After a huge snowstorm Feb. 9 forced postponement of MFPC’s 2017 Legislative Reception, we rescheduled for March 9 and it was worth the wait. Attendance was great, the conversation was lively and the buffet was terrific. MFPC members had a wonderful opportunity to talk with legislators – and vice versa. Special thanks to Office Manager Sue McCarthy who planned the event, took the photos and made everyone feel welcome.
We already know that we’re going to have a pretty healthy legislative agenda, but between the learning curve for new members and the days missed due to bad weather, this session is off to a slow start.
So far, though, we’ve got three landowner liability bills between the Judiciary Committee and ACF, so we’ll continue to have conversations about landowner liability (LD 39, LD 112, LD 128). MFPC’s Landowner Committee had an in-depth discussion Tuesday about the bills and how to clarify and protect landowner liability.
We’re also working on our testimony in opposition to LD 541, which would alter the way the Commercial Forestry Excise Tax is calculated.
Although we’ve only had hearings on a few bills before the ACF Committee, they have voted with a majority report on LD 8 to train and arm rangers, but we’re still waiting to see the definition on the term “train.” That hasn’t come back before the committee, there’s nothing scheduled yet, and we’re waiting for the fiscal note.
We know there are Tree Growth-related bills coming, but they haven’t been available to us yet.
Sunday hunting continues to be a theme. There are multiple bills that will be coming up before the IFW Committee at a later date. They’re trying to hold all those bills until they can be grouped together for a public hearing. I think it will go as it usually does and none of the bills will get traction, but it’s a new Legislature, you can’t ever say for sure.
The other big conversation at the State House now is the debate on citizen-initiated referendum reform. The latest was LD 564, to increase the number of the signatures required. But there all kinds of proposals on the table, such as making a certain percentage of signatures come from each congressional district or each state Senate district. There seems to be some sentiment that to tighten the rules on on initiating a referendum. I think if they’re going to do it, they need to do it now because we already have some citizen-initiated referendums in the works. Two years from now we’ll have the gubernatorial and legislative elections, and that will be seen as the time to get people out to vote on these ballot initiatives. The governor is supportive of reform. We expect to see a working group on this issue, but it hasn’t been announced yet.
Just a note that MFPC members might find interesting, the Democratic caucus is trying to organize its base, so the leadership is holding a town hall forum, in conjunction withCan-Am Crown International sled dog race, in Fort Kent Friday (March 3) at 6:30 p.m. at the university. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nathan Libby of Lewiston and Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston are expected to attend.
Happy New Year, happy new legislative session. The 128th Maine Legislature has convened its first regular session, first-time legislators are learning their way around the State House and the process within, and we are all learning about them.
Joint committee assignments have been released and bills titles have been filed, which gives us some sense of the issues we will be working on. Many of the debates we’ve been involved with in years past will be back, including arming rangers, attacks on Tree Growth, Sunday hunting, mining regulations, the citizen-initiated referendum process, landowner liability, biomass and scores of bills to improve the energy market in Maine.
I have high hopes for a successful session. Legislative leaders have spoken to the need to “work together for the citizens of Maine,” “collaborate” and “put party politics aside.” In the first days of this session we have seen just that, with a bipartisan and unanimous response to address concerns with one of last fall’s ballot initiatives. That sentiment and approach is what we need as we engage in the various issue debates and the Legislature works to create a biennial budget required by June 30.
On February 2, the members of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative (MFPC, PLC, SWOAM, MDF) will be making a presentation to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee about our priorities to strengthen the economy and how the recently completed EDAT report addresses these priorities. This same group will be presenting on February 7 to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee about our priorities and findings in the EDAT report that relate to the topic of biomass energy in Maine.
At MFPC, the Policy Committee holds a conference call each Friday at 8:30 a.m. to discuss and determine positions on bills as they are printed. I would encourage members to join in for an interesting and healthy conversation about the issues before us. Contact Sue McCarthy if you’d like to participate.
Thus far, we have discussed several bills of particular interest:
LD 39 and LD 112 are two bills before the Judiciary Committee that would amend the landowner liability statute, the first by including “lessee or sublessee or holder of an easement from the landowner” and the second by including “construction, maintenance or expansion of trails and facilities commonly associated with recreation or harvesting activities including parking lots, warming shelters, restrooms, outhouses, bridges and culverts.” Both attempt to expand the list of recreational and harvesting activities allowed and provide more protections to landowners, which we generally support. However we always need to be cautious of tinkering with the provisions of this statue and creating some unintended consequence.
LD 8 is a bill sponsored by Rep. Tuell of East Machias that will be heard before the ACF Committee and would allow “forest rangers to have a personal concealed firearm for personal protection while on duty.” MFPC will be opposing this bill at the public hearing on Tuesday, January 31st.
The Council will be again hosting a Legislative Reception on Thursday, February 9th from 4 – 7 p.m. I would encourage all to attend as we get to meet legislators from around the state who are making critical decisions about and for our industry. (RSVP for reception.)
Additionally, I ESPECIALLY encourage all of our members to reach out and create a dialogue to your elected officials in the House and Senate. As bills are debated, Patrick, MFPC staff and I are all engaged at the State House, but a constituent call or message is powerful and often can be the difference between a vote for us or against. (Find your town’s senator and representative.)
They are your elected officials and work for you, so please take the time to develop a relationship and tell them about the amazing and significant industry we have in this state.
We all know that necessity is the mother of invention, which is why the Council teamed up with the University of Maine to build a roadmap for our industry, an effort endorsed by the 127th Legislature last spring in a resolution.
January has been a month of announcements centered on efforts of many Maine companies and organizations to build this roadmap for Maine, so it’s a good time to let you know the progress of our efforts.
Maine’s woods cover a vast region and there is always some variability in operating conditions, but in general we’ve had snowfall over land that was not completely frozen so harvesting operations are not ideal and require greater efforts to freeze down woods roads and harvesting trails.
The result is that mill wood inventories are decreasing and there is a slight increase in market demand. This ebb and flow is part of the market dynamics in our industry that is influenced by global markets and natural resource dynamics. We’re no different from our fellow fisherman and farmers, it’s just that our crop rotations are closer to 70 years than the 5 to 7 years for a lobster to grow to the legal harvest size.
As an industry we’re fortunate that we have spent a significant amount of time in the last 20 years talking about the sustainability of our resource and we’re seeing the farming an fisheries managers adapting our certification principles into their own disciplines. However, we have not spent as much time discussing the sustainability of our wood manufacturing, and we’ve been caught off guard with a loss of markets due to mill closures. Signs of this market shift were apparent, but the global dynamics of low energy prices, China’s economic crisis and the resultant strength of the U.S. dollar put many of our at-risk businesses over the edge.
Earlier this month the Forest Economy Initiative Group released the priorities we’ve identified to strengthen Maine’s forest economy, including conducting a global market assessment to assess future demand for Maine wood products, analyzing our statewide wood supply with an eye to new markets, and determining where infrastructure improvements are necessary to increase profitability for the forest products value chain.
The consortium we’ve been talking about in past newsletters includes MFPC, UMO, the Maine Development Foundation, SWOAM, Professional Loggers Contractors of Maine (PLC), BioBased Maine, and the former Maine Pulp & Paper Association. It’s an important collection of industry and community interests.
This report was never designed to be a silver bullet,” said Peter Triandafillou of Huber Resources, “but this initiative allows us to start connecting key resources.”
On January 18, the Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) came to Maine to release its report, which reinforces the priority issues identified by our Maine process and to add a $1 million in funding for the UMO/Industry roadmap project. This award makes it possible to assemble our Forest Implementation Team (FIT) to work with the university and carry out our work plan. Watch press conference.
In February, we will be going in front of the Maine Technology Institute to seek the required matching money. The Roadmap Project will have both short-term and long-term deliverables, but it is not the only effort to strengthen our forest economy.
I speak from experience when I say there are numerous entrepreneurial activities occurring on a daily basis. Many companies are “kicking the tires” of Maine’s assets, including companies considering expansions, building material manufacturers seeking East Coast locations, and a global push towards the third industrial revolution that includes a wood biobased economy with modern manufacturing technology.
A great example is the agreement signed Friday between UMO and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to explore the opportunities for 3D printing using wood cellulose. There also are discussions about building a wood nanocellulose refinery in Maine.
The Roadmap Project is designed to assist all of these individual efforts by raising the collective tide of opportunity by:
- Determining the types of businesses we should be encouraging based on a global assessment of our niche in the world;
- Benchmarking ourselves in all forest sectors against our competing forest product regions, and,
- Inventorying tree species growth rates and location to prospective manufacturing opportunities to enable long-range investment.
If we do this right, we will assemble the best information from experts and leaders in our field, uncover some of the deeper root causes of the current situation, and find ways to encourage more capital investments in our state. We also hope to enhance communications and sharing of ideas among business and community leaders, policy makers and conservationists. If we reach these goals, the Roadmap Project will be part of an important and lasting initiative for Maine’s forest economy.
We’re entering the 128th Legislature with a significant amount of change having taken place in Maine’s forest industry. While our members are weathering the storm I wanted to provide some perspective on what’s happening in light of our challenges.
Mill workers feel the pain of closures immediately, but the logging community adapts and contracts as we enter the winter season. What is traditionally our busiest and most productive time of harvest, “the winter surge,” will be stifled by wood yards that are filled with logs, pulpwood and biomass.
Contractors accustomed to “making hay” during this winter season will under capacity and facing a growing amount of equipment payments. While our sawmills are generally performing better in a slowly strengthening housing market, I worry about the markets for their bark, sawdust and chips which are dependent on biomass energy plants and paper mills. Sawmills may be hindered in increasing their production to meet an increasing demand because they have limited options for their residual wood products and can’t just build huge piles on their mill sites. It’s not a great winter ahead, but our resilience is demonstrated time and time again in this business.
Gov. Paul R. LePage continues to champion our industry and Maine’s congressional delegation has been looking for ways to help as well.
In the same way, our incoming Legislature will be eager to help if we can provide them with good ideas for their action. The “Roadmap” strategic planning project we put forward last session with the University of Maine has been joined by additional industry partners and we’ll be following up with legislators on that project.
Members of the industry will be a big part of this effort and we’ll be asking you to participate in meetings to discuss the challenges facing our industry and how we should transition our forest economy.
In addition we are actively seeking input from MFPC committees on legislative initiatives that will help you in your businesses. Please send us your ideas and we will match you up with a bill sponsoring legislator.
I think it is important to realize that the forest industry is still an $8.5 billion economy (similar to 2011 total) and there remains plenty of potential for growth.
I’m also talking with many people about perspective projects in Maine that would begin to rebuild some of the wood markets we lost in the last few years. New entrepreneurs and existing Maine businesses alike are kicking the tires of the state of Maine and the Council will be working with others to rebuild markets for our sustainably managed forest.
I look forward to another productive year in the Legislature and please don’t hesitate to call the MFPC staff if we can do anything to help you or your businesses.
Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols has proposed adding a deputy position in the county’s unorganized territory (UT) that would add $100,000 to the UT budget in the first year, including the deputy’s salary, benefits and cruiser, with that cost decreasing to roughly $69,000 annually until the cruiser needs to be replaced. According to Nichols’ proposal, the position is needed to reduce response times and “create a more visible police presence.”
“An increased presence in these areas would reduce property crime, which sometimes goes unreported by the home owner because it occurred at a camp,” Nichols wrote in his proposal.
A public hearing on the proposal in the Franklin County Budget 2017-2018 is set for Monday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Eustis Community Center, 86 Main Street. According to local press coverage County Commissioner Gary McGrane opposes the proposal, Clyde Barker supports it and Charlie Webster is undecided. (Sheriff proposes unorganized territory deputy; Franklin County sheriff proposes deputy to patrol unorganized territory.)
The MFPC Landowner Committee will be discussing the sheriff’s proposal at its meeting Dec. 8. “It seems like this would set a precedent, so we should be involved from the start,” said Peter Triandafillou, who chairs the committee.
There are less than 1,000 UT residents in Franklin County, (including about 200 added when Madrid deorganized in 2000, and they are spread out through about 20 township, according to Marcia McInnis, UT fiscal administrator.
The increased cost would be paid by UT taxpayers, but some are concerned that the proposed deputy would be taking calls in organized towns such as Eustis, Phillips and Avon. Nichols proposal, which only contained statistics for the past year, reported 282 calls for service, ranging from animal complaints to motor vehicle accidents.
The county has 1,700 square miles, including the towns of Avon, Carrabassett Valley, Carthage, Chesterville, Eustis, Farmington, Industry, Jay, Kingfield, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Phillips, Rangeley, Salem, Strong, Temple, Weld, and Wilton; plantations of Coplin, Rangeley, and Sandy River, according to the Franklin County website.
In 2010, Franklin County was Maine’s second smallest county by population at 2.3 percent of the state’s total, with a census count of 30,768, a 4.4 percent increase over 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 estimate showed a slight population decline to 29,991.
According to the county website, the UT includes:
- 9.3 million acres of land, including 7.5 million acres in the Tree Growth program and 1.2 million acres that are exempt from property tax, such as State and Federal land.
- There are 421 townships with a full-time resident population of 7,902 people. In addition, the 2010 census estimated that there are 11,068 seasonal structures that house approximately 26,895 non-residents
- There are approximately 378 miles of summer roads and 569 miles of winter roads in the UT.
After an overwhelming election season filled with commercials, mailers, door visits, debate forums and record spending by candidates and PACs, the political landscape in Maine today is essentially what it was prior to the election. The presidential election, along with five somewhat controversial statewide ballot questions and one bond package definitely energized turnout with Maine again leading in voter participation. (Maine turnout was 69.6 percent compared to 58.6 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Elections Project.)
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree easily won reelection for her District 1 seat. District 2 saw record spending with the outcome secured once again by Congressman Bruce Poliquin.
All members of the Maine Legislature were up for re-election. During his last two years in the Blaine House, Gov. Paul LePage will again be working with a Senate led by Republicans and a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats.
Leadership for both houses has been selected, but must be confirmed with a vote of a Joint Convention of the House and Senate members after they are sworn in December 7th. It is anticipated that the speaker of the House will be Sara Gideon working with Democratic Majority Leader Erin Herbig and Assistant Leader Jared Golden, while Republican Minority Leader Ken Fredette will return as will Assistant Leader Ellie Espling. The Senate president will again be Mike Thibodeau and Majority Leader Garrett Mason and Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing also are returning. Senate Democrats elected new leadership with Troy Jackson as Minority Leader and Assistant Leader Nathan Libby.
Constitutional officers — Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer and Auditor — also will be selected by a majority of the Legislature at the Joint Convention on December 7th.
It will be some time before we see bill titles and committee assignments for the upcoming session, but Gov. LePage has already indicated his agenda is to pursue legislation reducing taxes (including property taxes), lowering energy prices and improving the state’s education system. What remains to be seen is if he attempts to repeal or thwart any of the successful ballot questions that he strongly opposed, including marijuana legalization, increase of minimum wage and the income tax rate hike for incomes over $200,000.
It is safe to predict that the upcoming session in Augusta will have elements of controversy and political intrigue, which we will be talking about soon.
MFPC checked in with our good friend Bob Wagner, formerly of UMaine, to see how he is faring in his new job as director and professor of Purdue’s Department of Forestry & Natural Resources.
“I am just getting used to all of the life and career changes,” Wagner emailed. “I also am having fun learning about my new department, which includes forestry, wildlife, fisheries, and wood science. I am also learning a lot about central hardwoods. Indiana has an unexpectedly large forest products sector.” He also shared a “few fun facts” about Indiana’s forest products industry:
- 6th largest industry in Indiana
- A leading producer of kitchen cabinets in the U.S.
- Third in hardwood lumber production in the U.S.
- More forestland than in the 1960s (1967=3.8 million A, 2008=4.6 million)
- Grows 3.8 times more hardwood volume than it’s cutting
- Wood products have a $3 billion/year direct impact on the Indiana economy, with a total of $17 billion indirect impact
- Hardwood industry directly employs more than 35,000 people with indirect employment of 86,139
- Rivals corn and soybeans in economic impact in the state.
“Lesson learned so far is that secondary manufacturing is very important to a healthy forest products economy,” Wagner wrote, adding “I sure miss all of our CFRU members and the MFPC staff. I hope everyone is doing well. My 18 years in Maine were a tremendously satisfying chapter in my life and career. All the best to my Maine friends!”
BUDWORM IN BRIEF: Maine’s trap numbers, the L2 data and ground and air observations all confirm we are still in a period with low populations of spruce budworm across Maine’s forests. (See Spruce Budworm 2016 Report)
In 2016, Quebec reported a total of 17.3 million acres have been defoliated by spruce budworm, a slight increase from 2015. That’s nearly as much as all Maine’s forestland, which totals 17.8 million acres. Quebec has seen defoliation every year since 2003 and the province’s budworm epidemic has increased significantly since 2009.
Since 2015, defoliation has roughly doubled in the area down river from Riviere-du-Loup along the St. Lawrence. Maine is downwind of the defoliation in this region, which is less than 30 miles from our heavily forested, host-rich border.
Although Maine has been monitoring budworm populations using pheromone traps since the early 1990s, the state increased its effort in the spring of 2014. Charlene Donahue of the Maine Forest Service took on the task of recruiting and coordinating the involvement of additional partners across the region impacted. Since 2014, about 20 partners helped augment the trap network across the state, dedicating their resources for planning and carrying out surveys for adult male budworm moths. Although this is a big program to manage, the information that comes from it is very valuable.
In 2016, we had about 420 sites in the cooperator network with the average catch per trap around seven moths. This was down significantly from 2015, when the average was about 26 moths per trap across all sites. We don’t have a pre-outbreak record of pheromone trap catches, but our light trap records show similar valleys and peaks both during the build-up to outbreak and within the outbreak itself.
Comparing geographic patterns year to year, we can see the same “hot spots” show up (and these catches are too low to really indicate a hot spot). This year the most moths caught per trap at a site has been 49, while last year we had 320 at one site, and several sites over 150 moths/trap. The sites with higher catches this year, 20-50 per trap, were in similar locations to the higher catches last year.
Looking at those per trap averages another way over the last 3 years the proportion of traps catching >1 to 50 moths has dominated the field. We still have very low populations across the state and we have not seen defoliation from the ground or in aerial survey.
Maine is not alone in seeing decreased numbers of budworm moths in traps. New Brunswick catches were also down for the most part. With similar numbers cross border in most locations. The only catch over 100 outside of the area already experiencing defoliation was found in central western New Brunswick and was not reflected in catches seen here in Maine.
There also is another new network of cooperators monitoring pheromone traps. Volunteers from the public have signed up for the Healthy Forest Partnership’s Budworm Tracker Program, which is coordinated by Emily Owens from the Canadian Forest Service. She had 37 sites signed up in Maine in 2016.
At these sites volunteers agreed to track catches in a pheromone trap on either a weekly or more frequent basis. This will help researchers tease out flights of migrant moths vs. local moths and contribute to a better understanding of both the monitoring tool and spruce budworm dynamics.
We had a nice scatter of sites in Maine, but hope to fill in some of the unmonitored areas in northwestern Maine in the second year of the program using cooperators who live part time and/or work in that area. We are grateful for Maine’s citizens’ commitment to helping to monitor the state’s forest health.
The University of Maine Cooperative Forest Research Unit also is coordinating an L2 survey (in which the second instar larvae are collected from the branches), which tracks overwintering spruce budworm to help predict the following years’ populations. Samples were collected by many of the same organizations cooperating in the pheromone trap network, and were processed by New Brunswick’s Forest Health Lab in Fredericton. These, more than moths in pheromone traps, track the local pressure from spruce budworm.
The samples from last winter yielded 14 positive sites out of approximately 245 sampled. All but one of those sites had fewer than 3 larvae per branch (very low populations). All positive sites were in areas from Houlton north. It is great to have a look at L2 populations at this stage of the spruce budworm populations and we really appreciate CFRU and its cooperators taking it on.
Although our moth catches did not build over last year’s, we can still expect to see defoliation on a similar timeline, sometime in the next several years we expect to find defoliation caused by spruce budworm in Maine. Even after that is found it will be several years before fir and spruce in Maine experience significant impacts to their growth. Managers and landowners with significant host-resource should use the time they have to continue to prepare for the coming epidemic.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
- Use the Spruce Budworm Task Force website and/or follow their Facebook page: @sprucebudwormmaine16.
- Resources also are available on the Maine Forest Service Spruce Budworm page, where you can sign up for our conditions reports to stay abreast of latest developments.
- Another great resource is the Healthy Forest Partnership website. Check out the budwormtracker program and the budworm tracker Facebook page, @budwormtracker.