Domtar Paper commits $10,000 to BEA project

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Domtar Paper Company, which is the largest North American manufacturer of uncoated paper, has committed $10,000 to support Bald Eagle Area School District in a collaborative forest management project. From left to right: Tim Cole, Centre County service forester for DCNR Bureau of Forestry; Rep. Glenn Thompson; Gerald Hoy, Mifflin and Union counties’ service forester for DCNR Bureau of Forestry; Tom Letterman, Bald Eagle Area School District board member; Mark Ott of Pennsylvania Forestry Association; Jim Finley of Penn State’s Center for Private Forests; Grant Forrest, general manager of Domtar Paper Company; Mike Eckley, forester for The Nature Conservancy; and Jeff Miles, Bald Eagle Area School District superintendent.

BELLEFONTE — A collaborative forest management project has been launched to provide many potential opportunities for Bald Eagle Area School District.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Domtar Paper Company presented BEA with a $10,000 donation to help fund the project, and several contributors and supporters of the project talked at Bald Eagle Area High School about the project and its future.

“This is an exciting day for me because I’ve been working on this for six years, so I’ve been trying to get the school to have a forestry plan for just over 400 acres of forest that they have in Wingate,” said Mark Ott, a BEA retiree and member of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.

It was a long process, with a lot of ups and downs, to get to this point, Ott said. Conflicts of interest occurred, and especially with the land being classified as government property, government entities were unable to help fund having a forest management plan written for the school district.

Not letting this deter them, two individuals kept pursuing the project: Mike Eckley, forester for The Nature Conservancy, and Gerald Hoy, forester for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry. These two, Ott said, did not give up the search for someone who would be willing to finance the plan for BEA, and they acquired financial commitment from Domtar, the largest North American manufacturer of uncoated paper.

To Ott, the importance of the forest management plan, which will serve as a working guide to maximize the forest’s benefits and help guide the future of the land, is the educational opportunities it will provide for BEA students. He said it will add value to the school district property, and there will also be value added to any timber that comes from the land. In addition, the school district is also looking to start a forestry program, so this project will be a great opportunity for students in that program.

Ott sees the possibility of having cross-country trails through the woods,  he said. But it does not need to stop there.

“I think it’s wide open for what the school can do with this,” he said.

BEA Superintendent Jeff Miles also sees many possibilities as a result of the forestry plan.

“I think it’s a great time for this to happen,” Miles said. “Our FFA program has taken off and we want to expand some of those possibilities as well.”

Other future possibilities include additions to curriculum, apple orchards and trails that could be used as part of the school wellness program, where pull-up bars could be placed along the trails. Miles also added that further down the road, deer could possibly be raised on the land.

According to Eckley, the goal of the project is to achieve concrete results at no out-of-pocket cost to the district. The project will start with a comprehensive forest inventory, which will be used to measure the conditions of the school district’s land resources. The inventory will assess the timber, plant species diversity and wildlife habitat, which will help document the unique features and road infrastructure.

All of the information from the forest inventory will be used to help develop the forest management plan, Eckley explained.

The plan will be not only be co-authored by several forestry experts, but also by BEA students and teachers.

“In essence, for many of you, we’re developing a business plan to manage the forest resource as an asset, not a liability,” Eckley said. “In addition to that, and particularly with collaboration with Domtar, we will leverage The Nature Conservancy’s group certificate, to provide certification.”

Eckley further explained that the five-year green certification, which is from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is a high standard used to ensure responsible stewardship, or management, of forest resources.

The Domtar Paper Company, which is committed to creating a sustainable product, relies on certifications from groups such as the FSC to validate its practices as being sustainable, said Grant Forrest, general manager of Domtar Paper Company.

“The problem we have is that FSC specifically is not really conducive to small landowners. If you consider the forests in Pennsylvania, about 75 percent of the forest lands are privately held by small landowners,” Forrest said. “So it’s projects like this that we think will help demonstrate how it can be done, how it can be more conducive for those small landowners to get involved in certification.”