Robbins Lumber and their 23,000 acre Conservation Easement
By: Jim Robbins
In 1881 two brothers, Otis and Frank Robbins started Robbins Lumber Company on the banks of the St. Georges River in Searsmont, Maine. Today the fifth generation of the Robbins family still owns and runs the company. Brothers Jim and Alden Robbins and their sister Catherine Robbins-Halsted are the owners and continue the proud heritage of the Robbins family. Today the company employs 120 men and women. The sawmill produces 30 million board feet of top quality white pine lumber in many different patterns from v-match 1” boards to 2” thick log cabin siding. The company also runs a finishing plant and much of their production is sold as primed and painted products.
They are about to come on line with an 8.5 megawatt biomass combined heat and power plant.This plant will burn twelve trailer loads a day of sawmill residuals and low grade biomass chips from logging operations. This plant was needed because of the shut down of six paper mills in Maine and hence the loss of the market for sawmill chips. The sawmill produces four trailer loads of chips, two trailer loads of sawdust and two trailer loads a day of bark which needed a market. They now have a twenty year power contract which should solve that problem. It will also help the local loggers solve their problem of lost pulpwood and biomass markets.
Over the years the company has purchased many small woodlots to help feed the mill with logs. The biggest purchase was a 23,000 acre parcel in northern Maine in 1996. This parcel was located in the unorganized part of Maine and included all of township T-40 and part of T3ND. It included two thirds of the land around two beautiful lakes, Nicatous Lake and West Lake. These lakes were famous for their eagles, loons, salmon and trout fisheries and lots of big wildlife including bear, moose and deer. The lakes had over 75 beautiful islands and 47 miles of undeveloped shoreline. It is very popular for outdoor recreation for hunting, boating, fishing, canoeing and wildlife viewing. The family decided to place a conservation easement on the whole area to protect it as a working forest to provide logs for the mill but also to protect the abundant wildlife and provide a recreation area that would always be available to the State of Maine.
The family teamed up with The Forest Society of Maine, Maine Bureau of Public Lands and Maine Coast Heritage Trust to put the easement together. The first project replaced an old destroyed dam and fish way at the outlet of Nicatous Lake. A new rock ramp dam stabilized the water level while at the same time provided a fish way for the fish to access the lake from the river. The conservation opened up 23,000 acres of Robbins land to the public for recreation but also by granting a right of way to the state of Maine on their access road, it opened up another 25,000 acres for recreation on the state owned Duck Lake township.
The State of Maine now monitors the easement and maintains several camping areas for the public’s use. Robbins Lumber still pays all the taxes- even though the land is open to the public for recreation. The easement has language in it to define protective cutting practices to protect the fish and wildlife in the riparian zones- for example six super story white pine trees are left per mile of shoreline to provide nesting trees for the bald eagles. A certain percentage of the forest is left as mast producing species to provide food for the wildlife.
Robbins has also placed three other smaller conservation easements on locally owned land to protect the working forests, wildlife and public recreation in the midcoast area of Maine in cooperation with the George’s River Land Trust and the Frenchman Bay Conservancy. We believe that if done right we can have timber harvesting, wildlife protection and public recreation. Everybody wins and we still have a working landbase that will continue to provide wood products for the world’s ever increasing population.
For their efforts the Robbins Lumber Company has won several awards including the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Good Steward Award in 1989, the Sportsman Alliance of Maine Corporate Partner Award in 2000, and the State of Maine Austin H. Wilkins Forest Stewardship Award in 2011. The Robbins family loves the outdoors. They are avid hunters, fishermen, canoeists and hikers. They are very proud of their forest management practices and conservation accomplishments.