The man who took FSM from a file box on his kitchen table to a million acres conserved.
It’s hard to imagine the Forest Society of Maine (FSM) without Alan Hutchinson. In truth, FSM really wasn’t an active land trust before he arrived. In 1984 FSM existed on paper, so that a conservation organization in neighboring New Hampshire could hold easements in Maine, but there was no staff, no office, and no new activity in Maine for more than a decade.
It wasn’t until 1997 when large tracts of Maine forestland were changing hands, that a group of landowners, conservation professionals, and scientists realized that Maine’s North Woods needed a dedicated land trust. They decided to bring FSM to life and hired Alan as the first employee and executive director. Before coming to FSM, Alan served with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) doing impressive work in various roles, but after 24 years he took a leap of faith and left IF&W to guide a fledgling organization. For the first several months he worked from his kitchen table, boxes of files stacked around him.
Soon after FSM upgraded to office space in downtown Bangor, Jim and Jenness Robbins of Robbins Lumber Company walked through the door. They wanted to discuss conservation options for 23,000 acres they’d purchased around Nicatous Lake. At the time it was a project of monumental proportions and a big test for a new executive director and a young organization. Working with numerous partners, (a practice that Alan made standard operating procedure for FSM), the Nicatous project became the first of many conservation successes.
If I was to use one word to describe Alan it would be ‘credibility.’ He exemplified it.” Maine forestland owner, Jim Robbins
Although completing projects was an important part of what Alan did, he did so much more to help make FSM a leader in conserving Maine forestlands. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was building an organization with a clear mission and vision for the future. It was slow work that required patience and tenacity, and depended in large part on his ability to bring people with diverse views together around the same table.
One of Alan’s amazing talents was to create an environment where there was deep, mutual respect for each other, and an openness to discuss some controversial topics in the most professional manner.” Former FSM board president Bob Burr
Alan was fond of saying, “We have a big tent,” meaning that people from all of the pillars of FSM’s mission–the economic, recreational, ecological, and cultural–could meet and find common ground. He recognized that helping Maine forestland owners and forest products businesses succeed is crucial to forestland conservation. He was also a good listener who could talk to anyone, because he knew that everyone had something to contribute.
Alan was the epitome of great leadership. He had a gracious way of making everyone feel a part of the project—and what incredible projects happened under his leadership. He was a real inspiration.” FSM friend Tarun Johns
Today, FSM has a staff of eight and a monitoring program for large forest easements that is highly regarded nationally. There is an active board of directors and advisory council, who are experts in forest resources, outdoor recreation, natural sciences, Maine history, land trust development, and more. Alan was very proud that FSM was among the first land trusts in Maine and the nation to become accredited through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. He was deeply aware of FSM’s ‘forever’ commitment to Maine lands, and worked hard to make FSM a strong and resilient organization.
I think the most difficult thing to be in the current state of our world is moderate. It takes day-in and day-out personal courage because you are constantly being criticized and questioned from all sides; yet, moderation is often the key to making progress. Alan had that personal courage; the unfailing ability to be calm, to be rational, to listen to all sides; and then to take firm, courageous, but moderate positions.” FSM partner Dick Spencer
One morning last year Alan told a young member of FSM’s staff that his generation had done a lot, both good and bad. “Now,” he said, “it’s up to your generation. It’s up to you.” His statement was a fair challenge, but it is only partially true: regardless of your generation, it is up to all of us to keep going, to keep making the changes we want to see in the world a reality, and to practice the tenacity, patience, and willingness to listen that Alan set as an example for us. Let’s honor Alan and further his legacy by continuing to come together around our shared goal of keeping Maine’s forests as forests for many generations to come.
Article originally published in Forest View, Fall 2017.
Top photo of Alan Hutchinson by Bruce Kidman.