“Whose idea was this?” Executive Director Patrick Strauch joked as he reported on the lively Policy Regulation and Funding session at the “unveiling” of the spruce budworm draft plan Nov. 18.
“In our group there was lots of energy – lots of energy!” Strauch said. “Some thought it was a good first draft and others thought we were being alarmist. I had to move out of being defensive and just take notes.”
Strauch got a big laugh from the crowd at the Arboretum in Augusta. Keeping Maine’s Future hosted the meeting as about 60 people reviewed the response plan that the Maine Forest Products Council (MFPC), University of Maine and Maine Forest Service (MFS) have been working on for more than year. (See Agenda and Summary of Recommendations.)
Represented at the meeting were industry, environmental, and fish and wildlife advocates as well as state and federal officials. For example, MFPC sent Strauch, SFI Coordinator Pat Sirois and Communications Director Roberta Scruggs, and board members Mark Doty and John Bryant also attended. On the other end of the political spectrum, the Natural Resources Council of Maine was represented by three staff members — Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann, Cathy Johnson and Nick Bennett — and three board members, Norton Lamb, Tony Owens and Jeff Pidot.
The afternoon started with a presentation on the report by Dr. Robert Wagner of the University of Maine. Then there were breakout sessions on particular sections of the report, including Monitoring and Protection; Forest Management; Policy, Regulation and Funding; Wildlife Habitat, and Wood Supply/Economic Impacts.
Strauch facilitated the Policy session, which was attended by Johnson, Bennett and Pidot of NRCM; Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy; Karen Woodsum of Maine Woods Forever; David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine; Alec Giffen, former MFS director now with New England Forestry Foundation; Don Mansius of MFS; Bill Ferdinand of Eaton, Peabody; Mike Wilson of the Northern Forest Center; Steve Shaler, director of the UMaine School of Forest Resources, and Scruggs from MFPC.
Topics of discussion included spraying, deer yards, riparian zones, fire danger and what to do if one landowner sprays and his or her neighbor doesn’t. But many of the questions and comments centered on two policy recommendations in the draft report:
- Determining the best regulatory mechanism to establish a standards-based variance procedure that is scientifically sound and field-efficient.
- Preparing legislation defining the regulatory process for determining an expedited variance for areas categorized as high SBW risk where there is a strong likelihood of increased SBW activity.
Pidot, former head of the Natural Resources Division in the Maine Attorney General’s Office, called the report “excellent in many respects.” But he wondered why it proposed amending the Spruce Budworm Management Act, rather than using the variance provision already included in the Forest Practices Act (FPA).
Strauch replied, “Our thinking was to look for stability, so we said let’s keep SBW Act intact and create the variance in that. We thought that the FPA variance wasn’t nimble enough.”
“The door is there,” Pidot said. “Why amend as opposed to just apply what’s there? The FPA would allow landowner to say, ‘My forest is falling apart and I need a variance.’”
NRCM’s Cathy Johnson took it a step further.
“I had the impression the variance was to enable harvesting of separation zones and that’s all the FPA does is require separation zones,” Johnson said. “The reason we have the FPA is that we had clearcuts at went on and on without separation zones.”
“The budworm doesn’t know about separation zones,” Strauch said.
Ferdinand of Eaton Peabody added, “If you want to focus on SBW, you don’t open up the discussion about changing FPA. In some areas, if you leave separation zones, the trees will just die and blow down.”
But Johnson insisted “the whole report is really focusing on capturing the economic value for the landowner. There’s not an equal focus on ecological value . . . I have a real question about where the clearcutting will be and will it be as bad as before. The alternative policy might be to leave it alone.”
Nick Bennett, also of NRCM, added, “We don’t have an outbreak and you’ve presented this doomsday scenario. I don’t think a reasonable starting point is a nuclear bomb hitting the north woods. You could have a much more reasoned tone and not make people like Kathy and I think this is about gutting the FPA.”
That’s the point where Strauch, standing with a marker in his hand before an easel with a giant pad of paper, made the decision to just take notes.
“What do you want me to put here, ‘Report is alarmist?’” he asked. And that’s what he wrote down.
Later he invited those in his breakout session to send written comments if they wished and also to let him know if they wanted to get back together for more discussion.
“It was a good dialogue and discussion is only going to benefit this process. And I learned how to spell ‘nuanced,’” Strauch said told the crowd in his reported on the session. “So we’ve accomplished a lot today.”