HALLOWELL — The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hosted an at-times lively discussion Wednesday on its upcoming timber harvesting project in Hallowell.

For more than 90 minutes, wildlife officials, after a short slideshow, fielded questions from an opinionated audience of more than two dozen about the project at the nearly 1,000-acre Jamies Pond Wildlife Management Area.

A majority of the questions and comments were about the removal of trees in the wildlife area and the reasons for removing them, as well as the possible disruption of the recreation that takes place within Jamies Pond, including hiking and cross-country skiing.

“We don’t discriminate against anybody’s choices of recreation as long as they are in line with our goals for wildlife management,” said regional wildlife biologist G. Keel Kemper, who led the discussion. “There’s going to be temporary disruption.”

Kemper continually stressed the fact that his agency’s mission is to promote, enhance and improve wildlife management, not to make sure hiking trails are maintained.

“These lands were acquired to be managed for wildlife and that is our primary objective,” Kemper said. “‘Management’ is an active word, not a passive word, and we’re not in the trail maintenance business.”

Scott Schiff-Slater, a family doctor in Hallowell, asked why the work was being done and likened the plan to giving a prescription to someone who doesn’t really need it.

“Sometimes you say that you don’t need an antibiotic or you don’t need surgery even though that other doctor thinks so,” Schiff-Slater said. “There is disagreement.”

Kemper said years of planning and research went into the project, including deliberate inventory of the habitat within the management area.

“We are biologists and there is an expectation that we wouldn’t just go willy-nilly through the forest,” Kemper said. “The plans are shopped around, given to other biologists, given to other foresters, and this is peer-reviewed work.”

Despite what Kemper and others kept saying about the need for the project, including Mike McPherson, of Hallowell, who lives near Jamies Pond and said the project is long overdue, most people at the meeting were displeased.

Joan Sturmthal, of Hallowell, who has been the plan’s most outspoken opponent, said she was starting a petition to have the management area turned into a park. But Ryan Robicheau, wildlife management section supervisor for the wildlife department, said even the state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands manages their areas and conducts operations.

The wildlife agency held a site walk Tuesday morning at Jamies Pond, which officials hoped would clear the air about some misconceptions about the project.

Throughout the 45-minute walk, biologist Eric Hoar, ground manager for the project, pointed out trees that will be removed and some that are marked to be retained, and he explained the reasons behind the markings.

“It sounds like they are going to do a better job than I thought, so I am cautiously optimistic,” said Ted Elliott, of Augusta, who expressed his displeasure with the project to the Kennebec Journal last week.

The project at the nearly 1,000-acre wildlife management area is scheduled to begin later this summer and has been in the planning stages for several years, Kemper said.

“This didn’t just happen willy-nilly,” Kemper said. He said Robicheau and other officials spent extended periods of time in the forest in order to get an accurate picture of the work that needs to be done.

The planned work includes removal of certain trees to allow other, younger trees to flourish, thus increasing foraging opportunities for deer, snowshoe hare and turkey, work on a deer wintering area to increase browse and patch openings in aspen-dominated areas to provide habitat for both grouse and woodcock.

“(Our project) is very much geared toward wildlife and wildlife habitat first and foremost,” Robicheau said last week. Opponents of the project are worried that the hiking trails and other recreational opportunities that exist in Jamies Pond will be disturbed.

Kemper said during the walk that it is not the agency’s intention to disrupt the management area’s vast and expansive trail system, but Robicheau said Jamies Pond will look different when the work is done.

The project is expected to begin this summer and continue this winter. Officials said work will take place next summer and winter until the project is complete.

“We think Jamies Pond is a very special place, and we feel as strongly about it as (they) do,” Kemper said. “We want to improve it, particularly the wildlife habitat.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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