Name: Tom Doak

Age: 62

Title: Executive director

Organization: Maine Woodland Owners (formerly Small Woodlot Owners of Maine), Augusta

About: The nonprofit organization provides support and help to Maine’s family woodland owners.


What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Right now, it’s trying to reach the next generation of woodland owners. We’re in a major transition of ownership, and 40 percent of the owners in the state are age 65 and older. And so there’s this very large transition going on of land changing hands, and it’s done, 20, 50, 100, 200, 250, 500 acres at a time. It’s a different generation, and their interests are different and the kind of information they want is different and how they want it is different. Our challenge is working with that current generation, which is still incredibly valuable and still owns a tremendous amount of land, but helping at the same time the next generation with some very different things. The next generation wants information electronically, and they want it on a hand-held device. The current generation is about going to meetings, going places and field days and things like that. The new generation wants their information a different way, and some of the information they want is different.

The World War II generation, they had a real interest in timber — not that the next generation doesn’t, but they see the forest a bit different and they have a different interest in it, whether it’s privacy or those kinds of things.

The other thing that’s huge for the public is that the current generation by and large believes in sharing their land. It’s a cultural thing, keeping their land open for bird watchers or anything. I think the next generation will be less tolerant of misuse of their land than the current generation.

The whole issue of the generational transfer is kind of hidden, to be frank with you, because it doesn’t happen in huge acreages. It happens in smaller acres, and people kind of don’t know about it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best advice is: What is it you really need, and what do you really need to accomplish? Understand there are many ways to get there, and don’t let someone tell you there’s only one way to get there. Figure out where you want to be and then figure out the course to get there, but don’t be locked into a particular way or the way it’s always been done. There are many ways to get to the same goal.

A combination of people helped me with my understanding of it and have reinforced it. I have been fortunate in having some people who have rewarded it and said, “I’m glad you figured it out and did it that way.”

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

I believe in giving people the opportunity. I am not a big detail person, and I just don’t want to hover over a person, to be honest with you. You try to make it clear what the expectation is and you let them figure it out. You will have an employee that has better satisfaction. You’re not saying, “Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s how I want you to do it.”

I am trying to practice that same kind of thing (as the advice I was given).

I am not always perfect at that. I will catch myself once in a while or I will be reminded of it once in a while, which is frankly a good thing. It’s a good reminder.

What’s your greatest concern?

Part of the concern of a nonprofit is raising money. You really want to provide a valuable thing to society. That’s what a nonprofit does. And so you really want to spend the time and effort and money to really deliver something that is really valuable to the public. That’s why we exist. The biggest fear is trying to balance a good product or service with what is really realistic and practical within your financial resources. I don’t know if it’s a fear, but it’s always kind of the worry or the conflict of running a nonprofit.

We have members who donate. Depending on the year, 25 percent to 30 percent of our budget is direct membership. The rest we raise outside that. The rest is entirely uncertain year after year.

You have the same business practices and efficiencies (as for-profit entities). Nonprofits that don’t work at efficiency don’t do well.

Where do you see the organization in five years?

For a period of time, we will be in the dual role of making sure we’re meeting the needs of the current owners and then the next (owners). We’ve been doing it for a while. We recognized that kind of early on. Much more of the information will be electronically based.

The other interesting thing is we run a land trust program. We’re nonprofit, but we pay taxes on all our land. We’re paying $30,000 and $35,000 a year, because we believe in paying taxes where we own land. By the middle of next year, we’ll own 8,000 acres of land. Most of it, 99 percent of it, is donated.

We are seeing a dramatic acceleration in this current generation of owners wanting their legacy to continue, and they are looking for an organization that will continue their kind of stewardship. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people talking to us about donations of their forestland, and we will continue that stewardship and management of that land. We only bring in lands that can be managed.

We have doubled the size of the land trust in probably the last six years. I would expect in another five years, you will see it doubling again. These people are longtime stewards. Their children aren’t interested in the land or see owning the land as a burden, or in a few cases (the current generation) doesn’t trust their relatives to manage the way they would like, and they come to talk to us. We’re in the long-term forest management business as part of our land trust, and we will see dramatic changes in that in the future as far as our land base.

We started the land trust in 1990 with a very small piece. It’s always been a program within our organization. We’re not a land trust, if you will; that’s not what we are. We are a nonprofit organization working with family woodland owners. We have added this land trust because we have people who don’t know what to do with their land. We’re permanently protecting this land. This land is not ever going to be developed. It’s open to the public, and it’s actively managed for the public to recreate on it. In the last five or six years it has taken off tremendously. It’s that ramping up the transition from the current generation of landowners to new ones.

Frankly, we have had some amazing gifts lately. Every time we publish those gifts, it makes other people think about their legacy and what they want to see for their land.

We are talking to people all the time. We have 31 parcels pending closing in the next six to eight months. We have in the queue 31 parcels where landowners have said, “We’re giving you this property.” So that’s big. That’s a big change coming for us. They are all over the state. The vast majority are in the range of 50 acres to 500 acres. Most of those lands are in the southern half of the state — the populated areas, if you will.

That next generation, that’s going to drive an awful lot of things in the forestry-related field, this change of land. People think of large owners owning the vast majority of land, but these small owners own about 35 percent of the land in the state and 40 percent of the volume of wood that grows in Maine. Collectively, they are a major player in forestry in the state.

The transition of land to the next generation and what that means for public access to lands — 90 percent of hunting and snowmobiling and ATV riding happens on private land in the state. The landowners get no benefit from it. They allow it because they think they should.

We have to make sure we’re dealing with the problems these landowners have, because they won’t continue to allow this access if we don’t deal with them. That tolerance is definitely going to diminish.

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