The Bangor Daily News
Wednesday, March 25, 1998
Forestry bill passed
By Orna Izakson and Susan Kinzie, Of the NEWS Staff -- AUGUSTA - The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday morning voted 119-26 to pass a forestry bill that focuses on gathering information, preparing reports and making housekeeping changes to existing laws.
Derided by environmentalists as a "do-nothing" plan that lets clear-cutting continue unabated, the resounding preliminary vote came after legislators trounced a more stringent bill 100-39 Monday night.
But by Tuesday afternoon, the bill that died Monday night was resurrected in four amendments to the majority proposal. Those, along with a fifth that targets key sections of the majority bill, are expected to be introduced this morning.
The bill that received preliminary approval Tuesday morning was supported by 10 of the Forestry Committee's 13 members. It would establish an annual inventory of Maine's forests, create minimum standards for buffer zones between clear-cuts and allow the state conservation commissioner to establish more stringent standards for clear-cuts greater than 35 acres. Forest management plans would have to be written for clear-cuts of 35 acres or more. The threshold is now 50 acres.
The Maine Forest Service would be required to produce several reports and studies, including an annual report summarizing clear-cutting activities. The bureau would have to establish a process "to assess forest sustainability," including the development of standards and a monitoring system.
Since the majority bill, LD 2286, passed out of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee last week, most of the debate on it has focused on whether it constitutes meaningful forestry reform.
Environmentalists and a handful of legislators decry the measure as a do-nothing bill, putting many of the lawmakers supporting the measure on the defensive.
"Anyone who thinks we have done nothing in this session is completely mistaken," said Rep. Walter Gooley, R-Farmington, a member of the Forestry Committee. "We have come up with something we can all live with."
Rep. George Bunker, D-Kossuth Township, House chairman of the Forestry Committee, defended the bill as setting standards and goals as well as a stable target for industry to meet.
"If proscriptive means are needed, I'll be here to recommend them," he promised, adding that it was not yet time to take that action.
But Rep. Paul Volenik, D-Brooklin, said the bill would provide "good election cover" for lawmakers who promised constituents no new laws.
"This bill sounds good," he said, "but it doesn't do much."
"I only wish we could've done a lot more," said a dispirited Rep. David Shiah, D-Bowdoinham, whose more stringent counterproposal was shot down decisively Monday night.
On the other side, conservative representatives voted with their usual opponents against the bill, arguing that it would lead to new regulations that would disadvantage small wood-lot owners.
"We have a law book pertaining to forestry - 366 pages of law, one for every day of the year," said Rep. Pat Lane, R-Enfield, Tuesday morning. "This is a war with the radical environmental agenda that would turn Maine into a national park."
Gov. Angus King said Tuesday morning that he supported the incremental approach to reforms undertaken by the majority bill.
"Is it a comprehensive, all-encompassing solution to the issue of forestry in Maine? No," he said. "Is it an incremental step toward establishing sustainability and standards of sustainability and the ability to measure whether we're there? Yes. I think it's progress."
The provision establishing an annual inventory of Maine's woods "could be the most important thing that we've done around here about forestry in a dozen years," he said.
He also called environmentalists unrealistic for bringing their four-point proposal for forestry reforms to the Legislature so late.
"I think that the folks who expected to come in here with five weeks left in the legislative session with a new comprehensive solution right after the defeat of the compact - I just don't think they were realistic about how this process works," he said.
Nevertheless, Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said that most of the amendments held over to Wednesday were intended to give legislators another chance "to make meaningful reform." By breaking the earlier bill into four pieces, she said, lawmakers who opposed one section could still support others.
Three of the amendments apply primarily to the state's largest landowners. When the amount of acreage is more than 100,000, the amendments would require that cutting not exceed growth, that logging operations leave minimal amounts of standing trees after nonclear-cut operations, and that landowners participate in an audit of their forest practices.
A fourth amendment would limit clear-cuts to 75 acres on all properties and increase buffers between clear-cuts on properties of more than 100 acres. Owners of more than 100,000 acres would not be allowed to clear-cut more than one-quarter of 1 percent of their land in any one year and would have to justify each clear-cut in a permit-application process.
The fifth amendment was prepared by Lane, who originally offered the proposal as a minority report to the majority bill. Lane's amendment would strike from the majority bill the sections allowing the Maine Forest Service to establish more stringent clear-cutting standards, requiring the bureau to develop sustainability standards, and would reduce the amount of information landowners must give the state when they report their clear-cuts.
Lane said Tuesday evening that she would wait to hear the discussion on the other amendments before deciding whether to introduce hers.
Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.