No one was more identified with Maine’s working forests than Denico

When Doug Denico’s two-year term as president of the Maine Forest Products Council ended in 2010, his friends and colleagues described him fondly as a “cast iron skillet in a microwave world!”

That’s so true, but far from the whole story. Yes, he cooked – when he cooked – in a cast iron skillet and then placed the skillet, including whatever food was left, directly into the refrigerator. Yet, he also had two well-used cell phones.

“If you want to shape the forest, you have to go in there and work it,” Denico told members of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “Mother Nature doesn’t care if it’s a sugar maple or a red maple, but we do.”

Denico was not just willing, but eager to do battle for his beliefs, but also willing to apologize if he took an argument too far. It was never a good idea to take him lightly, because he not only had decades of on-the-ground forestry experience, but was also an excellent storyteller with considerable public speaking experience, including as a member of the Madison Taxpayers Against Bad Debt. He was a strong believer in fiscal responsibility and fearless about speaking his mind.

Born in Waterville on Feb. 7, 1944, he lost his long battle with acute myeloid leukemia on Oct. 22 at his home in Madison, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his children, Kathy Corraro and her husband Rick, Tonia Denico and Tamara Denico; grandchildren, Brandy, Luke, Rowan, Lief, Hannah, and great-grandchildren, Sean, Emma, Carter, Joshua, Bryce, Piper, Shane, Nathan and Cayden. His wife of 43 years, Rea Tibbetts Denico, died of cancer in 2010.

“Doug was a straight shooter, a good neighbor, and an overall nice person,” said Bill Hull, Hull Forestlands Maine.

A celebration of Doug Denico’s life will be held on Sunday Jan. 16, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the  Turner Poulin Union Hall,  676 U.S. Route. 201, Skowhegan, Maine.

With a B.S. and Master’s degree in forestry from the University of Maine, Denico managed forests for Sappi, International Paper, Scott Paper, S.D. Warren and Plum Creek. He knew nearly everyone in the forest products industry and those who didn’t know him had certainly heard of him. 

“Not only do we know Doug, but we love Doug,” said Mark Doty, who presented Denico with the MFPC President’s Award in 2014. “Doug has made a tremendous difference to our industry and to me personally . . . Doug hired  me – twice. He has been a friend for a good number of years now. And just this past winter, he was my  cancer coach, which helped out a tremendous amount to get me through that.”

Denico also received MFPC’s Denico also is being remembered as a formidable opponent — tenacious, wily, passionate and a staunch supporter of sustainable forest management. At 67, he came out of retirement – telling Mainebiz reporter Carol Coultas he was “a little bored” — when Gov. Paul Lepage appointed him Maine state forester in 2011, a post he held for eight years.

“These last few years, working in this capacity for the people of Maine, were the most rewarding of his career,” his daughter Tamara said.

His appointment was strongly supported by the forest products industry.

“It is comforting to have a state forester who has worn out more than one pair of boots in Maine’s working forest, not to mention he’s a brilliant leader,” said Don White, who was then president of Prentiss & Carlisle and MFPC. “No one is more identified with Maine’s working forests than Doug Denico. He is highly regarded by his peers and is committed to raising Maine’s natural resource economy to new heights. He fully understands the concept of sustainable forestry and what it means to Maine’s future.”

Inside the Maine Forest Service, however, the staff did not know what to expect as Denico transitioned from decades in the private sector to public service, but he turned out to be “a great boss,” said Don Mansius, director of the forest policy and management division.

Inside the Maine Forest Service, however, the staff did not know what to exect as Denico transitioned from decades in the private sector to public service, but he turned out to be “a great boss,” said Don Mansius, director of the forest policy and management division.

“His critics expected the worst, he proved them wrong,” Mansius said. “He was an outstanding State Forester who recognized the importance of public service and taking care of all the values of Maine’s forests. Doug accomplished things during his tenure that no one thought possible.”

“Whenever we met people, Doug told them I always had his back,” Mansius said. “That is true, but he always had ours at the Maine Forest Service. It was an honor to serve during his tenure. Maine’s forests and forestry community won’t be the same without him.”

In 1973, Denico built his beloved camp on Haymock Lake, paddling to it for many years until finally building a road. In addition to enjoying it with his family, he invited many valued friends.

“I got to know Doug during the six years that he and Chandler Woodcock and I were members of the Baxter Park Authority,” said Gov. Janet Mills. “We would go fishing, cook up a big meal at Kidney Pond. Doug would bring fiddleheads in the spring. In the fall,  he and my grandson Wyatt would go bird hunting and we would cook up the birds in the evening with a few rangers and Chandler and his wife Charlie. Doug brought his deep fryer to make fries and threatened to burn down the place. 

“While we were politically unaligned, we talked frequently, often about fishing, and I enjoyed his very dry sense of humor and his wisdom and experience when it came to forest issues,” Mills said. “He and I both lost our spouses during our tenure on the Authority, so we had that in common too . . . He lived in Maine all his life — Vassalboro, Allagash, Madison — and he was a Mainer through and through.”

His daughters say Doug loved a good joke, enjoyed teasing his children and grandchildren by making up wild stories, and creating elaborate schemes to pull off the next whopper. He loved the Maine woods —  hunting, fishing and just spending time in it. He had an eidetic memory and could tell you the exact spot he shot a deer in 1969 or a bird 30 years ago. He took pride in his family and in being a good friend. He loved his dachshunds, Peanut, Charlie, and PJ, almost more than his own children. If you ask his children, they may say he loved them more.

“He was a unique man, a man probably born out of his time,” Tamara Denico said. “A man who hopefully left the world a bit of a better place than when he came into it.”

Doug Denico at his Haymock Lake camp, Oct. 2, 2021. Photo by his daughter Kathy Corraro.

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