Japanese logging group visits Maine to learn about sustainable practices

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 11th, 2011 

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Ichiro Fujikake (right) meets with Jason and Chris Brochu of Pleasant River Lumber Mill to discuss sustainable wood certification and business practices in Maine.

“We are working to start our own certification system,” said Ichiro Fujikake, a forest economics professor at the University of Miyazaki and an adviser to Himuka Ishin no Kai Loggers.

Fujikake contacted Beth Ollivier, executive director of the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forestlands (TCNF), to learn more about the Northeast Master Logger Certification (NEMLC) program. TCNF then hosted the Himuka group last October as they traveled throughout Maine to learn from master loggers in action from Brunswick to Passadumkeag. Himuka wanted to see the reality of the NEMLC program, which fosters environmental stewardship. The Fujikake group included loggers, landowners, a town councilor, and an executive director of a sawmill.

“They are going to be using our program as a model for their program,” said Beth Ollivier. “Here they are, halfway around the world, and modeling their program after us.”

Maine’s overall landmass amounts to 20 million acres, of which 17 million acres are forest. Maine’s logging industry was the first in the world to establish a certification program to promote environmentally sound logging. Under Governor John Baldacci’s wood certification program, 7.5 million acres have been certified. During his administration the amount of land in conservation tripled from 6 percent of the state to 18 percent.

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The Japanese logging group Himuka Ishin no Kai Loggers tour Pleasant River Lumber Mill in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.

As in Maine, forestry is a traditional industry in Miyazaki, Japan, where two-thirds of the land is forest, about 40 percent of which is planted. In 2003 a couple dozen loggers in Miyazaki formed a group called Himuka Ishin no Kai. A major goal of Himuka is to promote environmentally sound logging in the region.

“We deeply appreciate the NEMLC program. We anticipate that this trip will be a very good opportunity for us to learn from your valuable experiences and have an exchange between professional loggers in the two countries,” said Fujikake. “Himuka and I have taken the NEMLC program as our model.”

Nine goals guide master loggers in their work. They take into account water and soil protection, while sustaining the forest ecosystems. On the business side, the companies must excel in workplace safety, continued improvement and innovation, and business viability. In Maine, 88 logging contractors are certified under the program.

The Himuka group visited Tom Cushman’s Maine Custom Woodlands in Brunswick, which is a fully mechanized timber harvesting and excavation company. Cushman is the current president of TCNF and Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. They also visited active logging sites in Lincoln and Passadumkeag, as well as Pleasant River Lumber Mill in Dover-Foxcroft and Linkletter & Sons, Inc. in Athens.

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Himuka Ishin no Kai Loggers capture images of Maine Master Logger’s in action at Madden Timberlands, Inc. in Passadumkeag, Maine. The group wants to take “best practices” home.

The goal of the NEMLC program is to improve the health of working forests through accountability. The program was the recipient of the world’s first SmartLogging certificate — an international harvest standards recognition by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program.

In September the University of Maine School of Forest Resources received a $25,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take a close look at the Northeast region’s logging industry, including examining its infrastructure, capacity, workforce, and issues that affect its economic health and future.