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Secondary wood manufacturing contributes 8,884 jobs and $1.8 billion to Maine's economy, about 20 percent of the forest products industry’s impact.

Tree Growth, State of the State and ‘roadmap’ progress

Steve Shaler of the University of Maine, who chaired the Tree Growth review committee, presented the report at Taxation Thursday.

There’s a lot to talk about today, including the release Thursday of the new report on the Tree Growth Tax Program, the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday, and an update on the progress of our industry’s roadmap.

But the big news is Verso’s announcement to start up its idled machine — employing 120 workers — and produce container board. This is great news and opens up markets for softwood and sawmill residuals.  It’s also exciting to learn they are diversifying their production into container board products. Also exciting is the announcement by two cross laminated timber (CLT) firms this week of their intentions to build facilities in Maine. We’re making great progress in building a stronger forest economy.

I served on the committee that reviewed the Tree Growth Program and our report included answers to all the questions that the Taxation Committee gave us. Our recommendations include an understanding that this program has many pieces to it and even now there are things that assessors don’t know about the program. For example, it’s not universally known that the Maine Forest Service can provide assistance in interpreting Tree Growth management plans.

The full report is 76 pages, so here’s a link to the Executive Summary.

So one of our recommendations is building a best management practices manual for the program. We’re recommending that the Maine Revenue Service, Maine Forest Service, the landowner community and the Maine Municipal Association get together and develop this manual. It can be handed out to anybody involved in the program and used as a reference that can be built upon to help clarify all the rules, responsibilities and penalties. We see that as a very important outcome of the group getting together.

The group noted that the Tree Growth program is built around the the involvement of licensed professional foresters. In cases where a forester may approve a management plan that is not in compliance with the Tree Growth requirements, we think this is an issue for the professional licensing board. We seek clarification from the Attorney General’s office on who has standing in bringing a complaint to the Licensing board. Rene Noel from the Association of Consulting Foresters helped guide our discussion of this issue. The governor’s bill (LD 1599) suggested that the MFS have greater authority in dealing with Tree Growth landowner compliance, but after much discussion the group believed the current system, if uniformly administered, can identify and take action with landowners not committed to the program.

Another important factor in limiting recommended changes in the Tree Growth program is that significant changes were  implemented in 2012 in an agreement with the MMA, MFPC, Maine Farm Bureau and SWOAM (now Maine Woodland Owners). These changes reflect actions taken to strengthen the program and will require more time to take effect in the annual cycling of tree growth re-certifications. More details are found in the report.

Executive Director Patrick Strauch (center) and other committee members attended the Taxation Committee hearing.

It was a good effort and we appreciate the efforts of Steve Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, who chaired the committee, with assistance from Dr. Adam Daigneault, assistant professor of Forest, Conservation, and Recreation Policy.

I listened to the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday and he emphasized the property tax dollars that he said are lost with the increasing enrollment of land into land trusts. I understand his concern about conserved land, but I just don’t want people confused. There are many acres of large conservation easements in the north country. MFPC members involved in these opportunities are paying land taxes on these enrolled programs. These working forest easements reflect the balance of compensation for public value (i.e. development rights and in some cases access right) and maintaining the ongoing forest operations that produce wood and Maine jobs.

In another part of the governor’s speech, he discussed his intention to submit a Commercialization Bond package designed to incentivize business investment.  We know this type of incentive is meaningful. For example, the recent allocation of bond money administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) yielded projects very important to the forest industry, including the Verso expansion and proposed CLT plant by SmartLam. So we know a demand exists for these programs.

It’s important that this potential funding be based on a well-evaluated plans, but this could provide a really important tool to attract investment to Maine to both our existing businesses and to other businesses that might be thinking about relocating to Maine. The “roadmap” process, officially called the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative (MFEGI), is progressing well. This fall, thanks to federal support, we’ll release a report that identifies the global forest products markets in which Maine is most competitive, along with the specific actions necessary to create a more diverse forest economy while increasing our economic output. In the meantime, here are the projects underway:

  • A global market analysis (target release: June 2018) to identify the current and emerging global forest products markets where Maine is likely to be most competitive. This analysis is being conducted by Indufor, a leading global forest consultant, and includes competitive benchmarking to compare Maine to other forest industry states, provinces and countries.
  • A wood supply analysis is being conducted by the James W. Sewall Co., to model what species are available across the state so we can match Maine’s forest resources to the market opportunities.
  • A transportation analysis to determine where infrastructure improvements are necessary in response to anticipated changes in how wood moves across our state
  • Working with Innovative Natural Resource Solutions to understanding the costs and benefits of modern wood energy markets for low value wood and sawmill residuals, including Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facilities.
  • Supporting the redevelopment and reutilization of idle pulp and paper mill sites, by pursuing new market opportunities, local economic development, and community goals.
  • Working with Maine forest economy communities to amplify and accelerate local and regional efforts around economic diversification. 

I already find myself fielding more and more calls from investors interested in the State of Maine and they’re coming from all across the country. People really are looking at our forests but they’re also comparing it to other parts of the nation and the world.

By working with communities, the industry and the university, we’re going to have some great ideas about the future forest economy. We encourage all stakeholders, including current state officials and candidates, to stay in touch with us as we go through this process.

 

After next week’s break, legislative pace will speed up

Next week may be legislators’ last chance to relax in a session where leadership has set a blistering pace since Jan. 3. Monday is Presidents Day and it’s also school holiday week, so there’s very little on the legislative calendar. But when legislators get back to business Feb. 26, they’ll be facing a deadline that will be tough to meet. Leadership has directed committees to get all bills reported out of committee the second week in March.

The intention is that unless a bill is truly an emergency and/or has consensus and is worthy of consideration by the Legislature, then let it go. This will then allow the Legislature to focus on the big items on the agenda, including ranked choice voting; marijuana regulations; whether Maine should stay coupled to the federal tax code in light of the recent changes, and – the biggest of all – how to fund the Medicaid expansion that was approved by voters last November.

Legislators face a pretty short turnaround time – probably just three to four weeks – to sort those issues out in order to make their statutory adjournment April 18.

Our big issues, including Tree Growth Tax, are still pending. The hearing on the Tree Growth report in Taxation Thursday (see Executive Director Patrick Strauch’s column) started the process. 

We’ve had some success with the bills that have been worked so far. For example, LD 1759 An Act To Rename the Coast of Maine Wildlife Management Area was unanimously voted OTP in the IFW Committee and approved in the House and Senate,

We’re engaged in a dialogue and a conversation with the ACF Committee and other stakeholders about LD 1747 Resolve, To Establish a Task Force To Examine Agricultural Issues. There’s an interest to come up with a plan to promote the blueberry industry, similar to what was done by the maple syrup task force a few years ago, but it may morph into a Maine-made labeling kind of conversation. The charge and duties of the task force, as well as its membership are being discussed by the committee right now and has yet to be voted out of committee.

There are several bills pending in the EUT Committee regarding energy issues, biomass and alternative energy sources and we don’t have a clear sense of the committee’s direction as of yet. These complex bill decisions are typically saved for consideration last as they tend to be very involved and technical, but we anticipate that they will be hammered out in the next three weeks or so.

LD 897 An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Encourage Efficient Biomass Thermal and Power Projects in Maine is still tabled in Appropriations, along with every other bond proposal. The revenue projections are out for January and were up, which is great. But when talking to leadership there’s no real consensus or clear understanding if there will even be a bond package, because they have to fund the Medicaid expansion and the governor has made a pledge of no new taxes and no borrowing from rainy day. Our concern is that the Appropriations Committee will sweep balances in accounts in an attempt to pay for the Medicaid expansion legislation that needs to be funded as well as whatever surplus we have in the current biennial budget (if we have one). Voters passed the Medicaid expansion with a pretty good margin. Legislators don’t want to go home and run for election taking a position that is contrary to what the voters expressed at the ballot box last November. So that’s going to be the top priority – funding that Medicaid expansion — even before bonds.

One important factor in how things go, of course, is the governor, who has made it very clear he’s not going to take a lame duck approach in his final year and intends to work diligently right up to the time a new governor is sworn in. Read BDN story on his State of the State address.

An example of that is his recent position on wind energy. He’s been a vocal critic of wind energy throughout his administration and has attempted to limit the ability for wind project expansion. On Jan. 24, Gov. LePage issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits “related to wind turbines” in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.”

The moratorium would remain in place until a new Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission reports on wind power’s economic impact and recommends potential regulatory changes. The task force meetings wouldn’t be public, nor would the public be invited to participate. The Conservation Law Foundation filed a legal challenge on Jan. 30th.

On Jan. 29, he introduced LD 1810, An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Expedited Permitting for Wind Energy Development. It’s similar to a bill last session, having to do with visual impacts in the expedited area. Last session he was talking about taking the visual impact to infinity and beyond, but this year’s bill just proposes taking it from eight miles to 40 miles.

The bill has been referred to the EUT Committee in the House and is pending reference in the Senate. We will participate in the public hearing when one is scheduled.

Finally, the one question everyone is asking is if the Legislature will adjourn on time. They’ve got a huge agenda. Trying to find Medicaid expansion funding alone is going to be significant. Couple that with the federal tax implications and marijuana implementation and I’d be surprised if they adjourn on time.

But then again, most of them are running for office and they can’t solicit money from the lobby or their clients for contributions to their individual campaigns or political action committees until they’re out of session.  Last session when they delayed their final sine die to August, it really cost them in their fundraising efforts.

So, as with so much at the Legislature, we will just have to wait and see … and then hang on!

Monument needs more areas open to snowmobiling

Reprinted with MSA permission from the February 2018 issue of The Maine Snowmobiler

Ya can’t get there from here.

That old punchline from Marshall Dodge’s Burt & I routines almost never failed to get a laugh fifty years ago, but even today like all good comedy, it’s the hint of truth in it that makes it work.

On January 24, I attended the latest of the series of planning meetings for the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in East Millinocket. I had avoided them until now, but the theme was winter use, so this one was necessary because it turns out that snowmobiling is the predominate use of the monument during the winter months. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but for the most part snowmobiling is working to the point that I would hazard a guess that it could even exceed the sluggish summer visitation. That is probably thanks to the dedication and work of the local clubs who completely understand the need to get south-north. The local snowmobile community was well-represented, and as usual had a firm grasp of what was happening on the ground. The rest of the crowd was locals, some outfitters and of course the usual suspects from the environmental community.

Bob Meyers on a trail near Matagamon in the monument that’s now closed to snowmobiling.

Following planning guidelines, we were split into seven small groups with an assignment to come up with lists of activities, benefits and roadblocks to achieving usage goals. The almost immediate comments were directed at the lack of facilities and lack of access in the wintertime. A lack of cabins for overnight trekkers and toilet facilities was noted.

By the design of the donors, snowmobile use is limited on the west side of the East Branch, which is too bad. As it turns out, snowmobiling is important to the trail system, and at the same time it is an important method of access to a variety of non-motorized use. Due to the location and absence of roads that were transferred to the feds, those who wish to engage in non-motorized activities in many areas of the monument are faced with trekking by foot up to 6-8 miles before they get to where they want to start. One older woman in our group kept talking about the importance of “quiet areas” and “dark skies,” but acknowledged that there was really no way to get to those “special” places.

Which brings us back to snowmobiles. Opening up more areas to snowmobiling would obviously increase non-motorized activities for other users. Heck, maybe some enterprising outfitters could even offer snowmobile rides into the back country like they do at Baxter State Park.

I thought I was quite clever suggesting that KWWNM could adopt the same snowmobile use policy as Acadia National Park. That is any road that is open to motorized traffic in the summer and is unplowed in the winter is open to snowmobiles. It works very well at Acadia and at KWWNM it would open up the Loop Road and significantly increase access to the areas people want to visit. When all the groups reported back at the end of the evening, I was pleased to learn that the six other groups had also come to the same conclusions. I guess that means I wasn’t so creative after all, but then again, great minds think alike.

The only thing holding this back is the ill-conceived deed restrictions put in place by the donors (which I think the Park Service could deal with), and the prostrations of the environmental groups, which if the truth be known, don’t really want people to enjoy the outdoors anyway.

So, that’s my story for this month. I may even go back to another planning session. In the meantime you can weigh in too. The planning process will be going on for several more months, and all are welcome to submit comments to the planning group. Their contact info can be found at https://www.nps.gov/kaww/getinvolved/planning.htm.

As beech dominates, abundance of maples is declining

The change from beech-maple-birch forests to more beech-dominated forestlands could have consequences for ecosystem structure and function, UMaine researchers say.

ORONO — The composition of hardwood forests in the northeastern United States is changing significantly. In the past 30 years in forestlands in four states, climate-associated changes have increased the abundance of American beech compared to three other hardwood species commonly associated with the regional forests, according to University of Maine-led research team.

The significant shift to forests dominated by American beech, Fagus grandifolia, in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont is associated with higher temperatures and precipitation, according to Arun Bose and Aaron Weiskittel at UMaine, and Robert Wagner at Purdue University, the team that conducted the study — one of the first to examine broad-scale changes over a long period of time in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada.

The change from beech-maple-birch forests to more beech-dominated forestlands could have consequences for ecosystem structure and function, say the researchers. Beech is associated with a widespread bark disease and is known to limit natural regeneration of other species. In addition, the wood has less commercial value.

The significant increase in beech in the past three decades also has resulted in decreased incidence of sugar maple, red maple and birch. Factors in the changing forest composition include the ability of beech to shade out the other species.

“Our results emphasize the need for management strategies, such as higher intensity harvesting methods, vegetation control and limiting browsing pressure to reduce beech dominance,” according to the researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The researchers used U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data, 1983–2014, for Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont to study the occurrence and abundance of American beech, sugar and red maple, and birch saplings. Their assessment included sapling encroachment into new areas, as well as the abundance of the American beech relative to the other three species.

They found the beech-dominated forests particularly evident in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Climate-associated changes in forest composition often include high mortality in sensitive species and disproportionate favoring of others that can better adapt to the new conditions, the researchers note. In the northeastern U.S., beech sapling presence and abundance has likely been driven by additional factors, including the long absence of wildfire and clear cutting, and species characteristics, such as shade tolerance.

Forest management needs to include large-scale harvesting and canopy opening to preclude beech-dominated forests from developing in even greater areas, according to the researchers.

Tree Growth Tax session sparks ‘pretty good discussion’

Mike Malesky, right, was one of four tax assessors who testified at a Tree Growth Tax listening session at the State House Jan. 3.

In the first session of the 128th Legislature, chairs of the Taxation Committee requested that a review of the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law be conducted and asked an appointed panel to report back Feb. 1. The panel has met several times and on Jan. 3 offered the public an opportunity to offer perspectives at the State House in Augusta. 

 
“It was actually a pretty good discussion,” said MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “None of them were interested in making the program go away but they were interested in making sure it was being adhered to by people who were taking part in it. I think a lot of the feedback we got was how to make sure people know what is involved in the program, so a lot of education and outreach.”
 
 

Presiding over the listening session was Stephen Shaler, director of the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, who chairs the review panel. Other members attending were Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy; Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners; Rene Noel, Association of Consulting Foresters, and Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau. Also present for parts of the meeting were the chairs of the Taxation Committee, Sen. Dana Dow  and Rep. Ryan Tipping. 

About a dozen members of the public attended and six testified, including four tax assessors, Bill Van Tuinen, assessor for towns including Skowhegan, Beaver Cove, Bethel; Darryl L. McKenney, Waldoboro assessor; Kerry Leichtman, Camden-Rockport assessor, and Mike Malesky, assessor for New Portland, Highland Plantation and New Vineyard.
 
“The assessors emphasized that they were interested in holding on to the authority over who goes into and out of the Tree Growth program,” Strauch said. “They felt that was a taxation issue that needed to be maintained by municipalities. And some of them didn’t know until recently that they could use the Maine Forest Service to help with some of their investigations on suspicious lots. So we got some good insights.” 
 

Review panel from left, Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau; Rene Noel, Association of Consulting Foresters; Steve Shaler, University of Maine (chair); Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners, Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council; Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association and Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy.

Also testifying were landowner Chip Bessey of E.D. Bessey & Son and Clark Granger, Granger Family Farms. 

“Chip talked about his concerns with some of the rates that had gone up and the discrepancies between the megaregions,” Strauch said. “That was a concern of one of the appraisers as well.” 

The panel’s report, Strauch said, is likely to include recommendations on “mechanisms to make sure that foresters are complying with the law. Another issue is the penalties. Is it just too rigorous to get out of the program, for example, if you’ve inherited the land?”
 
 

A lot of the action this session will be at EUT Committee

I fully expect we’ll see an aggressive schedule and considerably faster pace in the second session of the 128th Legislature, which begins Jan. 3, than the slow-starting first session. I think we’ll start to see committees hold public hearings/work sessions on the carryover bills as early as the first week in January. They have only four months and they have quite a work load ahead of them.

There are a number of significant controversial issue, including some that MFPC is particularly interested in, like Tree Growth and biomass. In fact, a lot of the action for us this session will be in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee because there are many bills relating to energy and utility issues, from hydropower to the Renewable Portfolio Standard. It’s too early to say which bills will be most important, because many are just titles right now, but I just know that energy is going to be huge. That committee already had a pretty sizeable workload before we even got the new bills.

Funding for LD 8, the bill to arm rangers, is still on the Appropriations table, and is likely to get caught up with a lot of other bills and state programs in THE top issue this session — how to fund the Medicaid expansion that voters just approved.

The language of the referendum was silent on the funding source because supporters didn’t want to create controversy and therefore lose votes. But now that it has passed and is supposed to take effect – enrollment starts in July – legislators have to come up with some significant money to fund it. We don’t know exactly how much because there are differing opinions between the Office of Fiscal Policy Review, which advises the Appropriations Committee, and the Department of Health and Human Services

There also are a lot of unanswered questions right now, such as how many people will enroll, how quickly they’ll enroll, what eligibility will look like, what the federal match will be and what the federal resources designated to the state will be.

The governor has said it can’t be funded with new taxes or the rainy day fund. I have to believe legislators aren’t going to raise taxes because they’re all running for reelection and no legislator wants to be on the side of supporting a tax increase before a re-election campaign.. So where would the Medicaid expansion funding come from? A concern for MFPC, along with other interest groups, is whether the Legislature might sweep money from other accounts and programs to come up with the funding. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye on this process.

Ranked choice voting is another tricky issue still hanging out there. Many people are frustrated with the citizen-initiated referendum process, especially after the amount of money spent on the casino question that failed this past November. So if there was ever any appetite to do something about the process, you’d think it would be now. However, there is little interest or support within the Senate Democratic caucus to pass a constitutional amendment or a bill tightening up the referendum process. Historically, when voters approve a citizen-initiated referendum, the Legislature has been very nervous about doing anything to impact the will of the people but between rank choice voting and the implementation of legalized marijuana initiatives, we have seen the leadership in the Legislature take steps to block or amend those bills voted on by the citizens.

Just a quick note about the upcoming election. Many more Republicans than Democrats will be termed out after this session – seven in the Senate compared to one Democrat, and 14 in the House, compared to seven Democrats. (Legislators termed out in 2018.)

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, recently told me Democrats are way ahead in the race to field candidates in every district. But of the 21 Senate candidates registered of Dec. 20, 16 were Republicans and five were Democrats. In the House races, 34 Republicans have registered so far, 19 Democrats, five unenrolled, and two Libertarians. The deadline is not until March 15, so it’s really not an accurate depiction right now. The Senate Republicans do have some big shoes to fill with their term-limited vacancies, but they also have significant shifts of folks from the House running for the Senate, including Jeff Timberlake, Russell Black and Ellie Espling. Maine Senate candidates. Maine House candidates. (Source: Maine Commission on Governmental Elections and Election Practices.)

Whether there are term-limit vacancies or somebody leaving the Senate to run for governor – and there are several with 25 currently registered gubernatorial candidates – the Republicans have done a really good job of getting folks to shift over. So while the Democrats may seem to have the advantage on paper, it’s a long time until the next election – Nov. 6, 2018 – and who knows what can change? Any number of things could impact people’s perception or opinion of whether they’re likely to vote or what candidate they support.

The good news is that with legislators eager to get on the campaign trail and reluctant to face angry voters, it will help us defeat bad bills and make it more likely the session will adjourn close to the April 18th statutory adjournment.

Tree Growth and biomass top forestry issues this session

The first session of the 128th Legislature was very busy and MFPC was involved right down to the closing days of the session. I was hoping that in the second session, which starts Jan. 3, there would be enough legislative discipline – and to some degree it looks like there has been — to limit the number of issues we have to deal with.

There are 319 total carryover bills and about 10 of those are on our watch list, ranging from the age-old guns and rangers effort, to a lot of important discussion about biomass, biomass energy and energy policy. And, of course, the governor’s Tree Growth bill, LD 1599, was carried over as well. I’ll talk about that separately. 

There are also new bills. I’ve been here when quite a few new bills have been allowed in the second session, but this year, it was a pretty rigorous process. A total of 93 new bills have been allowed and there are about a dozen or so that are on our watch list. Details of the bills are limited with only a title and short summary, so there’s no way to know exactly what’s being proposed. There also are agency bills and the governor can always put in a bill at any time. So we’ll watch all of that activity.

As for Tree Growth, the Taxation Committee chairs appointed a committee that includes MFPC to “review all aspects of the MTGTL and develop recommendations regarding any changes you believe to be appropriate to improve the law and its administration.”

Sen. Dana Dow and Rep. Ryan Tipping wrote, “As you are aware nearly every Legislative Session bills are introduced proposing changes to the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law (MTGTL).  This is a very important law that has worked extremely well since its inception nearly fifty years ago.  It is useful to periodically review the law to ensure it is working properly and that participants are living up to the spirit and requirements of the program . . . We want to make sure that any changes are made in a thoughtful manner.

There’s a specific list of items we were meant to investigate. That group has met three times and to discuss what are meaningful reforms that are appropriate for the Tree Growth Tax Program. (Read Legislature Charge to Committee). Here are the latest statistics on Tree Growth in municipalities and in the Unorganized Territory

The committee would like to hear from the public on these issues, so on Tuesday, Jan. 3, there is a public meeting from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Room 126 of the State House (Transportation Committee Room) in Augusta for the purpose of gathering information and comments on the following charges:

  • Identifying changes in penalty provisions that should be made in the law;
  • Identifying any impediments to enforcement and recommending changes that would improve enforcement;
  • Identifying any causes of confusion among landowners, foresters or assessors regarding the requirements or administration of the law and recommending changes to improve administration;
  • Analyzing whether the minimum lot size of 10 acres for new enrollments of land should be modified;
  • Analyzing whether there are changes to the forester licensing law that would improve the administration of the law;
  • Analyzing the proper role of the Maine Forest Service in implementing the law;
  • Identifying whether there are requirements in the law that should be added or dropped;
  • Reviewing changes made to the Law in 2012 and assessing the effectiveness of those changes;
  • Providing any other information regarding the law that you think would be helpful to members of the Taxation Committee.

The report is not yet written, so I encourage our members and others in the forest community share their perspectives with the committee on Jan. 3. This is a forum for people to come and talk to us about the Tree Growth Tax program.

Biomass energy is another very important issue for our industry this session. There is going to be a lot of discussion about what biomass policy should look like and how we transition this important market in the face of low energy prices. We’ll also be talking about the importance of the energy plants that we have online now and the need to build a bridge to new solutions.

When talking with our sawmill members its clear we need to focus on outlets for sawmill residuals and to make sure that one of our strongest sectors is not hindered by the lack of markets for its byproducts. As pulpwood markets have shrunk there has been a growing use of energy markets for sawmill waste.  

A new study commissioned by the Governor’s Energy Office by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions (INRS) has recently been released, Analysis of the Energy & Environmental Economics of Maine’s Biomass Industry, that’s important reading for people who want to get involved with this issue and understand it going forward. We’re also working at the Roadmap level on trying to model a future where we have full utilization of all these materials that come out of sawmills.

Speaking of the Roadmap – aka Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative – we are making considerable progress.  The James W. Sewall Co. has started the Phase 1 analysis of Maine’s wood supply and INRS is working on the wood energy cost benefit analysis, with its report to be delivered in January. The finalists for the Global Market Analysis will be announced soon and work will begin in early January. An RFP was issued Dec. 8 (closing Jan. 10) for a firm to help the Roadmap project write its strategic plan.

We’re really trying to get a handle on emerging wood technologies and how we organize as a state to welcome capital investors. As the committees do their work and the initiatives provide the facts we need,  the focus of the steering committee will be packaging all that together, thinking about how to best relate all of this information to communities and policymakers, and coming up with a vision of what the future could be.

I can report there is a high level of interest from many people in the world examining Maine as a place to cite their wood manufacturing facility and they are asking questions about our resource and workforce. We already have the University of Maine, Maine Department of Economic & Community Development, Maine International Trade Center, Maine Development Foundation and community and industry organizations, including MFPC, working toward guiding this interest to the right places. We’ve been visited recently by potential pellet manufacturers, a fence manufacturer and there’s a strong push to locate a facility for cross-laminated timber in Maine, and all these are being done by a collection of people interested in the future of Maine.

In the perfect world, I would say that we’ll get through the legislative session, dealing with the day-to-day policy issues, while also gearing up to inform future policymakers as we enter into the next election cycle. We’re going to have a lot of information to report as we go through the  Roadmap’s planning process and consider how best to capitalize on those ideas.

So I look forward to welcoming the 128th Legislature back to deal with immediate issues that affect the people in our industry and communities, and to begin sharing the collective industries vision for our future forest economy.

SFI welcomes award-winning Project Learning Tree

If you’re wondering what’s changed or might change since the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI) became the new home of Project Learning Tree (PLT)  last summer, the answer is that PLT is continuing to delivering quality programs to Maine’s schools, just as it has since 1977. PLT had previously been housed at the American Forest Foundation.

Pat Maloney, Maine PLT director

“When the transfer from AFF to SFI took place this summer,” said Patricia Maloney, coordinator of Maine PLT. “SFI committed to welcoming PLT into its Washington D.C. offices – first major change! The PLT staff is now fully settled and all seem very happy with the level of professionalism and support that is shared by the SFI staff. Kathy Abusow, SFI president and CEO, wrote that SFI plans to keep everything intact for a couple of years while reviewing the PLT program and evaluating our outreach and network. Once the merger has settled and everyone has some time to reflect, we may see some changes but for now, everyone is getting to know one another, learning how best to work as a team and then moving forward with stronger programs for all.”

PLT is an award-winning environmental education program, which uses trees and forests to increase youth understanding of the environment and conservation. Maine’s PLT is under the auspices of the Maine TREE Foundation. 

Abusow sees PLT’s integration into SFI, which has enthusiastically supported PLT for years, as an opportunity for the program to expand its reach and impact. At the same time,  SFI’s role as a sustainability leader will be bolstered by PLT’s expertise in education, an increasing focus in SFI’s community engagement work.

“We have big plans for the future and are committed to continuing PLT’s work as a high-quality education program.,” Abusow said. “Ultimately, we would like to be able to say that every teacher across North America and beyond recognizes Project Learning Tree as an invaluable resource for professional development, environmental education curriculum, and taking children outdoors to learn.”

PLT has consistently received prestigious awards and recognition from leading educational and community organizations. PLT state coordinators, workshop facilitators, and educators have won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. More than one quarter of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools are PLT GreenSchools.

Pat Sirois, Maine SFI coordinator

PLT’s instructional materials are aligned with state and national academic standards and meet or exceed the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Guidelines for Excellence. PLT’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood curriculum won a Learning Magazine Teachers’ Choice Award and PLT has also received straight A’s in environmental education from the California Department of Education. More than 20,000 educators attend PLT workshops every year and this partnership between PLT and SFI will help the program grow and reach new audiences across the globe in diverse ways.

At the state level, Maloney said, she and Pat Sirois, SFI coordinator, have begun this transition by talking with one another. She plans to attend the ME SFI/SIC meetings and Sirois already has attended a ME PLT Steering Committee meeting.

 “He worked with us during our 40th anniversary celebration at Hidden Valley Nature Center,” Maloney said, “and is planning to join our MEPLT network 2/2/18 Transition/Immersion overnight at Camp Kieve. The goals of this overnight are 1) to acquaint our program with SFI – both nationally and in Maine, 2) to learn about a number of curriculum changes from PLT that are new to our professional development delivery and 3) review and assess delivery of PLT workshops.”

“For now, we all understand that this is a transitional period and it appears that both SFI and PLT are approaching changes with a great deal of communication and understanding of the change process,” Maloney said. “No doubt, our international PLT Coordinator’s conference to be held in June will include information about the present and the future hopes, goals and expectations for this partnership.”

Low budworm counts allow more time to prepare

Defoliation samples sites. Stars indicate sites where defoliation consistent with spruce budworm feeding behavior was detected.

In mid-October we presented information regarding the on-going spruce budworm surveys in Maine and in the surrounding provinces.  Notably, among the 3,700 acres of light and scattered defoliation mapped in New Brunswick were several sites in the St. John River Valley between Edmundston and Connors (Madawaska and St. Francis in Maine) and defoliation had expanded and intensified in 2017 in the Bas-St-Laurent region of Quebec and other parts of the Gaspe. Two months later, the Maine Forest Service (MFS) has completed a defoliation survey in sites across the northern boundary of the state, counted some of the budworm tracker’s citizen scientist site samples (all those that have been mailed in), tabulated light trap samples, collected L2 samples (second instar larvae) for the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU)-led study, and we are chugging through samples from the network of cooperator pheromone traps.  A summary of the results of those efforts follows. 

Defoliation Survey

This year we quantified defoliation on a subset of MFS-sampled L2 sites and additional sites in northern Maine. The Fettes Method was used to quantify defoliation on current-year growth. This method provides a systematic approach to measuring defoliation.  It was employed during the last budworm outbreak in Maine, and is currently in use in Quebec. MFS staff received training on implementing the method in a July 2016 field training held in the Matapedia Valley in Quebec.  The Fettes method captures defoliation from all causes and can be used to estimate both current-year defoliation and cumulative defoliation.  Here’s a brief introduction to the approach.

Budworm Tracker sample sites: Volunteers agreed to collect samples at these sites weekly or more frequently.

Trace defoliation was recorded at all 26 sample sites, with levels ranging from 0.2 to 3.9 percent foliage missing. Only four sample sites had defoliation that was in a pattern typical for the feeding behavior of spruce budworm. These were found in two sites near Estcourt Station, one site in Cross Lake Twp. and one site in Connor Twp. 

Budworm Tracker

Preliminary counts have been made on samples from sites where citizen volunteers deployed a pheromone trap and made collections on a more or less weekly basis. (Details of the program can be found at www.budwormtracker.ca.) Samples or data sheets were delivered to the MFS office in Old Town from 24 locations. Sites were established from Lubec and Bangor north. 

Catches ranged from 0 to 52 moths, with the highest captures in the north and east.  More information on this project will become available from the Budworm Tracker program next year. This is the second year Maine has been a full partner in this program.

Light Trap Surveys

Another set of sub-season samples comes from the network of people who tend a light trap during the summer months.  Volunteers at these sites collect trap contents daily and regularly mail them in to the MFS lab in Augusta for processing. 

Light trap sites in 2017. Numbers indicate budworm moths captured. Open circle marks former Allagash site.

The light trap network sites captured fewer spruce budworm moths this year than last.  It is apparent from atmospheric transport models and Canadian weather data that the bulk of spruce budworm moth flights from Quebec did not impact Maine, and this may be reflected in the light trap catches. 

Additional impact could be a result of the loss of a key site in Allagash.  This location had recovered spruce budworm in four of the previous five years of operation. 

We would like to find a trap operator to help fill the gap in the Allagash region.  This year, light traps in Calais, Crystal, St. Pamphile and Topsfield recovered spruce budworm.  A total of 41 spruce budworm moths were captured, down from the 2016 catch of 146, but on par with catches in 2014 and 2015. 

L2 Samples

CFRU cooperators including the MFS have been collecting and supporting processing of L2 samples for the last several years. This year samples were requested from a total of 220 sites.  Samples are being processed at cost at the Canadian Forest Service L2 lab in Fredericton New Brunswick.  Final delivery of samples for the year is planned for December 20.  As mentioned previously, defoliation was evaluated on a subset of the MFS sites. MFS plans to continue to collect this measure, at least from northern Maine sites. 

Pheromone Trap Sites

We believe that all the cooperator pheromone trap samples that will come in have been delivered to the MFS office in Old Town (we’re happy to continue receiving them if that belief is in error).  We’re working through the last of those samples and expect to have counts completed by the end of the year or early 2018. To date, approximately 360 samples have been processed and data entered.  Sixty three samples remain. 

The pattern remains the same as reported previously, with highest captures within about 40 miles of the northern border.  Captures also tend to drop off from east to west.  To date, the highest recorded catch is 68.3 moths/trap in T19 R12 WELS. 

Outlook and Future Plans

L2 and trap recoveries should be finalized and a full report of 2017 spruce budworm activities should be available early next year.  We plan to follow up on the fall defoliation survey with a similar survey of sites in northern Maine in early July 2018.  The continued low populations gives forest land owners and managers, as well as others who will be impacted, additional time to prepare for the next spruce budworm epidemic.  More information on spruce budworm can be found at www.sprucebudwormmaine.org.

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