Local Partnership Nets National Grant Award

male bobolink

The iconic male bobolink in a Central Maine grassland. Laura Suomi-Lecker photo.

SKOWHEGAN – A winged ally of Maine farmers is the focus of a new partnership between the Somerset County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Damariscotta River Association.

A $5,000 grant from the 2018 Cornell Land Trust Small Grants Program will support the Ag Allies program, a project to educate Maine citizens and work with local farmers and land trusts to provide much-needed safe nesting habitat for steeply declining populations of grassland bird species.

Male bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), black and white and often perched in a hedgerow or on a clump of grass, are an iconic spring sight in Maine hayfields.  In addition to being a delight to see and hear, bobolinks and other grassland birds are true agricultural allies to Maine farmers, as these birds consume large quantities of both insect and weed pests each growing season.  Unfortunately, these and other grassland birds are declining faster than most other groups of birds due to habitat loss.

Ag Allies was launched by the Somerset County SWCD in 2017 under the leadership of the District’s Technical Director Laura Suomi-Lecker to provide education and support for agricultural landowners wanting to help grassland birds.  Bobolinks, meadowlarks and sparrow species require undisturbed hayfields for nesting.  Delaying the onset of mowing until after birds have fledged is critical for survival.

“Ag Allies helps farmers make room for critical conservation on working ag lands in ways that accommodate individual farms’ management needs,” says Suomi-Lecker.

In its pilot year, the program resulted in delayed mowing on more than 400 acres of confirmed bobolink breeding habitat, allowing an estimated 1,000 nestlings to be successfully fledged from these fields. The Damariscotta River Association (DRA) joined the effort in 2018 to assist with landowner outreach, especially within the Maine land trust community.  The DRA manages 60 acres of hayland for grassland birds within its conservation holdings.

“DRA is committed to managing grassland habitat to seek a balance between agricultural needs and the needs of the wildlife that depend on this habitat,” said DRA Lands & Stewardship Stewardship Director Jesse Ferreira.  “Partnering with the Somerset County SWCD and Ag Allies has really helped us improve our understanding and management of these habitats.”

DRA farm property

The haylands at DRA’s Great Salt Bay Farm are managed for grassland birds as part of the AgAllies program. Photo provided by DRA.

Grant funds will allow Ag Allies to engage with more landowners and have a greater impact on grassland bird conservation.

“By expanding our partnerships to other Soil & Water Conservation Districts and organizations it allows Somerset County SWCD staff to work on far-reaching education and outreach projects.  The Ag Allies grassland bird project is a great example of such an effort,” said Joe Dembeck, executive director of the Somerset County SWCD.  “The receipt of the Cornell grant will allow us to work with the Damariscotta River Association in outreach efforts to Maine land trusts such as Somerset Woods Trustees and Sebasticook Regional Land Trust in providing technical guidance regarding management of haylands for grassland bird species.”

The Cornell Land Trust Small Grant Program is part of an initiative launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the national Land Trust Alliance to help protect birds on private lands. The goal of the new Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative and associated web site (birdtrust.org) is to improve conservation for declining species by pairing the bird conservation community with land trusts, which collectively protect more than 24 million acres of private land nationwide.

For more information about Ag Allies, contact Laura Suomi-Lecker at laura.lecker@me.nacdnet.net, 207-474-8323 ext. 3 or Jesse Ferreira at jferreira@damariscottariver.org, 207-563-1393.



About Damariscotta River Association

A non-profit, membership supported, and nationally accredited land trust and conservation organization, Damariscotta River Association is dedicated to preserving and promoting the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of the Damariscotta region, centered on the Damariscotta River.  DRA has active programs in the areas of land conservation, stewardship, community education, water quality monitoring, marine conservation and cultural preservation.

Visitors are welcome at the Great Salt Bay Heritage Center in Damariscotta as well as the many other DRA properties throughout the region. For more information call (207) 563-1393, email dra@damariscottariver.org, or visit online at www.damariscottariver.org.


Districts Collaborate to Raise Awareness

SKOWHEGAN – With all the miles they cover, who better to be on the lookout for invasive plants and pests than state and local public works officials?

Conservation District staff introduced public works employees from around the state to a host of invasive plants and insects at the 27th Annual Maine Highway Congress at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds Thursday, June 7.  Joining Somerset County SWCD at the event were staff from Kennebec, Franklin, Penobscot and Knox-Lincoln.  Through the educational exhibits, plant samples and conversations with staff, more than 150 people left the event more aware of the problems posed by Japanese knotweed, Norway maple, Emerald ash borer and a host of other invasive species.

Loss Of Board Chairman, Kerry Hebert

It is with heavy hearts that we at the SCSWCD say goodbye to our friend and board chairman, Kerry Hebert.

Kerry passed away unexpectedly on November 14, 2017.

Kerry volunteered to be on the District board back in 1999. He served as a faithful member for several years and then accepted the position of chairman back in 2002. Throughout the years, Kerry has been a true steward of conservation, both in his own work as a consulting forester and as a representative for the District.

He was a mentor and friend to District staff. As employees, we could not have asked for a better or more supportive supervisor. Though busy with the demands of family life and his own business, Mt. Hunger Forestry, he was always available to listen and advise and ready to pitch in and help when he was needed.

Kerry had a wealth of conservation knowledge and experience which served the board and the District in many endeavors. He truly cared about the land and the people of Somerset County. For so many years, he lead the way for the District to provide assistance to local landowners, helping them work their land using best management practices to sustain and protect our natural resources. He was quick to endorse and facilitate a wide variety of conservation projects undertaken by District staff.

Kerry always brought his all to District activities, and not one meeting went by when we didn’t all share a laugh over one of his humorous stories or comments.

We as District Staff and board members will never forget our friend, mentor and colleague. Kerry will be sadly missed.


Critical Bobolink Fledging Week!

Bobolink nestlings brought to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom Monday July 3, 2017

These adorable little bobolink nestlings were brought in to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center  this morning after being found in a field that was being mowed. 




Landowners please take note: This week is a critical week for our bobolink nestlings!  It is very likely that many young bobolinks will be fledging from their ground nests in fields by the end of this week, so for people managing hayfields, if it is possible to leave as yet un-mowed fields standing for the rest of the week, it could make all the difference for bobolink nestling survival! 

Bobolinks are an iconic sight and sound each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. They are known for their joyous, bubbling song.  Unfortunately, the population of these beautiful and beneficial birds has been in a steady and precipitous decline for decades.  The bobolink appears on the State of the Birds 2014 Watchlist of bird species most in need of conservation action.  Here in Maine, the reason there is habitat for these birds at all is because of our farms and agricultural landscape.  However, to optimize forage quality, most hayfields are cut at least once during the nesting timeframe (June – mid July), which results in total nest failure, a pattern that plays out across the northeast each summer.  This year a wonderful group of farmers across central Maine has been working with The Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District’s  Ag Allies project to delay mowing on some productive bobolink fields from Starks to Damariscotta.  For these farmers to make room in their already complex forage management programs is nothing short of inspirational.  We as a society need to recognize and support these local farmers who are not only providing us with quality food and fiber, but also with conservation and maintenance of critical habitat for our birds and other wildlife.

 Stay tuned for more information on our farmers and landowners that were part of the Ag Allies program this year.  Meantime, you can learn more about the program at our Ag Allies tab of the web page.

It is nesting season! Bobolink Walk and Talk events for June

Photo by Laura Suomi-Lecker, bobolink male

Here are two exciting opportunities to see, hear and learn about one of Maine’s most iconic grassland birds.

Damariscotta – Thursday, June 15th, at 9 A.M.

Come enjoy the birds!  You are invited to take a guided morning walk through a beautiful bobolink habitat that is now being managed for nesting grassland birds at Damariscotta River Association’s (DRA) Great Salt Bay Farm.  Walk will be lead by DRA’s Jesse Ferreria, and Laura Suomi-Lecker, manager of  the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District’s grassland bird Agricultural Allies program on June 15 from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM.  Press Release – Nesting Grassland Bird Walk with DRA.

South Thomaston – Friday, June 16th, at 10 A.M.

The public is invited to take a walk through a thriving bobolink habitat recently protected by Georges River Land Trust! Laura Suomi-Lecker, Technical Director for Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Education and Outreach Coordinator for Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, will join the Land Trust on Friday, June 16 at 10 a.m. in South Thomaston to discuss the needs and issues facing grassland birds and best management practices to help them.  Press Release – GLT Grassland Bird Walk



Managing a Small Parcel for Wood & Wildlife – Workshop

Managing a Small Parcel for Wood and Wildlife, back by popular demand!

Saturday, April 22nd in Temple Maine, from 9 a.m. to noon

 The April event of the Upper Kennebec Valley chapter of the Maine Woodlands will be held at the woodlot of Chuck Hulsey in Temple.  Chuck is a regional wildlife biologist with the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (and a forester) and has been managing this wooded nine-acre home site very intensively for the past 18 years.  His focus has been wildlife, aesthetics, and timber. The property was part of a much larger parcel which was once a field but planted to red pine in 1962.  The previous owner conducted a light thinning in 1982.

Part of the property had a significant amount of hardwood volunteer into the area planted to red pine.  Most is firewood quality, though some is of high quality.  Chuck will cover what to cut for the woodstove, and what should be retained for high quality saw timber in both the near and long term. You’ll learn the difference between a weeding, a thinning, and a regeneration cut.

We will also see and discuss cavity and snag tree management for wildlife, plus the management for future hard mast trees. There will be examples of techniques for propagation of natural cavities and snags, as well as the use of nest boxes. Nearly 60 species of wildlife in Maine need snags or cavity trees.

 BONUS!!! There might be prizes, there was last year!

Directions:     From Farmington—Take Rt. 43 to Temple.  Go just past the Temple Town Office (brown shingles) located on the right, then turn left on the Varnum Pond Road.  The home and property is on the right, 1.9 miles after the turn onto the Varnum Pond Road.  Because there is not enough room to park in the driveway, park on the right side of the road, starting at the driveway.  There are four mailboxes opposite the driveway which are in sequence: green, blue, black, and black.  Number 391 is on the green mailbox.  There will be a SWOAM sign marking the starting point to start parking.  Parking should be on the right side of the road only.  Use the driveway only to turn around. There is also a bus turnout 100 yards on the left before the mailboxes which is useful for turning around.

 From East Wilton—-Take the Temple Road until you reach the Varnum Pond Road.  Turn left onto the Varnum Pond Road.  Go approximately 1.5 miles until you see the four mailboxes on the left—or parked cars on the right.

 From Washington Township— Starting somewhere from Rt. 156, park your vehicle then start hiking due east, four very difficult miles through the woods, then over Varnum Mountain to the western end of the Varnum Pond Road. There is no trail.

 Coffee and doughnuts will be served up the driveway in Chuck’s garage.  This event is open to all and free to all, and no need to pre-register, just show up!  Any questions contact Patty Cormier at 592-2238 or patty.cormier@maine.gov.


Somerset County Local Working Group Meeting

Thursday December 15, 2016 at 1:30pm

Somerset County USDA Service Center

 70 East Madison Road, Skowhegan ME  04976

The meeting will be hosted by the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District. The public is encouraged to attend.

The Local Working Group is composed of those interested in agriculture, private forests, wetlands, and wildlife within Somerset County. The group provides information, assistance, and recommendations to the District Conservationist of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on local natural resource priorities and criteria for matters relating to the implementation and technical aspects of conservation programs funded under the USDA Farm Bill.

On behalf of the Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, we hope you will be able to attend this meeting.

 Call (207) 474-8324 ext.3 with questions or for more information

Upcoming Forestry Workshops at the Yankee Woodlot

Yankee Woodlot Workshop Series

The Yankee Woodlot is a state owned Demonstration Forest located in Skowhegan behind the UMaine Cooperative Extension – Somerset Office located at 7 County Drive. From November 2016 through May 2017 a series of forestry workshops will be conducted by the Maine Forest Service, Somerset County Soil & water Conservation District, and the UMaine Cooperative Extension – Somerset Office and sponsored by the local chapter of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine. These workshops are centered around a timber harvest occurring on the property and are designed to educate woodland owners (current and future) with their own management activities.

All workshops are free and there is no need to preregister.

Each workshop with a brief description are listed below. For more information please contact either Joe Dembeck (Somerset County Soil & Water Conservation District) at email: joseph.dembeck@me.nacdnet.net / phone – 207-474-8324 or Patty Cormier (Maine Forest Service) at email: patty.cormier@maine.gov / phone – 207-592-2238

Workshop #1Tape, Paint and Signs (Pre-Harvest Marking) (November 20th from 9:00am – 12:00pm)

                This workshop will focus on the methods and reasons behind marking of boundary lines, roadways, landings, waterway boundaries, trees to harvest, sites to protect, etc. prior to any harvest activities. We always hear about the importance of planning and communication amongst all parties (landowner, forester, and logger) in any forest management activity and there are many reasons for that.

Workshop #2Harvest Planning (Think Before You Cut) (December 11th from 9:00am – 12:00pm)

This workshop will continue on the planning process with focus on: harvest goal selection, trail & landing planning, selection of logger/harvest equipment, invasive plants (mapping and treatment), resources to protect, and the continued crucial role of communication amongst all parties.

Workshop #3Harvest (The Change Begins) (January 29, 2017 from 10:00am to 1:00pm)

                The trees are falling and wood is being trucked away. Tour the harvest area and learn about what types of wood products are at the landing and to what markets they are destined for.

Workshop #4After the Harvest  (early May 2017)

                Come see what the woodlands look like after the harvest is complete. Though the logging is over, now is the time to start implementing post-harvest management strategies! Discussions will focus on treatment of invasive plant species, regeneration expectations over the next 5, 10, 20+ years, BMPs for roads and landings, wildlife habitat changes, and record keeping.


Parasite Control in Ruminants

Cattle, goats and sheep are a few ruminants commonly seen around pastures in Maine. A ruminant is an animal that has a highly efficient digestive system that extracts nutrients from plants via fermentation prior to digestion. You may notice that these animals often have their head down in the grass doing what they do best… grazing.

Potential parasite infection is an issue that needs regular attention for managing healthy livestock. Often, the approach of parasite control is treatment rather than prevention. In the spring rush, livestock are sometimes put onto pasture with little forethought regarding the presence of parasites within the herd or in the pasture.  Decreased carcass quality, weakened immune system and a lower profit margin are some of the effects of parasites. Studies have shown that parasites negatively affect beef cattle gains up to 48lb during a grazing season.

The brown stomach worm (Ostertagia ostertagi), barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) and bankrupt worm (Trichostrongylus axei) are just a few parasitic worms found in Maine cattle, goats and sheep.  Whether these parasites are multi-species or species specific, they are transferred to the host in the same manner. After being deposited in the manure (up to 10,000 eggs a day are spread this way), the eggs or cysts of parasites take 4-6 days to develop into infective larvae. With aid from water (irrigation, rain, dew), the larvae move upwards approximately 4” above the ground surface to the leaves and stems of plants where they wait to be swallowed by a grazing animal.

If your herd/flock is exhibiting signs of a parasitic infection including weight loss, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (although these signs are not always or initially present) then deworming is necessary. Dewormers are used for the treatment and control of internal parasites and there are several types available. Pour on, injectable and orally administered forms of dewormer are available at feed stores or through a veterinarian. The presence of parasites in animals can be confirmed or dismissed by a fecal float test, performed by a veterinarian. However, some producers may choose to administer dewormers profilactically. By repeated use of the same type of dewormer on an entire herd/flock, one is selecting for parasites which are resistant.


Dave Scott, NCAT livestock specialist, has found that a good rule of thumb when approaching parasitic treatment is “20% of the animals carry 80% of the parasites”. A proven way to prevent parasite resistance from developing is by creating “refugia”. Refugia are an isolated population of organisms that remain. For example, if a producer was to treat an entire cattle herd, then only the resistant parasites are left to reproduce and repopulate within the herd. However, if that producer were to treat only the sickest animals and leave the remaining animals untreated, a refugia of parasites which are not resistant will remain. If parasite populations become evident one more, then select only the sickest animals for a second treatment. This will promote a majority population of parasites that are susceptible to dewormer, as opposed to creating a parasite population that is entirely resistant to a specific dewormer.

Another option that can be used with or without dewormer is grazing management. Having a grazing plan in place before the growing season provides a framework from which you can make adjustments as needed. A good rotational grazing plan includes moving animals frequently enough that they are not grazing to a height where parasites are present (4”) and a rest/ recovery period of at least 30 days.  Rest/recovery period is adjusted based on the plant species you are managing for and the parasite cycles you are trying to break. To avoid the larval stage of these parasites, paddock size can be adjusted so that animals are moved every 4 days. When following a good rotational grazing plan, dewormer use is expected to decrease, oftentimes significantly.

Proper grazing management is based on balancing your animals, plants and goals. Here is a real life example of a sheep rancher who had to adjust his grazing plan to meet his goal of parasite reduction: The rancher was trying to reduce worm pressure via rotational grazing in his 230 ewe flock. He came up with a grazing system where the sheep moved back onto a paddock after it had 20 days rest, but he did not see any parasitic reduction. He then looked into the particular parasite affecting his sheep (barber pole worm) and discovered those populations near their maximum at day 20! He then adjusted the rest period to 30-35 days, and has seen a significant reduction in worms. The producer has reduced dewormer use by 84% and increased lamb average daily gain an average of 0.63lb/day. His net profit has increased as a result of increased average daily gain and reduced wormer costs.

Points to Remember:

  • Incorporating grazing management into an operation will provide economic return
  • Maintain grazing heights of 4” or greater
  • Move animals to a new paddock before parasites enter infectious stage
  • Allow parasites to complete their life cycle and die before regrazing
  • Know what you are treating before you select a dewormer
  • Selective use of dewormer will induce less parasitic resistance

In summary, every parasite control scenario is different and must be addressed individually. The effectiveness and economic return of each option varies with the herd, weather, available resources and managers’ goals.

Stop in to the Skowhegan NRCS office and speak with Ron or Nick if you would like to learn about grazing management or look at alternative ways of managing your operation for increased animal, plant and environmental health.