BETHEL — A planned logging operation in the Bull Branch Brook area of the state-owned Mahoosuc Public Reserved Lands Unit in Riley Township is drawing local criticism for potentially impacting old trees and wild land recreation.

The unit, together with Grafton Notch State Park and conservation easement lands, totals about 45,000 acres.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands is preparing for a 2016 winter harvest in the Bull Branch Brook watershed. Roads and a wood harvesting plan are being prepared in accordance with a 15-year management plan adopted about five years ago, according to the bureau.

Bethel residents Laurie Herron and Ken Hotopp have expressed concern about the impact of the logging — Herron in an Oct. 8 letter to the editor of The Bethel Citizen regarding wild land recreation, and Hotopp in comments after he and other interested people hiked the area recently.

Herron said the state had “dismissed requests for conservation of the area for wild land recreation, and some preliminary roadwork has begun.”

Some of Hotopp’s concerns focused on old trees. He said there are hundreds of large, old trees on a hillside above the Bull Branch area on state land.


“The trunk sizes of many of these canopy trees — sugar maple, red spruce, yellow birch, American beech, and eastern hemlock — are well over 2 feet in diameter, and a few are over 3 feet in diameter,” said Hotopp, who is a conservation biologist. He said the size suggests they are in the range of 150-250 years old, but some may be older.

Hotopp said other features of the area also suggest “a long period without human disturbance. The stands in which these trees occur are uneven-aged, have full-sized snags and logs, canopy trees have storm-damaged crowns, and there are no old cut stumps. These types of stands are the closest thing we have to the appearance and function of the original (pre-European contact) forest.”

The large trees are spread over at least 25 acres, he said.

John Bott, director of special projects/communications for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said that one reason there has been a strong public reaction to the BPL’s recent activities “to re-open the road system in the Bull Branch area is that since the last harvests in this area, in the 1990s, the roads have been used as walking trails.

The Bull Branch road system is referred to as the Bull Branch trail system because the road has been used since the last timber harvest. The bureau typically has a 20-year re-entry schedule for timber harvests. “As the vegetation grows back in the roads, many may not realize this is really a reverting road system that will be used again in the future,” he said.

He said the bureau “has a long history of managing Public Reserved Lands, including the Mahoosuc Unit, for multiple uses, including recreation, wildlife and forestry, and in so doing, accommodating a variety of concerns as it undertakes timber harvests.”


According to Bott, there is a 330-foot wildlife buffer along each side of the Bull Branch, with management designed to maintain the appearance of “an essentially undisturbed forest.” He said there are no designated recreational amenities or trails in the timber harvest areas of the Bull Branch watershed, but the Wright Trail parking area at the edge of it will be protected with a visual buffer, which is “standard procedure for any recreational trails or other defined areas.”

Beyond the 330-foot wildlife and visual protection zone, Bott said, timber harvest is allowed subject to visual considerations.

In the Bull Branch area, Bott said, the harvest is expected to remove low-quality and some mature timber, “leaving a well-stocked stand for the future. Approximately one-third of the stand volume will be removed, using single tree and group selection silviculture; some areas will be untouched, and not all large trees will be removed.”

Bott said that a recent timber inventory conducted by the bureau did not reveal any old growth stands in the area targeted for harvest.

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