For one day this fall, students in Prof. Vladimir Douhovnikoff’s Forest Ecology and Conservation class departed from their normal campus routines of lectures, seminars and labs to tour a working tree farm in Brunswick.
Higmo’s Inc., a family-owned wood mill that received the 2011 Maine Outstanding Tree Farmer Award, greeted the students with a chalk message on a big-toothed blade: “Welcome Bowdoin College Students.” This set the tone for the day. For while the students came to see forest management techniques in practice, they got much more than just a demonstration of tree cutting.
Douhovnikoff said the family was enlightening, generous and warm to his students, even serving them chili and cornbread for lunch, a “traditional forester’s meal.” Following lunch, Allen Higgins, his wife and his sister, as well as two visiting state foresters, spent the afternoon talking in depth about the forest’s properties and showing students how trees were cultivated, selected for harvest, cut down and milled on site.
Tess Beem ’13, a student in the class, said the Higmo’s visit was a keystone of the course, which she described as “a great transition into forestry for students of various backgrounds — biology, ecology, policy etc. [The Higmo's tour] was a great reference point conceptually to see how everything we were discussing in class could be tied into an application we had witnessed first-hand.” She added, “I also found it refreshing to get off campus and be exposed to a profession that is a bit less conventional by Bowdoin standards.”
Higmo’s frequently hosts younger local students, but doesn’t often see college students. Douhovnikoff said the Higgins family and the foresters were impressed with the Bowdoin students’ level of knowledge. Many of the Bowdoin students are interested in careers related to ecology, environmental studies or resource management.
“[The Higgins] and state foresters were excited to go into deep, deep detail about the properties of the forest, management techniques as well as related economic and social issues,” Douhovnikoff said.
In his forestry class, Douhovnikoff, an assistant professor of biology, exposes students to the ecological dynamics of forest ecosystems and the tools that can be applied to forest conservation. One of his assignments is to have students write management plans for local conservations tracts, such as the Town Commons or parts of the former Navy base.
Some students, including Amy Spens ’15, updated a management plan for Higmo’s. Following the research she did with Allen and his wife, Paula, Spens was offered a summertime job to work for Higmo’s. She said if she accepts the offer, she would combine it with anthropological research of Maine’s timber industry.
Spens said she appreciated the many field trips she took as part of Douhovnikoff’s foresty class. “The class offered us students so many opportunities to go out in the field and learn from professionals: ecologists, sawmill owners, conservationists, Forest Service employees,” she said. “They all had different perspectives on the role of conservation in the state of Maine and beyond.”
At the end of the Higmo’s tour for Bowdoin students, Allen Higgins, who’s not just a woodcutter but also a musician, gave out copies of his CD. (The slogan on the Higmo’s website is, “The only thing we don’t cut is hair.”) The highlight of the tour involved harvesting a mature tree, skidding it out of the forest, transporting it to the mill and milling it into lumber. At the end of the process Higgins had each of the students sign one of the milled boards, which the students then nailed to the wall in the Higmo’s mill as a memento of their visit.