GORHAM — The Gorham Town Forest Committee met by Zoom on May 17 to formally accept the Forest Stewardship Plan for the Tinker Brook tract nearly a year after the plan was completed by town forester Haven Neal.

Having such a plan prepared and accepted was one of the requirements of adding the 2,020-acre tract to the existing Paul T. Doherty Town Forest, enlarging it to 5,666 acres.

Gorham acquired these new acres from The Conservation Fund, a non-profit conservation organization. Funding came from several sources, without tapping local taxpayer dollars.

The May 17 meeting was very brief and the forest committee will meet again to discuss the plan and then schedule a public hearing.

Neal completed the plan July 31, 2020, but further steps were delayed because the town was dealing with issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, explained select board chairman Mike Waddell, who also chairs the forest committee. Its other members are Lee Carroll, Glen Eastman, Steve Malespini and Ted Miller.

The northern-most point of the Tinker Brook Tract is on the Berlin-Gorham line, Neal writes.

The property extends south for 3.04 miles to a point approximately half a mile north of Route 2. Some rocky cliffs provide habitat for bobcat and American pine martin.

The Conservation Fund acquired the tract in 2014 from Yankee Forest LLC as an “interim hold,” giving the town time to secure grant funding.

The Conservation Fund and its New Hampshire-Vermont representative Sally Manikian of Shelburne worked with the town to successfully achieve that goal. TCF also hired LandVest, Inc., of Bethel, Maine, to manage the property during this interim period. Yankee Forest had bought the tract in 1996 and only held it for eight years.

Prior to that, the property had been owned and managed as an industrial forest for some 75 years by the Brown Company and its successors, the pulp and paper company that formerly dominated the Androscoggin Valley economy.

Adjacent forestland includes the 7,500-acre Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin to the north, the 755-acre Moose Brook State park in Gorham, and non-industrial forest to the east.

The 2,440-foot Sugar Mountain summit in the northwest corner is the tract’s highest point, and its lowest is its southwest boundary corner with Moose Brook State Park at 1,013 feet.

Neal details the research findings of a USDA Natural Resources Conservation project completed in the 1970s.

The center of the Tinker Brook Tract, from north to south, is dominated by three soil types that make up 1,211 acres — more than half of the 2,020-acre property. “These soils are listed in the 1A category of The Important Soils Groups, considered the most productive in New Hampshire for tree growth,” he pointed out in his report.

There are two entry points into the forest: a southern entry point from the Gorham Sand and Gravel Co. yard and second one at the northeast end off Corbin Street in Berlin.

Neal noted that an all-season road reached by the first entry point “is in generally good condition, although there is some center erosion due to heavy ATV use.”

A bridge to which the second entry point leads “must be rebuilt before vehicle traffic (for logging-related activities) can resume,” Neal said. The tract’s road system “will require some repair and maintenance work, such as ditch repair, culvert repair or replacement, and general surface work. Much of the repair work is due to heavy ATV use.”

The Tinker Brook tract, like the longtime town forest, will provide a number of benefits to the town and its citizens, Neal pointed out.

“Watershed protection is the top goal,” Neal stated.

About 300 acres on the west side of the property are within the Perkins Brook watershed, which is the town’s primary water supply. Whenever forest management activities are undertaken in this area, the detailed practices and guidelines for water quality protection established in the 2017 Forest Stewardship Plan will be in effect. No motorized OHRVs are allowed in this area; it is only open to non-motorized recreational uses. Timber harvesting will only be done in the winter under frozen-ground conditions.

Sustainable timber management is a goal that will provide income to help the town pay for projects and offset property taxes. Silvicultural practices should ensure a dependable long-term supply of high-quality forest products.

Except for the 300-acre Perkins Brook watershed, the Tinker Brook tract is open for both motorized and non-motorized recreation: snowmobiles, ATVs, hunting, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking and wildlife viewing.

A goal is to maintain wildlife habitat when planning forest management activities to help sustain the broad range of species that traditionally live in the region.

Another goal is for the town to make this property available as an educational resource so both children and adults can learn about natural resources.

The systematic point sample forest inventory that LandVest completed is also provided in the appendix.

According to that inventory, 85 percent of the forest cover consists of hardwoods with a species composition of beech, sugar maple, red maple, yellow birch, paper birch, white ash, quaking aspen and bigtooth aspen.

Small numbers of basswood, black cherry, hornbeam and gray birch are also present. Non-commercial species, such as pin cherry and striped maple are present small quantities. Softwoods make up 15 percent of the cover: balsam fir, hemlock, white pine and red spruce.

“This is a young and predominantly northern hardwood forest,” Neal points out.

Timber management goals must take into account that much of the forest has seen as many as four harvest entries over the past 75 years, with the most recent in the decade after the highly destructive Winter 1998 Ice Storm.

The desired schedule for the next five years is an annual winter harvest of 1,000 to 2,000 cords on the entire nearly 6,000-acre forest. Factors such as weather or low market prices could disrupt this schedule.

Neal also points out that there are a number of unsanctioned trails in use on the forest.

”These will need to be evaluated to determine their origin and if they are appropriate,” he notes. “If necessary, these trails will be closed off.”

A short but fascinating summary of the findings of Brett Engstrom, who was hired by the The Conservation Fund to conduct an ecological inventory over four days in the summer of 2017, is also in the appendix.

He reports several wetlands, some previously mapped inaccurately, plus one high-quality vernal pool, a critical wildlife habitat and one endangered plant.

Engstrom found the 17-acre Tinker Brook Ravine to be “a very beautiful spot” with waterfalls and cascades, a mature mixed forest on steep slopes, and several streamside seeps and alluvial woodlands.

He saw and/or heard 18 species of birds, plus sign of bear, moose and deer.

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