Craft in Conversation: Sustainable Forestry in Maine

Interview with the people doing the work

Piscataquis County is the most forested county in Maine, and Maine, it turns out, is the most forested state in the entire country. About the size of Connecticut and located at the center of the state, Piscataquis County boasts miles upon miles of forested land with a population density of fewer than six inhabitants per square mile. 

Unsurprisingly, forestry is one of the region’s main industries — and over the course of the last decade, there has been a growing turn toward sustainable practices. These are not necessarily organizations or government-run forests, but rather private land holdings, managed and stewarded by individuals who are passionate about the work. These smaller-scale private landholders maintain that the health of the entire forest is of critical importance and that sustainable practices are a win-win. By better caring for the trees and the forests, these ecosystems become more resilient and likely to withstand climate change, and therefore continue to have a monetary value. Communities whose livelihood depends on forestry stand a better chance of weathering economic hardship brought on by an erratic or destructive environment. 

This shift is not unique to Maine: Family-run forests make up the majority of forestland in the United States, with more than half of the 751 million acres of forestland in the country privately owned, with holdings of 1,000 acres or less. With the rise of this trend, the US has seen its forests grow year-over-year. While wood was once harvested mostly from federal lands, a shift to private lands has helped preserve vast areas of forest for public benefit while also encouraging landowners to keep forests intact. 

Inspired by our first Craft in Conversation installment where we spoke to the Monson, Maine-based craftsman who makes our Stump and Trunk Collection, we decided to turn our attention to individuals working within Maine’s world of forestry. Sadly, there is little, if any, transparency as to the path a wooden table, chair, or bed frame came to be. If we look at the last decade’s embrace of organic and regenerative food production, we feel hopeful that material goods — including furniture — might follow a similar trajectory. By celebrating and shining a light on the people working within the world of sustainable forestry, we hope to be a part of this movement. 

Sam Brown is a licensed Maine Forester, a landowner, and a logger. He lives in Cambridge, Maine. 

What has been your path to this work? Why did you start working in forestry?

My Scots-Irish ancestors began a sawmill in Minnesota in the 1850s, so one way or another a little sawdust has been in the family blood ever since then. I have always felt a spirit obligation to return what I can to the forests which have blessed me over these generations.

Tell us about your particular practices. 

I began working in the woods when chainsaws and horses were still not uncommon but on the way out in favor of increasingly mechanized systems. What I use now I consider a reasonable compromise between reducing muscle work and dependence on fossil power. I am continually trying to observe and mimic nature’s processes, while struggling to balance them with human economic pressures. These two are often at odds.

What does ‘sustainable forestry’ mean to you? 

Managing my forestland as if the future matters. There is a whole book about low-impact forestry that explains how it’s done. I helped with a few sections on logging.

What about as a landowner? 

My goal is to grow big trees that live a long time. That’s a complicated process involving biology, physics, economics, and patience.

What are you most passionate about in this space? 

Being aware of all the connections, and accepting responsibility for making a change in those connections.

What gives you a sense of hope as we try to move towards a better future?  

More and more people recognizing that we humans are part of a finite planet, and that our pervasive materialism is being balanced with our spiritual consciousness.

Can you describe the work of a forester vs a logger? 

A forester does the planning work for managing forestland, and the logger implements those plans.

What do you wish people understood about forests?

I wish more people understood how dependent we are on natural systems. This understanding comes hard when fewer and fewer people are actually outside very much. Working in the woods is about forming a relationship with those woods (and everything in them), and that sounds weird if you haven’t experienced it by just being outside a while (more than a trip to the car and back). Your attitude matters: Are you connected to or isolated from creation?


Sarah Robinson is the Executive Director for Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District (PCSWCD). She lives in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine 

Tell us about the work you do with PCSWCD.

Our mission is to build resilient, sustainable farms and forests through education, demonstration, and stewardship. I help bring forestry education outreach to my county and work with other leading Maine Forestry organizations (Forest Stewards Guild, Maine Woodland Owners, Maine Forest Service), companies (The Nature Conservancy, Pleasant River Lumber, Appalachian Mountain Club), and students (local elementary schools, Foxcroft Academy and UMaine School of Forest Resources) to work on the same goal of sustainability and healthy forests in the most forested part of Maine. I help manage and maintain 3 public lands/woodlots for PCSWCD and own and manage my own Tree Farm with my husband, totaling about 500 acres. 

What has been your path to this work? Why did you start working in this industry? 

I am an outdoor enthusiast and appreciate the natural world, especially the forests of Maine. I knew I wanted to work in the environmental field at some point in my life but wasn’t led to my position until 4 years ago. I wanted to take care of the world in a local way that would lead to more global change and help make an impact by creating educational opportunities for my community. 

Do you use any unique practices when it comes to forestry?

Some forest management practices that I implement are Forestry for Birds, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat, stream health and aquatic organism passages, pollinator habitat, and recreational trail management. My husband and I have been implementing agroforestry as part of our practices! 

What is agroforestry?

We bring goats to the land because they love eating invasive plants and other greens. Clover and Dill, two whether’s (neutered males), have been a great help in mitigating the spread of honeysuckle at Alder Brook Tree Farm, our private land. My husband goes in after them and extracts the honeysuckle with a tractor. It was very successful in the first year and they have been moved around and are working on a different section of our property this year. We also have 2 pigs that have been introduced into the mix and clearing part of the woods as well!

What does ‘sustainable forestry’ mean to you? 

It means taking care of a healthy working ecosystem that caters to future generations. 

What are you most passionate about in this space? 

There is always more to learn because it’s a never-ending cycle of what you can do, things are always changing, and you are always faced with new obstacles or ways to implement practices. There is always something more to explore! 

What has been your experience as a woman in the world of forestry? (Editor’s note: Women only make up 19% of forestry professionals)

I am surrounded by a lot of really smart and engaging women in this field. My experience has been impacted by the increase in women wanting to be involved with projects I’m doing or coming to events that are geared toward women woodlot owners (Women Chainsaw Safety Courses, Women Caring for the Land/NRCS, Teas and Trees, “It’s My Nature Series” with Outdoor Women Brand). I feel like there has been a natural progression of women coming to PCSWCD’s events and expressing the need for space to learn with us (staff at PCSWCD are all women in the conservation field). I have listened to this call and am trying my best to cater to this niche. Most recently, I am collectively working on a project for our Williamsburg Forest that is under rehabilitation to be geared toward women woodland owners that will be managed by women. Molly London is our forester for the new Forest Management Plan and we are working with the Forest Stewards Guild and UMaine School of Resources, through which we received a Maine Community Foundation Grant to support the project.

What has been your experience as a new landowner?

Interesting! I can call the trees and soil mine. I am lucky that I have resources at my fingertips with my job but I can see how it may be difficult for someone to obtain information on what to do or how to get started as a new landowner. Once you get into the scene, it’s easier to learn what to do. My experience of being a new landowner is most exciting because I get to work with my husband on the same land goals and prepare for legacy planning for our daughter someday. 

How can we better care for forests? What can we be doing differently? 

Create diverse forest ecosystems, be informed about invasive plants and insects and how to mitigate their spread, and assess and prioritize water quality and aquatic organism passages. 

Have there been any noteworthy changes in this space over the last several years?

Climate change is an ever-evolving topic and forestry plays a huge role in the climate. Climate change on the forest Ecology is something that will continue to be a discussion as long as we keep seeing the rise in drastic weather patterns and changes.

What gives you a sense of hope and purpose as we try to move toward a better future? 

There are a lot of people in the Forestry field in Maine that are attentive and proactive in implementing best management practices for sustainable forestry and want conservation education for the public to continue. When we work together, we are able to accomplish the larger goal to keep our forests and ecosystems healthy. I can see firsthand the work being done in Northern Maine. People are taking the information we give them and implementing it. Organizations are reaching Maine residents, taking care of parcels of land and we are collectively making small changes that add up. 

What do you think the average person (or consumer) doesn’t know that you wish they would? 

Forestry isn’t about clear cutting or using up our resources. It’s like gardening and thinning out the weeds to create spaces for the world to have a better ecosystem, water quality, supply chain, and habitats. 


Molly London is a licensed professional forester. She helps clients care for their own land in a sustainable way, and manages her own logging crews to ensure ecological practices. She lives in Milo, Maine. 

What has been your path to this work? Why did you start working in forestry?

I grew up in a log cabin in the woods and spent my childhood outdoors playing in all seasons and all weather. I enjoyed learning about our earth and ecosystems, and how people interact with and fit into those systems, then teaching other people about that, whether they are a landowner learning about their woodlot or a skidder operator learning the influence they have on a community as they complete their days work. After getting my Master’s in Forestry from UMaine, I got a summer job working for an industrial forest management company working on large landowners (managing 1 million acres) and learned about the forest as a factory. I worked there for two summers then after graduation was hired full-time as an operations forester managing 6 logging crews, making sure the timber volume goals of the landowner were met while logging contractors were whole and the environmental needs of the land were protected as well.  

In 2016, I decided to work for my husband’s family business hauling wood and building forest roads. I started private forestry consulting, helping landowners on a smaller scale, in that process and in 2017 my husband and I decided to start logging as well.  Now I manage our office and oversee our crews as well as help manage my core client’s projects on their land. Working for myself has allowed me the freedom and flexibility to start our family, bringing each of our three small children along with me on many woods walks and job inspections.  

Tell us about your particular practices when it comes to forestry

I prefer to see the ecosystem as a whole, rather than segmented parts. I help landowners manage their land considering what their neighbors have done historically and how that impacts habitat, soil, and water health, and more on a larger scale than just inside their boundary lines. I have a network of loggers that specialize in low-impact logging, so that we can capture value from the wood harvested but improve the land in the process. I have been lucky to be paired with wonderful landowners who see the value in their land above just the dollar value of the timber and are looking for well-rounded management. I’ve also become a resource to women landowners, some of whom inherited their land without much previous knowledge of it or involvement in its management; I think when I show up with a baby strapped to me to walk with them, it’s a bit less daunting than maybe some of the large timber companies. 

What does ‘sustainable forestry’ mean to you? 

Gifford Pinchot’s words ring in my head for this one.. making decisions for “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest run.” There are so many things to factor in when dealing with large properties on an environmental scale. The life of a tree can be a long one, so it’s easy to get stuck in a place of worry that you’re doing something wrong.  This philosophy has helped me to weigh each decision and determine the true sustainability of decisions: is it renewable, how many living things will this impact, in what ways, and for how long? What is the short and long-term impact of your decision?  What decision helps you to do the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest run?

What are you most passionate about in this space?  

Helping people learn more about their land and the earth as a whole and make informed educated decisions.

What has been your experience as a woman in this industry? (Editor’s note: Women only make up 19% of forestry professionals)

There are much more women in forestry than people realize, and MUCH more women in forestry than in logging. My experience has been largely positive.  There was a whole generation of women in the field in the 70s and 80s who truly were the first and paved the way for us now. Most people I’ve worked with have been respectful and treat me like the professional I am, regardless of my gender. I have run into the good-ol-boy mentality a little bit in the woods, but haven’t had much trouble navigating it. You just have to stand tall and let your work speak for itself. 

I think there is a place for women in this field of work and would love to see more get involved. I believe we think differently than men and bring a unique perspective to forest management. Especially in logging where there is finesse and creativity needed. I recently attended a Women in Forestry gathering, the first of its kind in the northeast, and walked away so inspired!

What do you look for in a tree when you are harvesting? 

There are so many things to consider: Does the tree have a future or is it dying? Does it have value that will increase over time if we leave it standing, or has it maxed out its lifetime value?  Does the size fit the specs required for the mill? What situation is it growing in — what’s growing around it that will be taken or left in the harvest?  What’s growing underneath and above it? What does the landowner want to do? Does the tree have a value outside of the timber value, for wildlife habitat or cultural significance? Is there a market available to send it to, and will it make enough money to cover the cost of harvesting and delivering it? As a general rule of thumb, I try to make sure there is always some value left standing on the landscape, to clean up the low-value trees and leave high-value trees to continue passing on their genetics, and give thought to how the harvest will impact the future stand of trees for the better.

How can we better care for forests? What can we be doing differently?

I actually think the country needs more sustainable forest management. Management is really good for the land when done properly! So many issues we have with wildfire management, tree pests and diseases, and more can be attributed to stagnated areas that aren’t managed at all or managed properly. 

It’s easy to think that cutting trees is bad, but it’s not if done in the right way. Managed forests also have the potential to capture and store more carbon than areas left untouched, so that has huge repercussions for our future as well. Third-party certifications help: making sure that the wood you are buying was harvested in a sustainable way, by looking for a stamp for SFI, FSC, or harvesting done by a Northeast Master Logger or Certified Logging Professional. 

Kalon exclusively uses woods harvested from sustainably-managed forests. Read more about our materials and methods.

A feature of a healthy, mature forest is an open forest floor. Sam refers his rehabilitated forests as “park-like” and says he’s likely the only person in his area who remembers how condensed the forests were before. His forest contains sugar maples, a species increasing in decline due to the impact of climate change.
"Aware of all the connections, and accepting responsibility for making a change in those connections," Sam uses his pastures to monitor bird habitats and to graze a neighbor's cows.
Sarah uses goats and pigs for clearing, a strategic practice known as agroforestry. Intentionally integrating crops, trees and livestock, agroforestry is an ancient practice that is getting new attention for its range of economic, environmental and social benefits.
Sarah's daughter Amelia walking the goats in some of the forest areas they manage as a family. The family plans to build a house in the area they are clearing.
Molly is working to restore the waterways that pass through forestry roads - the small culverts that were used before prevented fish migration and other habitat use.
At worksites, machines are used to select, harvest, and cut logs, leaving significant portions of the boughs and tree parts on the forest floor. This allows for the remnant tree to go back into the forest floor, foster regrowth and soil regeneration, and to protect the forest floor from disturbances from the forestry process.
A healthy forest includes trees of various ages and different stages of growth and decay. Some argue that a decomposing tree is more beneficial to a forest than it is at any other stage of its life.