After a roller-coaster period of declines, 2018 seems like a year of recovery. Investments in our remaining pulp and paper mills are strong as they diversify their production lines. Markets for lumber and building products also are doing well and there is significant activity surrounding emerging technologies that could fit in Maine. However, there are still regions where markets are poor and more should be done to attract investments.
The Council has made considerable investment in the FOR/MAINE strategic planning process, with many members involved in this broad-based effort. Consultants have provided us with a better idea of where we fit in the global economy. We know where and what species of wood we need to focus on, and we’re developing recommendations for the coming administration that are an important part of implementing the plan. We think we can grow Maine’s forest industry from $8.5 billion to $11 billion if policymakers make the right choices.
To be honest, I’m not sure I can make any sense out of the drawn out “short session” of the 128th Legislature. Energy issues were not significantly advanced. Some gains were made with tax conformity. The Taxation Committee was responsive to our policy concerns and rejected changes to the Tree Growth and forestry excise tax programs, and the UT budget. The Agriculture,Conservation and Forestry Committee was engaged in battles with the administration and was hearing mixed messages from the industry. The governor’s record use of vetoes – 643 over his eight years, according to the BDN, compared to 469 for all governors dating back to 1917 – affected the discipline of the legislative body.
We pushed back on threatening policies and mainly prevailed. However, our 20-year resistance to arming forest rangers was overruled this session. There’s a certain irony in that because the emerald ash borer invasion demonstrated our point that threats to natural resource protection – not ranger safety – are growing.
On the regulatory front, we made some gains. LUPC is leading a discussion about planning in the unorganized territory by examining the adjacency rules. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a determination that the endangered species designation for Canada lynx should be dropped. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection petitioned the federal EPA to remove Maine from the Ozone Transport Region. DEP’s action was based on sound science and an understanding that these regulations are detrimental to our recovering industry. The Council’s advocacy efforts, including strong testimony from sawmills, pulp and paper mills and wood manufacturers, resonated with state regulators, who moved forward with these important changes.
Many thanks to the talented MFPC team, Sue McCarthy, Roberta Scruggs, Pat Sirois, Michele MacLean and Bill Ferdinand, who are committed to serving members and looking out for our collective best interests.
To me, these are rewarding times in the management of the Council! I look forward to the next year armed with proactive legislative ideas from you and our strategic planning process. I also count on your active involvement as we work together to build a stronger forest economy in the coming year.