Park chief honored for stewardship

Posted Sept. 10, 2009, at 8:20 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The manager of Baxter State Park, Jensen Bissell, was recognized with Maine’s highest award for forest stewardship during a ceremony at the Blaine House on Thursday.

Before taking over the park’s top staff position in 2005, Bissell spent nearly two decades as resource manager responsible for the 29,000-acre Scientific Forest Management Area, located in the northwest corner of Baxter.

Timber harvesting is prohibited throughout most of Baxter, but the park’s creator and namesake, the late Gov. Percival Baxter, directed park managers to set aside land that could serve as “a showplace for those interested in forestry, a place where a continuing timber crop can be cultivated, harvested, and sold.”

The Austin Wilkins Forest Stewardship Award is given annually to individuals or landowners credited with managing Maine’s working forests in a sustainable and exemplary way. The award is named after former state forestry commissioner Austin Wilkins, who served 13 governors — including Baxter — during his time with the Maine Forest Service. Wilkins died in 2005 at age 102. The award is given by the Maine Department of Conservation and the Maine TREE Foundation.

During Thursday’s ceremony, Jane Lincoln, chief of staff to Gov. John Baldacci, said Bissell “carried on the vision of Gov. Baxter” through his work in the Scientific Forest Management Area.

In addition to directing all aspects of forest management, Bissell worked to make the SFMA more accessible to the public so that it could be used as a teaching and research tool. As the park’s first resource manager, he also ensured that the land maintained its third-party certification ensuring it was being managed “in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable way,” Lincoln said.

Alec Giffen, director of the Maine Forest Service, who also serves on the three-member Baxter State Park Authority, said Bissell created an environment where people felt comfortable expressing their views on management practices.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the kind of job he has done not only in the Scientific Forest Management Area but in park management as well,” Giffen said.

Bissell, who attended Thursday’s ceremony with his wife and two sons, said he was honored to receive an award affiliated with Wilkins.

He also credited the former park manager Buzz Caverly, former chief ranger Chris Drew and the numerous authority members over the years for their continued support of the forest management area.

“I thank you all very much for this award,” he said.

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