After a high-profile and bitter split over the "Compact for Maine's Forests," environmental organizations in Maine have come together in a joint policy position on forest practices. The Forest Ecology Network moved quickly after the election to initiate discussions with leaders of the groups regardless of their position on the Compact. The agreed-upon policy will ensure that future generations of Mainers will be able to enjoy the natural beauty as well as the economic bounty of Maine's North Woods. The proposal focuses on four basic, reasonable goals for forest practices reform in Maine:
Clearcutting Limits. Clearcuts would be allowed only when silviculturally justified and permitted by the Maine Forest Service under a process with public accountability. Maximum clearcut size of 35 acres, with separation zones 1.5 times size of opening. .25% annual cap for large landowners.
Science Based Stocking Standards. All harvests of commercial forest products shall leave an adequate residual stocking, as measured by US Forest Service guidelines.
Sustainable Harvest Limits. The annual harvest of forest products cannot exceed average annual forest growth.
Mandatory Audit. All landowners holding more than 100,000 acres will participate. The Audit Board will be comprised of independent experts in the fields of silviculture, soils, fisheries, and wildlife. The public will have access to audit results.
The proposed joint policy to reform forest practices has been hammered out over the last several weeks by leadership of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Forest Ecology Network, Maine Audubon, Maine Chapter of the National Audubon Society, Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Northern Forest Alliance, RESTORE: The North Woods, Western Maine Audubon Society, and the Wilderness Society. The group has formed a strong coalition, representing thousands of Mainers.
In addition to lobbyists from the individual organizations, FEN has hired Kevin Mattson to lobby on behalf of the newly formed 'North Woods Coalition.' Kevin is the past Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Maine and former Chief of Staff of the House Majority Leader. "The people of Maine have sent this issue back to the Maine legislature because they want change," says Mattson. "Any reasonable Mainer would agree with the Coaltion's basic points -- wood should not be removed from the forest faster than it can grow back, the negative ecological effects of clearcutting should be minimized, and an independent and publicly accountable audit board should be established. It's just plain common sense."
The Bangor Daily News of November 6th said that Governor King "believes change is coming to the Maine woods" and quoted him as saying, "I think it is fair to say there is a majority of people that are concerned about clearcutting and will be looking to the legislature and to me" to make those changes.
The coalition plans to mobilize its membership to lobby their elected representatives in the legislature. "The time for action is now," asserts NRCM's Cathy Johnson. "The legislature needs to get the message loud and clear that their constituents demand that Maine's forest lands be managed responsibly." Johnson encouraged activists to work closely with organizations within the coalition -- and each other -- with renewed committment and optimism. "The legislature should not miss out on this historic opportunity," she added.
Although only 23% of Mainers voted for the "do nothing" 2C option in 1996's vote, opponents of forest practices reform are expected to encourage the legislature to merely tinker around the edges of the 1989 Forest Practices Act. They claim that full funding of the Act to provide additional foresters will somehow fix problems that are systemic. At a recent hearing on the USFS forest inventory Representative David Shiah of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee asked Maine Forest Service Director Chuck Gadzik, "Does the FPA ensure good silviculture and sustainable harvests?" Gadzik's response was an emphatic "No." In a recent analysis of the FPA, Robert Bryan of Maine Audubon outlined several issues of concern regarding the outdated law. He notes that "the FPA and associated Rules do not include an annual limit on clearcutting. An entire ownership could be clearcut in 11 years."
"No." Maine Forest Service Director Chuck Gadzik's answer to the question "Does the FPA ensure good silviculture and sustainable harvests?"
Other ecological issues of concern are water quality, soil productivity, timber quality, wildlife habitats, and recreational values, none of which are addressed by the FPA. "The FPA does not assure a healthy or sustainable forest," concludes Bryan.
"We don't want to go back to referendum," says Jonathan Carter, "but if the legislature refuses to listen to the people, we will have no choice." Carter, Executive Director of the Forest Ecology Network, lead a citizen's referendum to ban clearcutting in November of 1996. The measure was defeated by the 'Forest Compact,' then 2B on the ballot. This competing measure vanquished the citizen's initiative but failed to garner the 50% needed to become law, placing it on November 5th 1997's ballot, where it again failed, receiving only 47% of the vote. "Anyone who claims the defeat of the Compact was an endorsement of the FPA's status quo of clearcutting and unsustainable forestry is wrong," said Carter. (See 'People Have Spoken', page 5.) The Secretary of State has already approved a new citizen's petition Carter filed last year. This initiative would eliminate clearcutting as a standard silvicultural tool.
Although some members of the North Woods Coalition supported the failed Compact, there has been an extraordinary sense of cooperation and unity among the group. "Although we took no official position on the Compact, we have worked closely with the Coalition and fully support the joint policy," says Bob Perschel, the Northeast Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. "If the Maine legislature wants to protect the beauty, economy, and communities of the North Woods, it must incorporate the four points of the policy into law. Now is the time for the people to inspire courage and leadership in their elected representatives."
GET INVOLVED! FEN has established an email, fax, and phone tree action alert network. To join, send an email to email@example.com or call 207-623-7140. You will be kept up to date on progress with the legislature, and informed of when and how you can help.