FARMINGTON — James Bergeron was selected as Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District’s 2018 Outstanding Conservation Cooperator of the Year.

Bergeron purchased his woodlot in 1999 after his home in Eustis burned. He built his home off-grid on the new site in 2000. The 69-acre property is located in Dallas Plantation, approximately five miles east of Rangeley.

In 2009, Bergeron hired Bob Carlton, a consulting forester, to develop a Forest Stewardship Plan for the woodlot, which consists of 58 acres of productive forestland and 10 acres of wetlands. Bergeron was also in close contact with Maine Forest Service District Forester Patty Cormier. His management objectives were to keep the forestland healthy and in continuous production.

Once the Forest Stewardship Plan was developed, Bergeron began implementation. The stewardship plan listed management practices recommended for a 10-year period, 2009-2019. He contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and requested technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Working with NRCS personnel, Bergeron and his contractor built over one mile of forest trails and nearly a half mile of gravel access road, including the installation of culverts and rock-armored crossings. He took special care to seed and hay mulch all bare soil after road and trail construction. The proper installation of roads, trails, and crossings had the dual benefit of allowing him to better manage the woodlot while inhibiting erosion.

To further protect the roads and woodlot, in 2013 Bergeron installed an access control gate to prevent unauthorized motor vehicles from accessing the site and causing erosion.

Between 2013 and 2016, Bergeron spent many hours in his woodlot performing tree thinning to selectively remove unhealthy and unwanted trees to improve the growth rate and health of the remaining trees. Nearly 10 acres of forest stand improvement were accomplished, with Carlton and his two sons, Jake and Nick, helping as well. Some of the acreage was also completed with a team of oxen to leave minimal impact on the land.

Maintaining and improving wildlife habitat throughout the entire property was also important to Bergeron. In 2014, he built 10 brush piles (or “rabbitats,” a term coined by Bergeron), installed five nest boxes, and created 10 snag trees to improve habitat for a variety of wildlife species. He also attended a pond construction and maintenance workshop hosted by the Franklin County SWCD and featuring NRCS engineer Candi Gilpatric, after which he constructed a large deep pond on his property that now sustains brook trout and other wildlife.

In 2017, a new steel and concrete bridge for aquatic organism passage was built on a tributary to the South Branch of the Dead River (and the outlet of Dill Pond). The old steel culvert was undersized and often washed out during large storm events, resulting in the deposition of large volumes of sediment and gravel in the stream channel. The culvert was also perched at the outlet, making it difficult or impossible for aquatic organisms to pass. The new bridge allows for restored natural stream functions and unimpeded aquatic organism passage.

Bergeron is continuing to expand his conservation work on the property and has signed up for an updated Forest Management Plan that will focus on wildlife enhancement opportunities under the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Maine Mountain Collaborative for Fish & Wildlife. He has also signed up for the EQIP Pollinator Initiative to implement practices to benefit pollinator species on the property.

He has also been involved in the planning and implementation of the conservation practices on his land, and is always eager and appreciative of any and all technical and financial assistance he receives from agencies and professionals. In fact, Bergeron has named each of the trails on his property after the resource professionals that have assisted him along the way.