Maine Public Lands Back in the Spotlight
Public Hearing March 14
Thursday, March 09, 2017 9:43 AM
Maine state forests are back in the spotlight three years after increased logging on Maine Public Reserve Lands led to a standoff between the governor and the Legislature over access to the resulting timber revenue.
Now, a new state bill proposes how timber revenue from Maine Public Lands can be spent and requirements that must be met before timber harvesting can be increased, again.
Revenue generated from timber sales and other uses on public lands goes into a dedicated account that pays for salaries and management. By law, the funds can’t be diverted. As such, the bureau that oversees the 600,000 acres of Maine Public Lands is entirely self-supporting. Most of the 30 sites are also open free to the public for recreation, including hunting, camping, and snowmobiling. Some, like the Bigelow Mountains and the Cutler Coast, are Maine icons.
In the past, Maine Public Lands were held up as a model of exemplary forest management for multiple values. During the LePage adminstration, state forestry officials shifted away from a conservation forestry approach and more towards
timber management, with a goal of maintaining minimum sustainable green certification standards for industrial forest management.
Timber harvesting started increasing in 2014. At the same time, the governor attempted to get access to the resulting timber revenue to use for unrelated projects.
In 2015, the controversy over increased logging and the governor’s attempts to siphon off funds led the Legislature to create a temporary commission to study the Public Reserve Lands Management Fund. In early 2016, the commission issued recommendations that form the basis of LD 586, which proposes:
• to set aside $2.5 million to act as an annual cash account for the Maine Public Lands bureau
• establishing guidelines that must be met before timber harvesting can increase, including conducting a forest inventory every five years, reporting of how much wood has grown and how much has been cut annually; and site-specific annual information on timber harvesting where more wood was cut than grown
• establishing grants to public schools to train loggers
• reviewing how logging and road-building contracts are done
• to prioritize obtaining legal access to public lands that lack a deeded right-of-way
• prioritizing recreational projects, including projects that provide access for those with disabilities, such as boat ramps.
The bill favors timber over other uses and values.
For example, LD 586 lacks language that would require a professional recreation manager to identify and implement recreation projects, does not promote outreach education, nor propose funding seasonal recreation staff on high-use properties with known problems. The recreation wish list was generated by the commission based on personal perceptions.
The governor’s proposed budget seeks to further neuter the fiscal autonomy and multiple-use approach of Maine Public Lands while setting up another attempt to untie the purse strings of the revenue account.
LePage seeks to move the forestry operations on Maine Public Lands under the authority of the Maine Forest Service, something he has tried, and failed, to do before. His budget also eliminates a senior-level position with responsibility for overseeing Maine Public Lands field staff and kicks recreation oversight to the cash-strapped Maine State Parks. It’s a move that would more closely align the bureau with timber management and which likely will reopen the question of the legal uses of the bureau’s timber revenue account.
The LD 586 public hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, in Room 214, in the Cross Building in Augusta.