in Magalloway Plantation, Maine, northwest of Errol, included a category 3 clearcut on which a number of mature seed trees were left standing. The skidder operator hauled out three different species to the edge of the road, one of which was tamarack, a deciduous softwood species. The harvest opened up a view to the west of the ledgy, forested Diamond Peaks in Dartmouth’s Second College Grant.

Trevor Lewis, the Wagner forester in charge, explained to Auel that the state’s soils map had contained an error, and that, in fact, there is no stream to cross as the map indicated. Wagner would let the state know, he said.

When the site inspection was over, Lewis shook hands with everyone on hand, explaining that not only was he about to be married but had also accepted a new job with a regional log broker.

Next, Auel inspected a narrow timber harvest that was completed in the unincorporated Place of Millsfield, between Route 26 and Clear Stream. North regional forester Maggie Machinist of the Division of Forests and Lands granted Wagner a waiver to allow the harvest to take place, this because of the potential that the mature spruce could fall over, causing a safety hazard to both the highway itself as well as electric lines.

Wagner forester Josh Demers explained that he had individually marked trees for cutting. The cut-to-length system used had allowed the machine operator to lay down branches so that the machinery could ride more lightly on the land. Wagner left a folding bridge in place over the stream, allowing sightseers to drive up to a log landing with a good view of the Granite Reliable Wind Farm in Millsfield.

Auel walked both up and down this unusual cut that appears to be only slightly wider than a woods road. He asked a number of questions and took a close look at the measures used to avoid erosion on a small brook crossing.

The final site Auel drove to that day was in Canton, Maine., south of Rumford, Maine., where Catalyst Paper, the Canadian owner of the Rumford paper mill, is planning to install a tissue machine that calls for a $56 million investment, plus state tax credits.

Wagner Forester Mark Armstrong explained to Auel that three utility lines cross the 600-acre tract: two Central Maine Power transmission lines, plus an underground pipeline of the interstate Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS), which had to be carefully protected by mats during the timber harvest.

Armstrong said that company policy also called for no cutting at all with 25 feet of the center of the vernal pools on the property and only 50 percent of the standing volume within 150 feet of the center.
The harvest included a category 1 clearcut that required a separation zone plus a selective cut with individually marked trees.

Armstrong said that when he spotted a scarlet tanager he consulted a bird expert on when its nesting season would end and delayed cutting in that area until after that date. The bright-colored species favors large, unfragmented oak forests.

Auel asked the forester to discuss how Wagner’s silvicultural decisions would affect the forest’s density over time.

Auel also visited the log yard that has been in place on Route 26 for five years. Having a large log yard, complete with scales, allows Wagner to better grade, classify and sort logs for multiple markets, said Wagner regional manager Scott Rineer of Errol.

Rather than driving from site to site, buyers prefer stopping at one central location to view the range of products, from high-value veneer to low-grade pallet logs, cut on sites that Wagner manages.

Logs are sold to sawmills and other wood-dependent facilities, including furniture factories, across New England, eastern Canada, and Asia. Nearly every log is uniquely and individually tagged utag, allowing Wagner to maintain a chain of custody certification. A few non-certified logs are piled up on the far edges of the yard, in essence, as part of Wagner’s “good neighbor” policy to accommodate small-sized logging contractors.

The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association recently sponsored a report researched by Daniel Lee and Ben Amsden of Plymouth State University documenting the Granite State’s robust sawmill industry.

Rineer explained that maintaining a log yard not only has increased the camaraderie among the Wagner foresters but has also ramped up scaling consistency and maximized veneer log identification. It has opened up training opportunities, including collaboration with the state Division of Forests and Lands to learn about the emerald ash borer and other invasive forest pests.

Other Wagner personnel were also on hand for all or part of the day: New England regional manager Jerry Poulin and forester Ray Berthiaume of Lancaster.

Before the Rainforest Alliance agreed to allow a reporter to observe its inspection process, Edith Tucker had to sign its confidentiality agreement, promising not to reveal any proprietary information.