Interview with President & CEO, Dan LaMontagne
From the Forest Floor to the Building Door, WholeTrees is the link between multiple partners along the forest products supply chain. Our relationships with carbon smart forests are a direct response to a growing market for "Origin Story" structural products such as Sawn Heavy Timber and Structural Round Timber. To that end, we are extremely proud of our partnership with Seven Islands Land Company and its sustainable forest management mindset that has guided their working forests since the early 19th century.
We recently sat down with Seven Islands Land Company President & CEO, Dan LaMontagne, to learn more about their long history as stewards of Maine Timberland, their historically ground-breaking approach to sustainability, and why they choose to partner with WholeTrees.
Tell us a little about the history of Seven Islands Land Company, and how you have taken the forest into the 21st Century?
Now in its 8th generation of ownership, the Pingree family has owned timber in Maine since the 1840s. The Pingree family has a long history of sustainable forest management and the family’s landowner objectives guide how we manage the timberlands. We were one of the first companies nationwide to be dual certified by two independent third party forest certifications: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. We firmly believe in certification as it represents our public declaration that we manage the Pingree timberlands sustainably.
It’s important to our customers, and our customers’ customers, that we have 3rd party certification and that we are in fact managing these lands sustainably. We leverage advancements in technology to support our land management. This includes the use of drones, digital maps, aerial photography, satellite imagery, and other advanced technologies to assess and quantify our inventory, monitor forest conditions, and help our team of foresters increase their efficiency in the field. Years ago, logging used to be done with an ax and horses, but now we have very sophisticated machinery to harvest and process trees. Technology has slowly but surely been embedding itself in the forest product industry. All of our foresters carry tablets to provide immediate access to our data and inventory information to help them make better decisions, more quickly.
We are trying to shift the management of forests into the future by finding those technologies that truly create value, save time, and have a positive ROI.
What sets you apart from other forest managers?
We are a little bit unique in that we are owned by the owners of the timberland. I believe a family owned operation gives you more flexibility with respect to how you manage on the ground. Several of our peers manage third party land, lands that are clients of theirs, where we principally manage our own assets. Our owners are extraordinarily passionate about sustainable forest management and as a result they provide Seven Islands a significant amount of autonomy to do what’s best for the forest.
We have what we call our “forest first approach,” which is really a litmus test by which we evaluate our decisions. If it’s best for the forest, we have a lot of autonomy to implement the decision.
We also own and manage two wood products manufacturing facilities. In the late 90’s, the family invested in a hardwood sawmill to allow us to better manage the mature hardwood resource on the family’s lands. Without a market for timber, it is much more difficult to manage the forest sustainably.
Maine has a significant timber history, can you tell us about the symbolism of forests in the state?
Forests have had a significant place in the history of the state. The Forest Industry currently makes up $8-8.5 Billion a year of the state’s economy. Even though it has shrunk somewhat over the past decade, it is still very meaningful to Maine’s economy.
The north Maine woods are 10 million contiguous acres of undeveloped working forest land, the largest contiguous swath of forest east of the Mississippi. The state of Maine is 89% forested - when you are flying north, everything you see around you is a sea of timber. The lion’s share of these resources are owned and managed either by private companies or families.
Maine is a great example of how private working forests can provide the products and services society demands, while continuing to keep that land in a forested condition. Seven Islands style of management demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be a question of either/or, but instead, a state of coexistence. A vibrant, healthy forest that provides habitat for wildlife, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and opportunities for recreation can also provide an ample supply of wood products.
What first brought you to the collaboration with WholeTrees?
[Co-Founder and CEO] Amelia Baxter and I have known each other for quite a long time - we first met when I was working in the US south for another forest management company. You really can’t practice sustainable forestry without strong and diverse markets for timber - especially low quality timber. The conversation began with WholeTrees being able to deliver interesting and creative markets for lower value timber. Where I worked in the US south at the time, the geography did not offer much opportunity given its types of timber.
After I moved back to Maine and joined Seven Islands, it was pretty clear that Maine’s forests had multiple compatible species that would potentially do well for the WholeTrees market. Sugar Maple and Yellow Birch meet the aesthetic, visual, and durability requirements necessary to serve WholeTrees' market segments. WholeTrees brings together the natural beauty of trees with commercial construction requirements. Because they serve owners, architects, and engineers who are drawn to a particular biophilic and raw timber aesthetic, the vast hardwood resources of Maine are a natural fit.
How does the partnership work, and how might it work in the future?
The partnership was initiated as a collaboration between WholeTrees, the Town of Ashland, and Seven Islands, as we recognized that there needed to be an effort to create market awareness in the AEC community for Structural Round Timber (SRT). Together the collaboration helped the Town of Ashland receive $600K to fund a 2-year project which made it very clear that there was strong interest and demand in the East Coast market for SRT. From there we shifted our discussions from market development and education to the possibility of producing SRT in or around the Town of Ashland.
Since then the Town of Ashland and WholeTrees have applied for additional funding to facilitate the scale up of an SRT campus in or near the town. Going forward, we think WholeTrees brings a scalable solution that’s compatible with existing timber resources and compliments other markets that are already in the area. It’s a welcome opportunity for land managers to have a greater diversity of markets for the area.
Why do you choose to partner with WholeTrees?
Seven Islands seeks partnerships with companies that share our values and align with our mission and vision. We find it exciting to work with Amelia because of her creativity and high energy. There are a number of synergies between our respective organizations and significant opportunities lie ahead.
About President & CEO, Dan LaMontagne: Dan LaMontagne is a University of Maine graduate with a degree in Forest Management. He began his career in Maine, working for Sappi, a pulp and paper mill that owned 900,000 acres of timberland at that time. After Sappi’s timberlands were acquired by Plum Creek in 1998,, LaMontagne joined Plum Creek and held numerous roles with increasing responsibility over the next 18 years. . His last position with Plum Creek was Director of Operations Support where he oversaw all harvest planning activities for the entirety of the organization. Upon Plum Creek’s merger with Weyerhaeuser in 2016, LaMontagne moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas where he led the company’s gulf south real estate sales program. When Seven Islands reached out in 2019, he jumped at the opportunity to return to Maine with his wife and seven children to continue his work promoting sustainable forestry practices.
About Seven Islands Land Company: David Pingree, Sr. a successful shipping merchant from Salem, Massachusetts, invested in Maine’s timberlands in the mid-1800s as a means of diversifying from the shipping industry. Today, the timberland legacy lives on, with the family owning over 820,000 acres of timberland in Maine. Seven Islands Land Company was incorporated in 1964 to formalize the management of the timberlands owned by the Pingree family. The company’s main charge: uphold the stewardship principles long held by the family while navigating an ever-changing forestry industry. In other words, maintain the Proud History and ensure a Growing Future.