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After some of the toughest years in the long history of Maine’s forest products industry, a new, stronger forest economy is emerging thanks to investments of about $1 billion.

Guns are already changing rangers’ relationships

The rangers mission is  “to protect Maine’s forest resources and homes from wildfire, respond to disasters and emergencies and to enhance the safe, sound, and responsible management of the forest for this and future generations.”

The mission of Maine’s forest rangers is “to protect Maine’s forest resources and homes from wildfire, respond to disasters and emergencies and to enhance the safe, sound, and responsible management of the forest for this and future generations.”

The debate about arming forest rangers has reached a new low. Some are saying that rangers are the only force holding back a host of evils, from polluted brook trout streams to a dramatic increase in posted property. Some see Maine’s landowners, state officials and their co-workers at the Maine Forest Service as enemies.

Rangers insist that guns won’t damage their relationship with others in the forest community, but that’s already happening and it saddens us all.

For decades, rangers, landowners, loggers, foresters and many others have been partners in the statewide effort to protect our forests. It’s a success story of which we can all be proud. Maine has roughly the same amount of forestland as when Europeans arrived in the 1600s. We have more forestland certified as sustainably managed – 9.4 million acres – than any other state. About 93 percent of our forestland is privately owned and the vast majority is open to the public.

By working together, we’ve kept our forests healthy and available for recreation, while supporting a forest products industry that has an $8 billion economic impact annually and supports nearly 40,000 jobs.

The Maine Forest Products Council, a not-for profit trade association formed in 1961, speaks for logging contractors, sawmills, paper mills, biomass energy facilities, pellet and furniture manufacturers, and on behalf of more than nine million acres of commercial forestland. Sustainable forests are essential to MFPC members, so they strongly support all three divisions of the Maine Forest Service, including

  • Forest Health and Monitoring, which protects against insect and disease.
  • Forest Policy and Management, which monitors compliance with the Forest Practices Act, provides technical assistance and educational services, reports on forest resources and responds to policy issues.
  • Forest Protection, which includes the rangers, where the mission is “to protect Maine’s forest resources and homes from wildfire, respond to disasters and emergencies and to enhance the safe, sound, and responsible management of the forest for this and future generations.”

MFPC members don’t think guns will help rangers accomplish that mission. In fact, we believe arming rangers would create a new branch of law enforcement, diverting limited time and resources away from forest protection and in some cases altering the relationship between rangers and the forestry community.

Rangers are needed to fight forest fires, which they do exceptionally well. But fire acreage is decreasing with wetter seasons, and there are other growing threats posed by insects and diseases. Spruce budworm is attacking Quebec’s forests and soon will be here. Communities across Maine are under quarantine because of the hemlock woolly adelgid. New Hampshire is already besieged by the emerald ash borer. The Asian longhorned beetle, which has claimed thousands of Massachusetts’ maple trees, is a threat to Maine’s hardwoods and its maple syrup industry. The forest health division will need more funding to deal with these issues.

We also see a growing need for resources in the policy and management division as the need to educate a new generation of small woodlot owners about forestry grows and salvage operations from the coming budworm epidemic require greater oversight.

Before we rush to arm 74 rangers with guns, the MFPC will continue call for the discussion about the current and future role of the MFS and how it should be configured to deal with the modern day threats to Maine’s forest resources. What is the best investment of limited state funds in protecting Maine’s forest resource?

Of course, we want rangers to be safe, but they already are. In the 20 years for which the state has reliable workers comp records, not one forest ranger has suffered an injury caused by violence. Although rangers already carry a weapon – pepper spray – it has only been used once, against a dog. The only forest ranger to be shot (in 1989) was backing up a sheriff’s deputy. Lack of a gun wasn’t the issue – the ranger was holding the deputy’s shotgun when he was shot. He recovered and is still on the job. But we never want that scenario to be repeated.

MFS Director Doug Denico is determined to minimize rangers’ risk. They’re under orders not make arrests or venture alone into any area or situation in which they feel unsafe. He’s even offered to change their uniforms, so they’re not mistaken for sheriff’s deputies. Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, has offered to create a new position, Conservation Law Officer, so some rangers can be armed and trained to handle higher risk situations, such as issuing citations or investigating arson and timber theft.

MFPC supports those efforts and hopes that rangers will continue to remain safe and to focus on protecting Maine’s forests. We agree with former Conservation Commissioner Ron Lovaglio, who said, “It’s not our mission to be a strike force. We have been unarmed since our beginning and we have done our job exceedingly well.”

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MFPC Legislative Reception set for Feb. 13

At last year's reception, MFPC member Charles Tardif talks with Sen. Jim Boyle, D-Cumberland, co-chair of the  Environment & Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

At last year’s reception, MFPC member Charles Tardif talks with Sen. Jim Boyle, D-Cumberland, co-chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

Each year the Maine Forest Products Council hosts a reception for legislators, state officials and, of course, our members.

It’s a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting before the legislative session gets time-consuming or divisive. It’s also an opportunity to enjoy light hors d’oeuvres, beverages and good conversation.

This year the reception is set for Thursday, February 13, from 4-7 p.m. at the MFPC office,  535 Civic Center Drive, Augusta. (Please RSVP to Sue McCarthy.)

Last year’s Legislative Reception was crowded with legislators, state officials and members talking about everything from the Agriculture-Conservation merger to the SFI flume.

“It was a great success and well-attended,” said Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “It was a good opportunity for both members and legislators to get to know each other.”

Rep. Craig V. Hickman, D-Winthrop, Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Committee and MFPC Board Member Steve Schley.

Rep. Craig V. Hickman, D-Winthrop, a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Committee talks with MFPC Board Member Steve Schley.

 

Rep. Roberta B. Beavers, D-South Berwick, Energy, Utilities and Technology, and Rep. William F. Noon, D-Sanford, ACF Committee

Rep. Roberta B. Beavers, D-South Berwick, a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and Rep. William F. Noon, D-Sanford, of the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee enjoy good food and  conversation

Listen to Fun Facts from the Forest

You’re driving along, listening to the radio and all of a sudden you hear a lumberjack yell “TIM-BER!” and the sound of a tree falling. That means you — and many others across the state — are about to hear something positive about Maine’s forest economy, including a tagline saying,”Fun Facts From The Forest is brought to you by the Maine Forest Products Council with funding provided by Plum Creek Timber.”

“We thought this was a great way to reach out to the public with the message that our industry is thriving and to get MFPC and Plum Creek some name recognition,” said Mark Doty, community affairs manager for Plum Creek’s Northeast Region and president of the MFPC Board of Directors.

(You can listen to all three radio spots below.)

Fun Facts from the Forest/Economic Impact

Fun Facts From The Forest/Labor

Fun Facts From The Forest/Conservation


TimberNumerous members and others have told MFPC that they’ve heard one or more of the radio spots and appreciate the effort to highlight the good news about our industry. The spots are being aired as part of the Public Education Partnership (PEP) of the Maine Association of Broadcasters (MAB).  Under the PEP program, stations donate broadcast time to MAB, which then sells the time on a discounted basis to qualifying entities, such as government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Current and recent PEP sponsors include the Maine Army National Guard and the United States Coast Guard, the Maine CDC’s Immunization Program, the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office, the Maine Drinking Water Security Program, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Maine Veterans Homes, and SCORE – The Service Corps of Retired Executives.

The spots began running on Dec. 30 and will continue until March 30.  Plum Creek started with a three-month run — from Dec. 30 through March 30 — with each month costing $3,000. Doty hopes another sponsor will step forward to keep the spots running in April and beyond. The sponsor decides on the content, which then must be approved by MFPC.

“I won’t have January airtime reports until early to mid-February,” said Suzanne Goucher, MAB president and CEO. “But  I can tell you that the spots have been distributed statewide to all radio stations with the exception of Maine Public Radio, which doesn’t air PEP spots or PSAs.”

 

 

 

 

 

Rangers, rumors, Tree Growth, BETR and more

By Patrick Strauch, MFPC Executive Director

at the legislatureLast week was a busy time in the Legislature but my thoughts were focused on an anonymous rant by an individual describing how forest rangers keep “greedy” landowners under constant enforcement action to protect the environment. If rangers don’t all get their guns, the rumor goes, they’ll become seasonal firefighters (not a position we have advocated) and there will be serious ramifications for the natural resources of Maine.

To keep the discussion on a higher level,  I wrote a summary of our position on arming rangers. We think there needs to be more discussion about the policy direction for the Maine Forest Service (MFS) in light of changing forest management priorities. In the all-out campaign to arm rangers, there are very few who understand the need to ask the broader question about why – when resources in the policy and entomology divisions are stretched so thin — we would even consider a major expansion into a public safety role.

I was disappointed that Rep. James Dill, D-Old Town, the chair of the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee, could not bring LD 297 to the ACF committee for a more fundamental policy discussion.  Avoiding the policy discussion initiates a game of brinksmanship based on arming all 74 rangers and a debate about the fiscal note based on the level of training to be required. We will keep you posted.

Tree Growth taxes and competitive mills: The Taxation Committee made quick work of LD 1649 An Act to Make Maine Mills More Competitive by Encouraging the Processing of Forest Products at Mills in the United States, with the majority voting ought not to pass.  After receiving testimony from MFS, SWOAM, MFPC and the Maine Municipal Association – all opposing the bill – and a letter of concern from Maine Revenue Service it was clear that this concept was flawed.  In reality the effort to fully fund BETR will have the greatest impact on encouraging the competitiveness of Maine mills.

BETR: John Williams reports that legislators and business leaders are meeting to discuss the importance of the BETR program as lawmakers have linked revenue-sharing funding with this important business taxation status. The budget gap will continue to take center stage as committee holdover bills are dealt with along with the few new bills this session.

Outcome Based Forestry (OBF) continues to be discussed in the State House hallways and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Audubon and Applachian Mountain Club  are focused on more legislative controls for the process.  My advice is for the ACF committee to head to the woods and tour OBF operations, and efforts are being made to organize such a trip. Dr Maxwell McCormack prepared a very good synopsis of the OBF program for the February SWOAM newsletter.

Wood Processor confidentiality and MFS Permit-Granting Authority: MFPC testified in favor of LD 1665 An Act To Clarify the Confidentiality of Wood Processor Report Information  and LD 1673 An Act To Further Delegate Permit-Granting Authority to the Bureau of Forestry, both fairly straight forward bills that encountered some NGO opposition.  LD 1665 simply strengthens the confidentiality provision in the mill delivered volume reporting for the Wood Processors Report.  NRCM had trouble with the language, seeing it as too expansive, but I think the work session will serve to inform committee members. This information is a highly competitive customer list, which needs to be protected. Improved reports can be produced that will inform policy makers on wood flows in Maine. LD 1673 completes the consolidation of forestry law permitting authority under MFS supervision.  MFS foresters currently enforce forestry laws for shoreland zoning and the FPA in organized and deorganized areas of the state.  It only makes sense that  DEP delegate permitting authority to MFS for NRPA rules that relate to forestry operations.  Currently MFS personnel arrive on a site to inspect harvesting operations, train foresters, landowners and loggers on the use of BMPs for water quality, and compliance with all other forestry laws, but they cannot issue permits for stream crossings.  SAM, Maine Guides Association, NRCM and Audubon expressed concern with the implications for Resource Protection Areas (Deer yards, vernal pools, inland wading bird and waterfowl habitat), but forestry operations are exempt from these features if they are not mapped through a legislative process (only a few deer yards are in this category).  As in the Unorganized Territory, any permits in these areas would require sign-off by IFW biologists. This should all be made clear in the work session.

Forester licensing: This week we will be testifying in favor of LD 1735 An Act To Amend Forester Licensing Requirements. Among other changes we think graduates of an accredited forestry school should be awarded a license if they pass a state forestry law test versus the requirement for an internship followed by a broad examination of forestry principles.

Wind power zoning in the UT: LD 616 An Act To Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission passed out of the Energy, Utilities and Technology (EUT) Committee with a majority ought to pass report, but a strong debate is anticipated in the Legislature. Under the recent amendment (still waiting for the official committee report) a majority of residents registered to vote in a UT region can petition LUPC for a zoning change on neighboring property. This is an unprecedented amount of power to grant UT residents over land use laws.  Currently only the landowner can petition the LUPC  for a zoning change on property. Allowing opponents to a project greater authority over zoned uses than the landowner would not be tolerated in most legislators home towns, and it is unfair and unsettling for landowners in the UT.  While the focus today is wind power, we think the precedent is established to affect zoning decisions for development and potentially forest management operations.  MFPC was instrumental in reforming LURC to provide a more local voice in regional planning, but establishing home rule authority in the region is problematic, and could result in only a few residents dictating the future options for an entire township or larger region.

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Wildlife Committee update: Moose, budworm, deer and more

IFW has just started a study of moose mortality study and plans outfit up to 70 cows and calves with mortality transmitters.

IFW has just started a study of moose mortality study and plans outfit up to 70 cows and calves with mortality transmitters.

By Barry Burgason, Huber Resources and committee chair

The Wildlife Committee met at the MFPC office on January 30 to talk about issues including fish passage, budworm, a CFRU study on deer habitat and IFW’s new moose mortality study.

Jed Wright, senior fish and wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demoed a secure computer system that could be used to track fish passage improvements that landowners make to stream crossings.  Maine’s Fisheries Improvement Network (FIN), a collaboration between landowners, government agencies and NGOs, has been looking for a method of monitoring stream improvements without exposing the data to outside groups, which may misinterpret the data collected on private stream crossings.

In map jargon, a “red dot” represents a crossing that may pose a barrier to fish moving upstream and a “green dot” indicates no passage problems. While acknowledging that forest landowners are making great strides in converting “red dots” into “green dots”, there is a need to quantify just how many.  Pat Sirois, coordinator of Maine’s SFI Implementation Committee, and others were asked to work with Wright to finalize the data system and present it to the FIN group at a meeting later on this spring.

Part way through the meeting, the group was joined by several guests.  Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association and David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAP) asked to meet with the committee and discuss the impact may have on deer wintering areas and brook trout stream habitat.  One of their concerns was an anticipated reaction if landowners start salvage-cutting large acreages and spraying herbicides in response to a budworm outbreak.  Pat Strauch. MFPC executive director, told them about the committee planning for various scenarios.  Kleiner and Trahan both offered to work with MFPC to help educate their members in advance of an outbreak so public reaction could be based more on fact and less on emotion – an approach that would be beneficial to all.

There have been some recent personnel changes in key policy positions at Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, so the committee invited these folks to join us.  Jim Connolly, the Resource Management director, was unable to attend, but Wildlife Division Director, Judy Camuso and Wildlife Management Supervisor Ryan Robicheau participated in our discussions.  Camuso was very excited to share details about IFW’s just started moose mortality study.  She described the process of netting moose from a helicopter and outfitting up to 70 cow and calf moose with mortality transmitters.  During the first day of collaring in Maine, they were able to capture 17 moose, Camuso said.

The newly released study by the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU) of deer wintering areas, completed by Dr. Dan Harrison and others, was another lively topic of discussion.  CFRU is currently awaiting a proposal to research the silvicultural impact of different levels of moose browsing on forest growth and stem quality.  Involved in the discussions are the landowners, IFW and the universities of Maine, New Hampshire and New Brunswick.

Brief updates also were shared on an invasive plant project at the Maine Natural Areas Program and possible development of guidelines for dealing with nuisance beavers.

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Emotions run high on wind power bills

wind power hearings

The down side of legislative harmony was on display for hour after hour January 13 as opponents and proponents of wind power finally had the all-out debate they didn’t – perhaps couldn’t – have nearly six years ago. Now it appears likely the discussion will continue in a study group over the coming year.

At the EUT work session January 16, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, proposed that rather than take a piecemeal approach — one bill and/or one issue at a time — to wind power, they should “look at the bigger picture.” He asked the committee to create a study group of stakeholders to develop recommendations for the Legislature next year. He won the support of most committee members. Two bills were tabled and a third was voted ought not to pass by a 9-3 margin.

“My sense is that the wind bills will either get thrown into the study group or they’ll get killed,” MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch said Friday.

The Wind Power Act of 2008 sailed through the Maine Legislature with a unanimous vote and barely a discouraging word. The economy was in free fall then, global warming concerns were rising along with the price of gasoline (above $3!) and wind power seemed like a what’s-not-to-like proposition.

“This bill balances environmental protection with the need for new clean energy sources,” its sponsor, Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Cumberland, said then. “I am really excited about the potential for wind energy in Maine and the opportunity to increase our supply of energy while reducing our greenhouse gases.”

But that win-win perspective was in short supply at the Jan. 13 public hearings on LD 1147 An Act To Protect Maine’s Scenic Character (voted ONTP) and LD 1323 An Act Regarding Wind Power Siting in the Unorganized Territory (tabled). Testimony didn’t end until about 7:30 p.m. as about 50 people testified on those two bills, which were held over from last session and moved from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee to the Energy, Utility and Technology Committee (EUT).

Strauch didn’t get his chance to speak against LD 1147 until after 3 p.m. and he waited until 6:30 p.m. before he finally testified against LD 1323.

“I wasn’t sure I could still stand up,” Strauch joked, but added that the long day was filled with “the typical ebb and flow of testimony. Some passionate, some dispassionate.”

MFPC opposed LD 1147 and LD 1323, as well as other attempts to rewrite the Windpower Act, such as LD 616, (tabled)  “because it is a dangerous precedent to remove landowners’ rights or change the rules in the middle of the game,” Strauch testified. (Read MFPC testimony on LD 1147 and LD 1323.)

All the signs of a long day were present long before the hearings began Monday. Seats in Room 211 of the Cross Building, where the EUT Committee meets, were being saved more than an hour before the scheduled 10 a.m. start. After various delays, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Androscoggin, banged his gavel to open the proceedings at 10:40 a.m. By then every seat was filled and people stood shoulder to shoulder along the back wall, crammed the sides of the room, jostled in each other in the doorway and piled up in the hall outside.

Like a referee at a prize fight, Cleveland laid down some rules. He made a plea for civility, encouraged all present to listen to what others had to say — even if they didn’t agree with it — and warned that nearly everyone would get just three minutes to testify, with a large clock literally ticking before them. As an “experiment,” however, the chief spokesperson for opponents and the chief spokesman for supporters could each speak for 10 minutes.

Just before 11 a.m., Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, sponsor of both LD 1147 and LD 1323, was the first to testify and she offered an amendment to LD 1147. Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, co-sponsor, came next, followed by the two “chief” spokespersons. Then supporters and opponents of the bills took turns, five supporters and then five opponents.

The chief spokesman in favor of LD 1147 was Chris O’Neill of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, which wrote the bill.

“It is sound public policy to review complex legislation such as the Maine Wind Energy Act in light of gained experience,” O’Neill said. “The proposals for change made here by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club are not radical.”

The chief spokesman for opponents, Jeremy Payne of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, pointed to a poll released last month by the Wind for ME coalition, which said 87 percent of voters surveyed agreed that “wind power is the type of zero emission, clean and renewable energy source that should be encouraged in Maine.”

Payne testified the Windpower Act “has helped shepherd in over $1 billion of investment, created and sustained 240 jobs per year, including 600 jobs in’08 and ’09, year of severe economic distress.”

As often happens, though, the most memorable moments at the hearings came when someone had completed their formal testimony and was simply speaking from the heart.

Sen. John Cleveland, Rep. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Roberta Beavers discuss LD 1147 at Thursday's work session.

Jim Robbins Sr., retired president of Robbins Lumber and an MFPC board member, had such moment during an exchange with Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, the sponsor of LD 616, An Act To Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Maine Land Use Planning.

Dunphy, who made no secret of his opposition to wind power throughout the day, asked Robbins if there are any wind towers on his land at T-40 or T3ND. Robbins said no, but added that some are being built eight miles away on Passadumkeag Mountain. Robbins explained that he’d “put a conservation easement on our land to protect it, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to protect Passadumkeag Mountain because I was trying to protect our land, not someone else’s.”

Dunphy asked, “Why wouldn’t you want to protect someone else’s land?”

Robbins replied, “Because we don’t own it and I don’t think I have the right to tell someone else what they can or can’t do with their land. My dad always said that if you want to control what goes on on someone else’s land then you should buy it.”

Dunphy conceded, “Sounds like wise advice.”

“It was,” Robbins said.

Dunphy’s interactions with others who opposed LD 1147 were not so cordial. He sharply questioned several, including Glen Brand, Maine director of the Sierra Club. Dunphy asked Brand four times in various words “if eliminating rights of people in the UT as a result of the expedited wind process is a fair public process?”

Each time Bell replied that he did think the process, in which public comments are heard at public hearings, is fair. After the fourth time, Dunphy replied, “I would suggest sir that you reevaluate. But thank you.”

Marilyn Keyes Roper of Houlton, who supported LD 1147, provided a chilling moment as she testified about the “lake on fire scenic effect,” her name for the reflection of turbines’ red lights on the surface of water at night.

“It’s the reflection of many red lights spreading out and merging so that the whole lake appears red and pulsating as the red lights go off and on,” Roper said. “My husband and I have observed this in the summer. He characterized it as a ‘pulsating hell.’ Others have said they have seen this effect of the red lights on lake ice. Certainly this scenic effect – which is quite frightening – should be addressed.”

Phil McIntyre, owner of Skye Theater in South Carthage, provided one of the few lighter moments at the hearing. In his testimony, McIntyre opposed LD 1147 and strongly supported wind power, both to provide clean energy and to revitalize the economy in rural areas. He told the committee that wind developers don’t just pay taxes, they also support local organizations, including his theater. But it was an anecdote at the end of his testimony that drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Skye Theater is on top of a mountain in South Carthage, McIntyre said, right at the beginning of the proposed Saddleback Ridge wind project. From the theater’s parking lot, there’s a remarkable view, stretching great distances and including Mounts Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

“Recently I had one of the opponents of wind power come up,” McIntyre said. “I went out and met him in the parking lot and he wanted to know where Saddleback Ridge was going. I told him it was going up towards the north. He just went on and on about wind power and how he hated it and how it was ruining the view. So he pointed out to the west and he said, ‘Can you just imagine if you had a whole bunch of wind towers out there and you had to look at them?’ And I said, ‘You mean like the 13 wind towers that are right there in front of you on Roxbury Ridge?’

“And he kind of stooped over a little,” McIntyre said, “and he looked and he squinted and he said, ‘You can hardly see them. And I said, ‘Exactly.’”

Landowner rights, rangers and discontinued roads

By Patrick Strauch, MFPC Executive Director

The Council gets involved with wind power bills because of the unintended consequences of regulations relating to visual quality and zoning that will have much broader applications to landowner value.  You can read my testimony (on LD 1147 and LD 1323.), but the principle of land rights is always juxtaposed to the public interest in many of these debates.

at the legislatureIn many ways traditional opponents (Audubon, Sierra Club) have evolved our collective thinking to recognize conservation easements and cooperative regional planning are more productive approaches to land issues rather than a regulatory takings approach. In the visual standards debate I’m concerned with public vantage points throughout an area in effect limiting landowner land management opportunities. Visual quality standards are creating a significant obstacle for developing recreational opportunities on private land; it is a perverse outcome of policy if public use diminishes landowner opportunities and value as structured in LD 1147.

LD 616 is similarly flawed because it is structured to allow a neighbor to petition LUPC for the purpose of eliminating a previously approved zone on your land! Imagine how well this would go over in your town. We are still in the work session mode on these bills, and it appears to me the committee would like to bundle these issues and create a study group over the summer in an attempt to work through the intricacies of these policy changes.  Although some legislators, like Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, believe these bills are all an attempt to throw roadblocks at development opportunities and create precedents that threaten harvesting operations.

“This issue that we’re dealing with today is about wind, but when you open this door would you be concerned that we’ll be talking about things like logging next?” Sen. Jackson said at the public hearing on LD 1147. “You know people on these trails don’t like to see a clearcut 15 miles away or something like that. Today it’s wind but and next year or a couple of years from now will we be here talking about no cutting in these sites around these ‘crown jewels?’”

Rangers and guns: Another highly charged issue this week. Rumors of the governor’s position to arm only a few rangers and refocus the remaining on resource protection brought out the ranks of rangers to lobby for a positive vote on LD 297  in the Criminal Justice Committee. I continue to worry about the investment in arming rangers at the expense of important resource protection activities. I’m working against the tide of not giving law enforcement officers their guns, when the important question about determining the priorities of the department have not been answered. Do we really want a major expansion of government into law enforcement? There needs to be more discussion on this bigger picture because regardless of the outcome of this bill arming all the rangers is an unsustainable outcome. Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Cumberland, and Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, cast the only dissenting votes Wednesday as the Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill. Their leadership is greatly appreciated. SWOAM and the Council are looking for ways to bring the broader policy issue into light and we will keep you posted.

Discontinued roads: Tom Doak, SWOAM’s executive director, has been a diligent participant in the discontinued roads discussion (LD 1177). Members of the State and Local Government Committee are working hard to resolve age-old issues of abandoned roads. Tom has identified the biggest problems as:

  • The unknown status of town roads;
  • Lack of a consistent public process for discontinuing a road
  • How to deal with those damaging a road with a public easement
  • Making sure all these solutions do not result in land-locking back parcels.

It is a tall task but the parties are taking a stab at it.

Outlook for the rest of the session: As I review the bills this session, I see only a few that are related directly to forestry issues. Senator Jackson has introduced bill that allows a landowner a tree growth tax free year if they send all of their wood to a US mill. I’m afraid that although the intent may be very patriotic, the outcome would be chaotic.

The overarching issue is the budget and as the deficit grows there will be desperation by legislators to find sources of income. Everyone is gearing up for a debate about BETR funding along with other business tax programs.

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Saucier cites opportunities, barriers for forest products

By Sarah Medina of Seven Islands, member of the CGPZ Steering Committee

The Aroostook Community Guided Planning and Zoning (CGPZ) effort is in the information-gathering phase.

At the committee’s December meeting, Bob Dorsey, president of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress, presented very interesting information on the economic challenges and priorities of the County. Despite challenges, Dorsey noted natural resource-based forest products and agriculture are two sectors of potential growth.

Mobilize north-logo-300x123In January, Dana Saucier from the Forestry Working group of Mobilize Northern Maine talked about opportunities, difficulties and barriers to the forest products industry in Aroostook County.

Difficulties that Saucier cited include:

  • Energy costs (lack of connection to NEPOOL, energy regulatory issues)
  • The image of natural resources (working landscape vs. place of spiritual renewal; conservation vs. preservation. Preservation has a greater voice in public opinion.)
  • Poor image of logging and forestry work
  • Diminishing 18-44 age work group (less than 30 percent in that bracket is unsustainable; Aroostook is currently 27 percent).

Opportunities cited include:

  • Irving’s redevelopment of the Pinkham mill site
  • Ecoshel relocating to the former sawmill on Levesque Mill Road in Ashland
  • Two other (unnamed) manufacturing possibilities
  • Deep water ports in Maine, closest to European markets, but need infrastructure upgrades.
  • Siting mills requires a fiber source, transportation, off-road linkages, and (fair, predictable) regulatory process.  Route 11 corridor was identified as potential location.

Speakers are being contacted for the next meetings to address agriculture (what is going on now, future plans, regulatory impediments) and “lessons learned” regarding process from other planning efforts (Rangeley Plan, concept plans.)

Meetings were changed to the third Wednesday of each month, except for the next meeting on Tuesday, February 11. They are typically from 9 a.m. to 11 or 11:30 a.m. at Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou. The public is welcome to attend or submit written comments and information. Regional public meetings will be held also. To get on the mailing list contact Jay Kamm.  Visit the CGPZ web page for more information.

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Emotions run high at wind power hearings

wind power hearings

Chris O’Neill of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club testifies in support of LD 1147 An Act to Protect Maine’s Scenic Character.

The down side of legislative harmony was on display for hour after hour Monday as opponents and proponents of wind power finally had the all-out debate they didn’t – perhaps couldn’t – have nearly six years ago. Now it appears likely the discussion will continue in a study group over the coming year.

At the EUT work session Thursday, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, proposed that rather than take a piecemeal approach — one bill and/or one issue at a time — to wind power, they should “look at the bigger picture.” He asked the committee to create a study group of stakeholders to develop recommendations for the Legislature next year. He won the support of most committee members. Two bills were tabled and a third was voted ought not to pass by a 9-3 margin.

“My sense is that the wind bills will either get thrown into the study group or they’ll get killed,” MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch said Friday.

The Wind Power Act of 2008 sailed through the Maine Legislature with a unanimous vote and barely a discouraging word. The economy was in free fall then, global warming concerns were rising along with the price of gasoline (above $3!) and wind power seemed like a what’s-not-to-like proposition.

“This bill balances environmental protection with the need for new clean energy sources,” its sponsor, Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Cumberland, said then. “I am really excited about the potential for wind energy in Maine and the opportunity to increase our supply of energy while reducing our greenhouse gases.”

But that win-win perspective was in short supply at the Jan. 13 public hearings on LD 1147 An Act To Protect Maine’s Scenic Character (voted ONTP) and LD 1323 An Act Regarding Wind Power Siting in the Unorganized Territory (tabled). Testimony didn’t end until about 7:30 p.m. as about 50 people testified on those two bills, which were held over from last session and moved from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee to the Energy, Utility and Technology Committee (EUT).

Strauch didn’t get his chance to speak against LD 1147 until after 3 p.m. and he waited until 6:30 p.m. before he finally testified against LD 1323.

“I wasn’t sure I could still stand up,” Strauch joked, but added that the long day was filled with “the typical ebb and flow of testimony. Some passionate, some dispassionate.”

MFPC opposed LD 1147 and LD 1323, as well as other attempts to rewrite the Windpower Act, such as LD 616, (tabled)  “because it is a dangerous precedent to remove landowners’ rights or change the rules in the middle of the game,” Strauch testified. (Read MFPC testimony on LD 1147 and LD 1323.)

All the signs of a long day were present long before the hearings began Monday. Seats in Room 211 of the Cross Building, where the EUT Committee meets, were being saved more than an hour before the scheduled 10 a.m. start. After various delays, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Androscoggin, banged his gavel to open the proceedings at 10:40 a.m. By then every seat was filled and people stood shoulder to shoulder along the back wall, crammed the sides of the room, jostled in each other in the doorway and piled up in the hall outside.

Like a referee at a prize fight, Cleveland laid down some rules. He made a plea for civility, encouraged all present to listen to what others had to say — even if they didn’t agree with it — and warned that nearly everyone would get just three minutes to testify, with a large clock literally ticking before them. As an “experiment,” however, the chief spokesperson for opponents and the chief spokesman for supporters could each speak for 10 minutes.

Just before 11 a.m., Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, sponsor of both LD 1147 and LD 1323, was the first to testify and she offered an amendment to LD 1147. Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, co-sponsor, came next, followed by the two “chief” spokespersons. Then supporters and opponents of the bills took turns, five supporters and then five opponents.

The chief spokesman in favor of LD 1147 was Chris O’Neill of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, which wrote the bill.

“It is sound public policy to review complex legislation such as the Maine Wind Energy Act in light of gained experience,” O’Neill said. “The proposals for change made here by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club are not radical.”

The chief spokesman for opponents, Jeremy Payne of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, pointed to a poll released last month by the Wind for ME coalition, which said 87 percent of voters surveyed agreed that “wind power is the type of zero emission, clean and renewable energy source that should be encouraged in Maine.”

Payne testified the Windpower Act “has helped shepherd in over $1 billion of investment, created and sustained 240 jobs per year, including 600 jobs in’08 and ’09, year of severe economic distress.”

As often happens, though, the most memorable moments at the hearings came when someone had completed their formal testimony and was simply speaking from the heart.

Sen. John Cleveland, Rep. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Roberta Beavers discuss LD 1147 at Thursday's work session.

Sen. John Cleveland, Rep. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Roberta Beavers discuss LD 1147 at Thursday’s work session.

Jim Robbins Sr., retired president of Robbins Lumber and an MFPC board member, had such moment during an exchange with Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, the sponsor of LD 616, An Act To Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Maine Land Use Planning.

Dunphy, who made no secret of his opposition to wind power throughout the day, asked Robbins if there are any wind towers on his land at T-40 or T3ND. Robbins said no, but added that some are being built eight miles away on Passadumkeag Mountain. Robbins explained that he’d “put a conservation easement on our land to protect it, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to protect Passadumkeag Mountain because I was trying to protect our land, not someone else’s.”

Dunphy asked, “Why wouldn’t you want to protect someone else’s land?”

Robbins replied, “Because we don’t own it and I don’t think I have the right to tell someone else what they can or can’t do with their land. My dad always said that if you want to control what goes on on someone else’s land then you should buy it.”

Dunphy conceded, “Sounds like wise advice.”

“It was,” Robbins said.

Dunphy’s interactions with others who opposed LD 1147 were not so cordial. He sharply questioned several, including Glen Brand, Maine director of the Sierra Club. Dunphy asked Brand four times in various words “if eliminating rights of people in the UT as a result of the expedited wind process is a fair public process?”

Each time Bell replied that he did think the process, in which public comments are heard at public hearings, is fair. After the fourth time, Dunphy replied, “I would suggest sir that you reevaluate. But thank you.”

Marilyn Keyes Roper of Houlton, who supported LD 1147, provided a chilling moment as she testified about the “lake on fire scenic effect,” her name for the reflection of turbines’ red lights on the surface of water at night.

“It’s the reflection of many red lights spreading out and merging so that the whole lake appears red and pulsating as the red lights go off and on,” Roper said. “My husband and I have observed this in the summer. He characterized it as a ‘pulsating hell.’ Others have said they have seen this effect of the red lights on lake ice. Certainly this scenic effect – which is quite frightening – should be addressed.”

Phil McIntyre, owner of Skye Theater in South Carthage, provided one of the few lighter moments at the hearing. In his testimony, McIntyre opposed LD 1147 and strongly supported wind power, both to provide clean energy and to revitalize the economy in rural areas. He told the committee that wind developers don’t just pay taxes, they also support local organizations, including his theater. But it was an anecdote at the end of his testimony that drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Skye Theater is on top of a mountain in South Carthage, McIntyre said, right at the beginning of the proposed Saddleback Ridge wind project. From the theater’s parking lot, there’s a remarkable view, stretching great distances and including Mounts Washington, Jefferson and Adams.

“Recently I had one of the opponents of wind power come up,” McIntyre said. “I went out and met him in the parking lot and he wanted to know where Saddleback Ridge was going. I told him it was going up towards the north. He just went on and on about wind power and how he hated it and how it was ruining the view. So he pointed out to the west and he said, ‘Can you just imagine if you had a whole bunch of wind towers out there and you had to look at them?’ And I said, ‘You mean like the 13 wind towers that are right there in front of you on Roxbury Ridge?’

“And he kind of stooped over a little,” McIntyre said, “and he looked and he squinted and he said, ‘You can hardly see them. And I said, ‘Exactly.’”

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Saviello and Starrett win Fish Friendly ice shacks

“I won the shack? I won the shack!” Sen. Tom Saviello said Monday when he got the call.

Sen. Tom SavielloSen. Saviello (R-Franklin) and Ben Starrett of Topsham, each won a Fish Friendly Ice Shack in a raffle to benefit Maine’s fish. In an odd twist of fate, Starrett’s father, John, was one of the volunteers who built the ice shacks.

“I am very happy,” Ben Starrett said. “And I’m sure Dad will be very happy as well.”

Maine’s Fisheries Improvement Network (FIN), an alliance of forest landowners and managers, federal and state fisheries managers, sponsored the raffle and non-governmental organizations determined to improve Maine’s fisheries. Proceeds will be used to upgrade snowmobile stream crossings to improve fish passage and habitat connectivity. Snowmobile trails can impact stream crossings and fragment habitat just as roads do.

Although Saviello isn’t an ice fisherman, he already has found a home for his ice shack. He donated it to the Wilton Fish and Game Club. “It will be for the kids in the club to use at our fishing derby,” he said.

The ice shacks, whose value is estimated at $2,000 each, can be taken apart for easy transport and then easily reassembled. Raffle tickets sold for $10 each and three for $20.

Ben StarrettBob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, drew the winning tickets at the MSA office in Augusta. FIN members, snowmobile clubs and the staff of Maine’s Off Road Vehicle Unit will determine which snowmobile crossing to upgrade next summer with the $1,720 proceeds from the raffle.

“We’re proud to be a part of FIN and the terrific work they’re doing to improve fish passage in Maine,” Meyers said. “Cooperation between land users like snowmobilers and Maine’s generous landowners is what allows our great recreation traditions to continue.”

Pat Sirois, director of Maine’s SFI Implementation Committee, Kevin McCarthy and John Starrett of Sappi Fine Paper, and Scott Pease of Hancock Lumber, built the ice shacks. Huber Engineered Woods and Plum Creek Timber donated SFI Certified materials.

“There have never been ice shacks whose purpose is more friendly to fish,” Sirois said. “This is a great project not only to raise money but to raise awareness on the stream connectivity issues. This is a win for fish, snowmobilers and fishermen.”

To find out more about FIN, visit www.sfimaine.org.

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