Forest Services

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Exact Creation Date




Twenty-three percent of Maine’s 17.6 million acres of forest land are owned by family woodland owners (4.1 million acres), largely in southern and central Maine. About 74,000 family woodland owners own between 10 acres and 1,000 acres. Over 90% of these ownerships are 100 acres or less in size.1 These numbers highlight the challenges our District Foresters have in reaching that many people. The primary ownership objectives of these landowners focus more on privacy, recreation, scenic beauty, and wildlife habitat than on commercial timber production; however, many of these landowners have conducted timber harvests in the past. As a rule, most family woodland owners do not have a forest management plan, and they have not sought professional advice about forest management (although owners of larger parcels are more likely to have a management plan and use professional assistance).2 Maine Forest Service (MFS) data show that about 32% of family woodland owners have a timber harvest conducted with the involvement of a licensed forester annually.3 This figure has changed little in the past decade.

To further encourage active management and leverage the work of the District Foresters, MFS works in partnership with many organizations and agencies. These include, but are not limited to, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Maine Woodland Owners, Maine Tree Farm Program, Forest Resources Association, Certified Logging Professional Program, Maine Audubon, Forest Stewards Guild, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Department of Environmental Protection. These partnerships help family woodland owners through educational programs, neighbor to neighbor meetings, local woodland tours, and free professional expertise.

Maine’s forests are in good shape, but Maine’s family woodland owners face many challenges common to all forest owners (e.g., insect and disease outbreaks). However, their issues and concerns often differ from those of larger ownerships. Some of the challenges family woodland owners face include, but are not limited to:

  • Pressure to convert their forest land to other uses: Notwithstanding the recent recession, land prices in southern and central Maine far exceed in most cases what someone would generally expect to pay for timberland as an investment. Many family woodland owners hold and buy additional forest land for other non-investment reasons that nonetheless achieve the public policy goal of keeping Maine’s forests as forests, but they, too, face ongoing pressure to do something else with their land.
  • Property taxes: Property taxes on forest land assessed at its just value can create a significant burden in terms of carrying costs, particularly where high amenity values exist (e.g., water frontage, scenic views). While the Tree Growth Tax Law program provides for enrolled land to be valued according to its ability to grow trees for commercial use, many family woodland owners do not participate in the program.
  • Parcelization: The average parcel size of forest ownership continues to decrease. Numerous studies clearly demonstrate that landowner commitment to active forest management decreases with decreasing parcel size, increasing land values, proximity to roads, and higher population density.
  • Lack of low-grade wood markets: The loss or constriction of several low-grade wood markets, primarily for biomass and pulpwood grades, has affected all woodland owners, but family woodland owners are particularly impacted, as strong low-grade wood markets help them invest in improving the quality of their woodlots. The March 2020 explosion at the Pixelle mill in Jay has exacerbated this situation.
  • Climate change and its attendant impacts: Climate change is real, and it has already begun to affect Maine’s woodlands and challenge family woodland owners. These challenges include, but are not limited to, increased presence of invasive plant and insect species, particularly following timber harvesting, and frequent major disturbance events, such as wind and rainstorms.
  • Access to carbon markets: Family woodland owners also lack easy access to emerging carbon markets due to the high transaction costs and complex program structures; however, Governor Mills has established a forest carbon task force to try to address this issue.

Numerous studies over the years have found that family woodland owners place a high value on one-on-one access to a forester from a state forestry agency to walk their land with them and discuss their management options. That finding – and the challenges enumerated above – are the reason that the District Forester program provides a critically important service.



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