Monday, December 23, 2013

Reclaiming Old Logs and Reuniting with Family

By Clark Shafer, associate director of philanthropy

As the snow starts to fall in the mountains of Idaho, it is hard to think about summer. As much as I love winter, summer is a special time for me and my family – it means reuniting with my family in Maine. Each summer for the past 40 years, I have spent at least a week at a family camp near Baxter State Park.

The Shafer family in Maine. Photo courtesy of Clark Shafer.

Baxter State Park is a large wilderness area permanently preserved as a state park and home to Mt. Katahdin. It is about 200,000 acres and was gifted to the State by the former Governor, Percival Baxter from 1931 to 1962. Baxter State Park is vast, rugged and pristine. It is the beginning of the Appalachian Trail and tallest peak in Maine. It is where I proposed to my wife and where I taught my children to paddle a canoe. It inspired writers like Thoreau and artists like Fredric Church. I am lucky to be able to vacation there – it inspires my family and me. 

Mt. Katahdin. Photo ©Clark Shafer/TNC

The area surrounding the park, and most of northern Maine for that matter, has been owned and managed by Timber Companies since the turn of the century. The timber industry was the lifeblood of this area for the past 100 years.

Following through Millinocket, the small town where my grandfather was born, is the West Branch of the Penobscot. The area was once home to the world’s largest paper mill and was first logged in 1828. This river supported the historic river-driver logging industry and was choked with freshly cut trees as a way to transport them to the local mill. There are no longer river drives, but what remains is a stockpile of first cut, virgin timber submerged in nearby lakes.

Painting of Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp by Frederic Church.

Today the landscape and attitudes are drastically different than that of 100 years ago. While visiting this past summer I toured my brother’s new business venture, Maine Heritage Timber. My brother was a former Wall Street executive who needed to re-invent himself a few years ago when the economy hurt many people. He is now reclaiming logs that have been submerged in settling ponds for the past hundred years. The tour of his facility was remarkable. I was able to see some of the flooring material and furniture that he mills from these logs that for years were left submerged in the icy waters of northern Maine. For every year Maine Heritage Timber operates, they save 1,000 acres from being cut.

Reclaimed spruce/fir flooring. Photo ©Clark Shafer

As consumers we have the choice to purchase sustainable products. I can’t think of a more environmentally friendly way to remodel a kitchen or dining room, than using river reclaimed lumber. The thought of standing on flooring made of wood that started as sapling before the Constitution was signed amazes me. For more information please visit Maine Heritage Timber.

The Nature Conservancy in Idaho and Maine have partnered with timber companies like Plum Creek and Forest Capital Partners to promote sustainable timber practices that is good for people and nature. To learn more about the work The Nature Conservancy is doing in Idaho and Maine forests please click on the links above.

It is exciting that my brother and I are taking different approaches to help the health of our forests. I am excited to get back to Maine this summer to be with family and see healthy, working forests again.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A promising way to prevent wildlife-vehicle crashes

By Lisa Eller, communications director

A white creature hurries across the road against a pitch-black night. It wasn't an elusive white bear, as my coworker Art joked, but the thermal image of a moose crossing one of the deadliest highways in Idaho - US Highway 95 in Boundary County. 

This stretch of highway sees a relatively high number of fatalities (both human and animal) from collisions between wildlife and vehicles. Between 2000 and 2010, there were 321 wildlife-related accidents reported on Highway 95 in the McArthur Lake vicinity. Two of these accidents caused human fatalities, and 36 more resulted in injuries. All told, these collisions cost an estimated $4.9 million, ranging from loss of life to vehicle repairs. ‬

For several years the Conservancy, as a partner of the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, has looked for ways to make the area safer. Earlier this month, after researching several safety options, we deployed a new but promising safety system. The first phase of the project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

According to its creator, Brice Sloan of Sloan Security Systems, the system is the first to combine the use of Doppler radar, high-resolution thermal camera, web-enabled remote power systems, and other wireless technologies to create a mobile animal detection system to reduce crashes between animals and vehicles. Unlike traditional perimeter detection methods this system tracks movement over the entire roadway – from fence to fence - over a distance of up to 1km in a given area.

Deer captured in a test image from Warm Springs in Boise. Photo and video (above) ©Sloan Security Systems

Once movement is detected, the monitor triggers nearby alert signal strobe lights to turn on – these lights stay on until the animal is off the road. The mobile monitoring system and alert lights communicate via powerful radios similar to how you would trigger your garage door.

Signal strobe light. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

Monitoring trailer. Photo ©Sloan Security Systems.

If effective the system could offer benefits many traditional safety measures don't: mobility, adaptability, permeability and affordability. Rather than forcing wildlife to respond to various funneling systems, the system can be adapted (moved) in response to the animal behavior. And it is relatively affordable when compared to infrastructure changes like building tunnels under highways.

In addition to the detection feature, the combination of radar and thermal cameras are helping the Idaho Transportation Department to identify where, when, and how many animals are crossing the roadway within the detection area and where potential collisions might take place – invaluable information for designing safer roadways.  

Much more data needs to be collected but results, thus far, are positive.

For more on the project and to donate, go to the McArthur Lake Safety project page. To volunteer by verifying data coming through the monitor, contact Brice Sloan at