The rustling of pages was the only sound to be heard during the most exciting moment of the public hearing on LD 837, the bill that attempts to sort out the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry merger.
When the Natural Resource Network’s testimony was handed out to the committee, the first page was a proposed organizational chart for the merged department — the very thing that legislators wanted most, but hadn’t yet received.
“I know we’ve asked for it a couple of times, but do you have any kind of a flow chart that you can present, at least at the work session, to show us where we are now?” Rep. James Dill, D-OldTown, and House chair of the committee asked Commissioner Walt Whitcomb.
Whitcomb promised to provide the department’s chart later, but there already were clear signs that some committee members were not sold on the merger. After Whitcomb read his three pages of testimony, he was sharply questioned by legislators for more than 30 minutes.
“I’m hoping by the end of the day someone will convince me that the merger makes sense. So far no one has,” said Rep. Craig V. Hickman, D-Winthrop. “I need to be convinced that we’re going to save money by doing this and so far I have not.”
As Whitcomb stepped away from the podium, David Bell, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission, stepped up to testify first for the Natural Resource Network. Since each person who testified was limited to three minutes, the Network’s presentation was assigned to Bell, MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch, Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, and Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. Later in the hearing Clark Granger also testified for the Farm Bureau in support of the network’s proposal and so did Tom Doak supported for SWOAM.
“We supported the merger last year based on a couple of goals, including that there should be a reduction in administrative expenses,” Bell told the committee. “Currently, as proposed in the biennial budget and LD 837, it falls short of those goals. However, we continue to support the merger of the ACF department because we think it will result in a stronger voice for Maine’s natural resource economy and help us focus on the opportunities we all believe exist.”
He then turned the microphone over Strauch, who quickly walked the committee members through the network’s proposal for the organization of the department.
“We wanted to make sense out of all the functions of the agriculture, conservation and forestry,” Strauch told them. “There is a Bureau of Agriculture, Bureau of Forestry, Bureau of Parks and Lands, and Bureau of Resource Information and Planning. “We thought those were logical compartments that maintained the integrity of the individual focuses of expertise and also brought them together in a different way so we could match up the synergies.”
Meyers outlined the statutory changes the network proposed, including those designed to address qualifications for commissioner, guiding principles and stewardship of parks and lands. Flannery talked about concerns about the management structure, clarification of the advisory committee and reporting requirements.
“LD 837 is a vehicle for those here today whether they are speaking for or against,” Flannery said. “You’re going to hear their concerns, their ideas and it’s a chance for the committee, if they so wish, to try to get this right.”
Among the opponents of LD 837 was the Natural Resource Council of Maine, whose testimony was presented by Cathy Johnson. She told the committee that NRCM has serious questions about the value of the merger, adding, “No one has yet articulated any benefit to the programs within the Department of Conservation from this merger. Rather than benefits, this proposed merger threatens the fundamental purpose of the department.”
The most “egregious provision,” Johnson said is the proposal in L.D. 837 “to change the mission of the Department of Conservation from one of conservation, protection and stewardship of our state’s mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, wildlife and other natural areas into a mission of natural resource extraction and economic development.”
The work session on LD 837 has not yet been scheduled, Strauch said Friday, but could be as soon as Thursday, April 4.
“I think it was important for us to provide the committee with some structure for the department,” Strauch said. “Now all interests can look at our proposal, participate in the discussion and create a stronger department.”
How many logging equipment operators does Maine need? An average of 44 each year from 2010 to 2020, according to a labor analysis provided at MFPC’s request by the Maine Department of Labor Center for Workforce Research and Information. Jobs also will be opening up in for production, machine installation and repair, and trucking.
In late February, MFPC requested a labor analysis of the forest products industry from the Maine Department of Labor and our staff is still studying the results. The Occupational Outlook 2010-2020 chart is based on foreseeable conditions, trends and statistical models, according to the DOL analysis. Economic events, such as mill closures, may significantly change outlook in forest products industries from levels projected here.
One important trend is clear: Replacing retiring workers will be a key issue for the rest of the decade. The analysis showed that forest products industries have an older workforce than the private sector as a whole, with 62 percent of workers ages 45 and older, compared to 47 percent of workers at all private firms.
None of that will come as a surprise to those who have been following the recent research done in Maine and New England, including last fall’s Logger Training Survey, which found that 73 percent of contractors surveyed stated that there is a need for an equipment operator‐training program in Maine. Those following news reports know about Canada’s campaign to recruit new forestry workers. Experts predict Canada’s forestry companies will need to hire at least 60,000 people over the next seven years, with 40,000 of those replacing retiring baby boomers and 20,000 new positions created, as a stronger U.S. housing market brings more work to the sawmills.
As noted in earlier newsletters, there is growing concern in Maine, and throughout North America, that there will be insufficient qualified labor to meet the future harvesting and transportation needs of our industry, but this analysis is the first indication of home many new workers may be needed or must be trained.
Testimony went on for hours – and hours – Wednesday as the Appropriations Committee heard from more than 100 local officials, businesses and others affected by the governor’s budget plan, including his proposal to convert property remaining in the BETR program to the BETE program.
“You are making it tough to be a manufacturer in Maine, especially rural Maine, making it tough for out- of-state decision makers to think of Maine as a place to invest,” said Tony Lyons, director of fiber supply and public policy at Rumford Paper Company, a subsidiary of NewPage Corporation.
Probably the most contentious item at Wednesday’s hearing was the provision to suspend revenue-sharing to municipalities, but BETR was a close second. Although many businesses favored the transition to BETE, because the reimbursement rate is higher, they strongly opposed suspension of BETR payments for one year. That part of the proposal would cost businesses a combined $38.8 million, but would only save the state $11.8 million, according to Maine Revenue Services.
“We don’t see a recovery of those dollars until 2021. That’s a very difficult pill for our company to swallow,” Bill Cohen, Verso’s communications manager, told the committee. “We just finished a $42.5 million program of investment and created 50 new woods jobs. And we would not have done that without the programs that are in place.”
MFPC has expressed its concerns about this approach to the governor’s office and will be providing written testimony to the Appropriations Committee, said Executive Director Patrick Strauch. Maine paper companies are among the heaviest users of the program, according to Maine Revenue Services data, with Verso Paper topping the list with more than $4 million in reimbursement in fiscal year 2012. (Bath Iron Works was second with $3.4 million and National Semiconductor third with $1.9 million last year.)
“We are at the top of the list under reimbursement because we are at the top of the list for a company that has modernized its mills and tried to remain competitive in a global economy,” Cohen said. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent times in our mills. If you take the budget proposal that has been suggested, then we stand to lose up to $5 million, depending on what the towns do, in terms of making up the revenue-sharing loss.”
Cohen asked legislators “to remember that Verso Paper is a job creator and a job retainer,” with mills in Jay and Bucksport that employ 1,500 people directly and have an indirect impact on somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs.
John Donahue, vice president of manufacturing at Sappi Fine Paper, was one of many who told legislators that skipping BETR payments would have a chilling effect on business investment in Maine. Sappi currently has approximately $350 million in capital investment eligible for property tax reimbursement under the BETR program, which has “enabled us to sustain over 1,300 high-paying quality jobs in the state.” The BETR program helps mitigates the impact of the tax disadvantage Maine has compared to
“The skipped payments will cost our company an estimated $1.5 million for the sites in Westbrook and Skowhegan,” Donahue said. “The elimination of BETR penalizes businesses for investing and creating jobs in Maine. As one of the leaders in a very capital intensive industry we followed through on what the BETR program encourages by investing in Maine. Why should the economic burden be shouldered by businesses that employ Maine people but exclude competitors who do business in Maine? We support the proposal that transitions BETR to BETE and we urge alternative solutions to skipping the year’s worth of BETR payments, which were budgeted when we initially made those decisions.”
John Williams, president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, noted that nine of the 13 pulp and paper companies and paper products manufacturers operating here are in the top 20 list of BETR recipients. Williams compiled data from seven of the nine that are MPPA member companies. He testified that found those seven received $9.8 million in BETR reimbursements in FY 2012, for taxes paid in 2010. That same year (2010) they invested $90 million in their facilities, offered employment to 4,100 Maine men and women, and spent $777 million within Maine. Between 2002 and 2011. Williams said, these seven companies invested more than $1 billion in their facilities.
“Under this proposal Maine’s businesses stand to lose $38 million in FY 2015, and Maine’s pulp and paper companies will bear the brunt of that loss,” Williams said.
Among others from the forest products industry who testified in opposition were Keith Van Scotter, CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue; Alexandra Ritchie, a managing director with Cate Street Capital, the owner and operator of Great Northern Paper; Tina Laplante, controller, International Paper in Auburn, and several members of the United Steelworkers, which represents pulp and paperworkers in Maine.
But with 45 recent layoffs at the Rumford Paper Mill, Lyons testimony may have had extra impact. He told legislators that the Rumford Mill is one of Oxford County’s largest employers, paying hourly employees an average wage of just under $28 per hour. But with a 4 percent drop in demand for coated freesheet paper and an 8 percent decline in demand for coated groundwood paper, the mill was forced to eliminate 45 salaried and hourly positions in February. At the full BETR level, Lyons said, the mill pays more than $4.4 million in property taxes annually. A 100 percent BETR payment brings that down by about $1 million to $3.4 million.
“In Rumford, the math is getting simpler for us,” Lyons testified. “We just cannot afford to absorb a skip of a year’s worth of BETR payments, it’s that simple. We can’t pass it on to our customers; it leaves us only two ways to cover that $1 million; we spend less and we reduce our workforce.”
WASHINGTON, DC – “The most pressing issue facing Maine’s paper industry is the subsidy package given in September 2012 by the province of Nova Scotia to the paper mill in Port Hawkesbury.” Rep. Mike Michaud told President Obama in a letter this week.
Following up on his tour of Maine’s pulp and paper sector earlier this year, Rep. Michaud sent a letter to President Obama on March 14, summarizing his finding and urging action on issues such as energy costs, transportation challenges and federal environmental regulations. He also sent 159 letters he received from Mainers on a range of issues facing the paper industry.
“I’m hopeful the president will do everything in his power to work with me, Congress and his administration on the critical issues our pulp and paper sector continues to face,” Michaud said in a press release.
In his letter to Obama, Michaud outlined the major concerns that were brought to his attention repeatedly on his tour and in the letters he received:
- The subsidy package given in September 2012 by the province of Nova Scotia to the paper mill in Port Hawkesbury
- Energy costs
- Transportation challenges
- Federal environmental regulations
“The Mainers that wrote to me clearly spoke from the heart about what this industry means to them and their communities,” Michaud said in a press release. “I came from a mill town and worked in a paper mill for nearly 30 years. I know exactly where they are coming from in these letters and have been pushing for action on many of the issues raised for years. I’m hopeful the president will do everything in his power to work with me, Congress and his administration on the critical issues our pulp and paper sector continues to face.”
A sample of comments Michaud received from Mainers can be found below:
“Business in the woods hasn’t changed much over the years in some ways. Contracts are still made with a handshake. However, the ability to make a profit is slipping away more every day. Not many years ago, fuel was 89 cents/gallon and therefore related products like tires and many parts were similarly low,” wrote Susan D’Alessandro of Millinocket.
“Whenever I have brought friends from ‘away’ home to Rumford, I get a kick out of the way they crinkle their noses at the strong smell of sulfur. For those of us who grew up there, we joke that it ‘smells like money’—but now I worry that is no longer true,” wrote Mollie Kaubrys of Rumford.
“I have been at Madison Paper for 10 years now and have realized this is the career that has given me the success and opportunities I was looking for. We are looking for fair trade and nothing more,” wrote Michael Croteau of Anson.
“We are losing our young people every year as they move out of state to find good paying jobs. The paper industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the state,” wrote Archie Miller of Readfield.
“The workers who depend on the mills extend far beyond the millworkers. The ripple effect is tremendous. Unfair trade is killing the wood industry,” wrote Thomas Targett of Portland.
The full text of the letter Michaud sent today can be found below:
March 14, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
I recently spent a week touring paper mills throughout my district to hear firsthand about the challenges they face and to learn how the federal government can support an industry that collectively remains one of the largest employers in the state of Maine. Individuals at the mills described a spectrum of issues they struggle with, including illegal Canadian subsidies, energy costs, transportation costs, and environmental regulations. I have summarized my findings from my tour in this letter, and I have also enclosed comments I received directly from Mainers about the paper industry. I ask you to work with me to mitigate these challenges, promote this important sector, and protect the 7,300 jobs it supports in my state.
The most pressing issue facing Maine’s paper industry is the subsidy package given in September 2012 by the province of Nova Scotia to the paper mill in Port Hawkesbury. These subsidies appear to be in violation of Canada’s World Trade Organization commitments, and they directly disadvantage Maine’s mills, particularly those that make supercalendared and groundwood coated paper. Those mills made clear that this subsidy package will put them out of business in the very near future if no action is taken to reverse them. I made USTR aware of this, and I am appreciative of their willingness to work with my office to find a way to reverse these noncompliant subsidies. I ask that the White House also weigh in with Canada and apply additional pressure on Ottawa to comply with their trade commitments. We need to use all resources at our disposal to ensure that the Port Hawkesbury deal does not force mills in Maine to lay off their workers and close their doors.
In addition to competitors’ trade practices, energy costs greatly determine a mill’s viability. Because oil is so expensive, the vast majority of paper mills have switched, often at great cost, to an alternative source of fuel. Natural gas is one of the least expensive options, but, until a gas pipeline is built, it remains unavailable to most of northern Maine. Efforts to extend the gas pipeline farther north are underway, but these plans are still in the very early stages and do not include the most northern parts of the state. I have discussed the importance of building a natural gas pipeline with the Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I have asked both agencies to assist with potential funding opportunities for this project, and I am hopeful the White House will contribute to these efforts. Making natural gas available to all of Maine’s mills will dramatically reduce their energy costs and make them more competitive.
Transportation challenges also affect our mills’ cost-effectiveness. Trucking paper products is very expensive, especially with increasing oil costs. Maine’s 20-year pilot program for increased truck weights makes it more cost-effective to use trucks, but that is not a comprehensive solution. Reliable freight rail is vital to Maine’s mills. Unfortunately, short line rail in the state is inadequate. Lines fall into disrepair and are not fixed by their owners. Some of the smaller mills have difficulties obtaining cars in a timely fashion, and, even when they are available, products are not always delivered by the promised time. I have engaged the Surface Transportation Board to determine what role the federal government can play in improving freight rail in northern Maine. As a complement to these conversations, I ask the White House to work with my office to identify federal policies that can improve the dependability of short line railroads.
The mills also expressed concerns about increasingly strict environmental regulations that have very high compliance costs. The Boiler MACT regulations, despite the recent revisions, will still require millions of dollars for compliance costs for some of Maine’s mills. In addition, some of the rule’s key provisions have yet to be finalized. How operating parameter limits are determined, whether based on a 30-day averaging period or a one-time test, could significantly alter the impact of the regulation. Moreover, the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials regulations, while improved from previous versions, still have yet to address the forest products industry’s concerns about the inclusion of railroad ties as non-waste fuels. The mills in Maine that burn railroad ties in their boilers need quick resolution to this outstanding issue, and I urge the White House to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to reach final decisions on these matters as quickly as possible. I also encourage the White House to reach out to representatives of the paper industry and explore with the industry and EPA ways to mitigate the costs of implementing the Boiler MACT regulations. Mainers are committed to protecting the environment, but the state cannot afford to have environmental rules put our mills out of business.
Mainers are acutely aware of the difficulties facing the paper industry. I am enclosing constituent letters I received so you can read firsthand from Mainers’ how important the paper industry is to the state and how critical federal policies are to its future. These letters echo the comments I heard directly from Mainers on my tour. I ask you to work with me to address the challenges detailed in this letter and to promote Maine’s paper sector and the 7,300 jobs it supports.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. I look forward to working with you to promote and advance Maine’s paper industry.
Member of Congress
If you’re just west of Big Eagle Lake and paying close attention, you may notice you’re driving down “Bill’s Road,” also known as “Chemin de Bill.” But don’t mention that road to the man for whom it’s named – forester Bill Brown of Seven Islands Land Company – you’ll just embarrass him.
“Bill is humble. He never calls it Bill’s Road,” said co-worker Shawn Bugbee. “There are signs on both ends of it that say Bill’s Road, but Bill always calls it the Russell Stream Road.”
The Maine Forest Products Council named Brown the “Outstanding Forester” of 2012, but he’s been making his mark on his colleagues, his company and the 300,000 acres he supervises for the nearly four decades.
“To us he’s the quintessential forester,” said Steve Schley, president of Pingree Associates, the family group that owns Seven Islands. “He’s lived it, breathed it and walked it. He’s seen it all.”
Brown grew up in Dover-Foxcroft and knew he wanted to work in the woods. He could have followed his two older brothers to the University of Maine, but he “wanted to be different,” so he attended Paul Smith College in upstate New York, graduating in 1973. That summer he got an unexpected call from John Sinclair, then president of Seven Islands. Brown wasn’t looking for a job, but when Sinclair offered him one in the Greenville district, he answered, “Yeah, I’ll give it a try.”
“And here I am 39 years later. So I guess I liked it,” Brown jokes. “I like the work. I’ve been fortunate with Seven Islands. Obviously this is quite isolated here and they give you a lot of freedom. They say this is what we want to do and you just go do it. I’ve been fortunate to practice forest management all these years.”
Brown’s view of the North Woods stretches far beyond that seven-mile road that leads between the logging camps where he’s spent much of his life. He watched fir trees turn “all red as far as you could see” during the spruce budworm infestation and lived through what he calls the “clear-cut wars.” He’s seen the deer herd in his district boom and bust. He vividly remembers the day a storm leveled 500 acres of mature trees “to the bare ground” on the east side of Big Eagle Lake and he celebrated the day 33 years later when that ridge had enough trees to thin.
“You do see the results, the impact you have on the landscape,” Brown said. “The most important thing is just to take pride in your work – know what your goals are and take pride in your work.”
Brown is very proud that Seven Islands was the first and the largest ownership to become certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The company’s nomination for the MFPC award stressed that Brown “was integral in Seven Islands foray into certification . . . Bill has been an excellent practitioner of the concepts through the years. The process benefited to a large degree because of Bill’s commitment.”
He’s also proud of his relationship with staff of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, which runs through his district. The waterway is “just great,” he says, adding that he has “done the full distance a couple of times.”
“Everything we do we have to consider: What is the impact going to be on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway?” Brown said. “We have been able to maintain a good relationship with the waterway. And that’s the way the family wants it. That’s the way the company wants it.”
Brown is manager of Seven Islands’ Ashland West Unit, while Bugbee, 32, manages the Ashland East Unit. They clearly work well together, but Bugbee smiles when asked about his first impression of Brown when he started work as a summer intern.
“Well, when I was in college he was pretty intimidating really,” Bugbee said. “I think Bill has opened up a lot more of the past 10 years since I’ve known him, but he’s always been a man of few words. He would talk to me, but it was all business all the time almost.”
Although Brown’s words were few, they were valuable for Bugbee and many others, especially in a profession where planning is so vital.
“Bill is super organized,” Bugbee said. “Working side by side with him, creating our plans for the year, he taught me a lot of organizational skills along with a vast amount of forestry skills.”
The isolation of the woods meant young foresters moved on quickly as they married and had children. Brown stayed on, heading to his home in Ashland only on weekends. But the people who worked for and with him can now be found throughout the company, including Schley, Seven Islands President John McNulty and Vice President Chris Nichols.
“I think the people he trained are his greatest legacy,” Bugbee said.
McNulty went to work for Brown in 1978, during the height of the budworm infestation. For 2½ years, they lived together in a one-room camp with gaslights, no running water and a cooler instead of a refrigerator. Only a divider separated their sleeping quarters and the kitchen/communal area, which had a woodstove and a picnic table.
“He and I got to know each other very well during that time,” McNulty said. “He was my supervisor, but he also provided me great guidance as a young forester. He was not too overbearing, but he’s always been a stickler for the policy of the company, so that kind of hung with me. As far as a young forester just learning the ropes, there was probably no better place to learn. It was sort of like forestry through immersion.”
McNulty describes Brown as trustworthy, honest, hard working, focused on quality and determined to do the best job possible. “He’s rock solid,” McNulty said. “He’s like this anchor we have out in the middle of the woods.”
Their relationship is still important to McNulty, who said whenever he needs to “get grounded,” he spends a few days in the woods with Bill – at a much-upgraded camp at Thoroughfare Brook.
“He’s my go-to guy. I really value his insight,” McNulty said. “We’re always comfortable sitting down and talking openly about what needs to be done and how we can improve things.”
Over the years, Brown has seen a lot of foresters come and go, but says there is no one type of person who does the job well. It’s not a matter of personality. Very outgoing people succeed and so do “real private, quiet people. I myself am quite reserved, very reserved,” he said. “It takes someone who likes being in this environment. You have to get used to being alone a lot of the time . . . There are days when it’s cold or hot and the black flies are terrible. You get used to it. I don’t know if you enjoy it all the time, but you do get used to it.
A mature forester learns to take a long, long view of his work. Young foresters want to change the world – if not today then tomorrow.
“If they have a specific operation they’re looking at and they’re frustrated, they’re going to go back they next day and straighten it all out. And I say, ‘Just don’t get overly excited. Think of what we’re trying to do long-term here.’” Brown said. “That’s just part of maturing as a forester.”
Still, he laughs again when asked if the one trait every forester must have is patience
“I’m not super patient, but I can be stubborn,” he said. “There’s a subtle difference there.”
What makes an exceptional forester, he believes, is something that can’t be taught. Behind Brown’s businesslike approach is the conviction that forestry must be more than just a job.
“It becomes part of your life. It becomes part of you,” Brown said. “You have the opportunity to look back 10, 20, 30 even 40 years, and say, ‘Yeah, that is what we hoped for.’ And that’s a long way to look back.”
FARMINGTON – Chad Bamford found out something Monday that many have discovered before him: Logging is “a lot harder than it looks,” even, or perhaps especially, with high-tech equipment.
“There are so many buttons on it,” Chad said. “ But the technology they have nowadays is probably doubling production out there. It was good to get some hands-on experience. ”
Fortunately, Chad, a senior at Foster Technology Center in Farmington, didn’t have to get his first experience on equipment that cost $500,000. Thanks to Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Franklin, ReEnergy and Nortrax, students from Foster Tech, Mt. Blue High, Spruce Mountain, Rangeley and Mt. Abram had a chance to operate simulators that allowed them to get a feel for a forwarder and processor.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic because this has given the kids and opportunity that we couldn’t give them without help,” said Dean Merrill, Foster Tech teacher.
It all started, Sen. Saviello said, when he and Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, were working on a bill on bonded labor last year.
“I began to realize that we weren’t doing a good job educating our young people to get them out there on the new equipment,” Saviello said. “We do a great job when you’re talking about skidders and chainsaws, but the next level of equipment – the sophistication of computers and everything else – they aren’t really getting to see.”
Nortrax, the area’s John Deere Construction and Forestry dealer, made the simulators available from Monday through Wednesday to area professionals as well as students. The simulators are portable and can be programmed to simulate several pieces of equipment, including other kinds of machines, such as excavators, said Bud Iverson of Nortrax. The large simulator costs about $150,000 and the smaller one $90,000. An operator would probably need from 100 to 150 hours of training on a simulator before moving on to actual logging equipment.
Sen. Jackson, who is a logger, said the simulators are “absolutely helpful. They let people understand what it’s like to do mechanical harvesting nowadays. It also shows people whether they’ll have an aptitude for it, because you never know really until people actually start operating whether they’re going to make good loggers or not.”
The event was planned with the school by Sen. Saviello and ReEnergy Holdings, a renewable energy company that owns four biomass-to-energy facilities in Maine.
Without ReEnergy, Saviello said, “this wouldn’t have happened. They were phenomenal. They stepped up when I told them about my dream and here we are with two simulators in there running and the students just having a ball. “
For ReEnergy, the event was an investment in the future.
“ReEnergy relies on folks who work in the forests to supply 1 million tons annually of forest-derived biomass – more than 33,300 truckloads – just here in Maine,” said Eric Dumond, ReEnergy’s Wood Procurement Manager for Maine. “The simulator is a mechanism to help attract young people to our industry and let them know that working in the woods is not what it used to be. In many ways, today’s high-tech forest harvesting equipment taps into the same kinds of skills that students use to operate popular game devices.”
There was much discussion this week about how to make simulators available to students at Maine’s four remaining CTE (Career and Technical Education) forestry programs in Houlton, Farmington, Norway and Mexico. Sen. Jackson thought a bond issue might be possible. Others hoped Maine’s community colleges and the forest products industry would get involved.
“The need is there, but it’s difficult for contractors to create an environment to train people,” said Pat Sirois, SFI director. “The equipment is just too complicated. The real issue in terms of training is being able to afford to put people in a seat to get a sense of how this equipment works. We need to find a way to do this.”
By Patrick Strauch, Executive Director
Bill Ferdinand commented to me this week that it feels as if he is reporting in to the Godfather as I try to help manage legislative affairs from afar. I prefer to compare the situation to the old TV show Charlie’s Angel’s as Michele runs legislative issues, Sue takes care of everything in the office, and Roberta keeps you all informed. I guess that makes Pat “Bosley” (described as “a middle-aged man of average looks, especially when contrasted with the glamorous Angels.”) But I can assure you he is more than capable as your acting executive director. I’ll be in the office a few days next week so this fantasy of mine will come to an end.
I told Michele I would write up the weekly legislative review, and can report continued success in representing your interests. The Tree Growth bills (LD 107 and LD 400) were voted out of the Taxation Committee ought not to pass (ONTP), which is a great effort by the team. The bill to increase Tree Growth reimbursements to the municipalities was tabled for further discussion in which we will participate.
In the Judiciary Committee, LD 154, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Limited Liability for Recreational of Harvesting Activities, we testified against changing the liability laws that protect public use of private land. The committee understood this concern and suggested that a group of stakeholders convene to discuss more narrowly the primary issue of liability relating to rail road crossings. We will participate in this effort and keep you posted.
In State and Local Government, Steve Schley and Bill Ferdinand watched over issues relating to the process for budgeting in the Unorganized Territory (LD 397). Several counties wanted to amend the budget process and eliminate growth cap provisions, but ultimately the committee was not convinced that the problem was widespread and voted the bill ONTP. MFPC will work with the UT Fiscal Administrator and concerned counties about alternative approaches.
The Natural Resource Network (NRN) met with administration officials this week to discuss the merger of the Agriculture and Conservation departments. The meeting was informative and productive. MFPC through the NRN will be outlining its vision for the structure of a merged ACF department, focusing on the need to deliver efficient and cost-effective services, as well as maintaining the important role of the director of the Maine Forest Service in the decisions of the department. We will keep you posted on this effort.
Next week some of the policy positions discussed on the weekly policy committee call were in preparation for hearings on issues such as:
- The governor’s proposal on BETR/BETE. The Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the Governor’s budget proposals on taxation issues Wednesday, March 13, in Room 228 at the State House. At 1 p.m., testimony will be taken on the Governor’s proposal to convert property remaining in the BETR program to the BETE program. We are concerned about the changes in the program that will have a mojor effect on some of our members. We continue to request information about the effects on your facility.
- LD 421, An Act to Prohibit Unauthorized Harvesting of Wild Mushrooms and Fiddleheads – Support (similar in principle to commercial balsam fir tipping laws)
- LD 646, An Act to Remove the 100-Megawatt Limit on Renewable Energy Sources – Oppose (affects opportunities and current investments by members burning biomass for energy production)
- LD 631, An Act To Change the Taxes on Fuel Purchased for Use Other Than on the Highways – Monitoring
- LD 642, An Act to Exempt All-Terrain Vehicles From Stormwater Management Requirements – evaluating (researching the issue and determining position, check in with office).
Please call if or email me if you have any questions or insight into the various issues we are covering.
At MFPC members recent “roundtable” with Gov. Paul LePage, John Gray raised some concerns about the Beginning with Habitat program at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock told him that a number of changes have been made to the program to address concerns from landowners. The commissioner sent the information below to explain the changes. After reading the information below, Gray said, “The best I can say is that it is a step in the right direction.”
Beginning with Habitat (BwH) is a voluntary tool intended to assist landowners, resource managers, planners, and municipalities in identifying and making informed decisions about areas of potential natural resource concern to them. Department staff has conducted hundreds of presentations, and distributed hundreds of data packages. To date the program has received very positive feedback from landowners, consultants, developers, conservation groups, municipal officials, and others who have participated. Occasionally there are concerns that BwH may be interpreted as a mandate imposed on the public by the Department. Staff is clear to emphasize that the program is a voluntary tool and we only provide this service when requested to do so by the public. Regardless, this perception exists and is of concern to us.
Recently there have also been concerns raised regarding the accuracy of data provided by the program and depicted on the BwH maps. We make every effort to distinguish data based on well-documented field investigations, such as occurrences of Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Wildlife and their associated habitats, from those that are based on information that has not yet been field verified (large unfragmented habitat blocks, connecting corridors, etc.). Regardless of the manner in which data is created, we commit significant staff resources to ensure that data provided to local partners is of the highest quality and is based on the best available science. We believe that local knowledge is critical to improving statewide data and at every local meeting we stress that BwH maps should be considered as the starting point for local resource discussions, and not the end of conversation. To further clarify program goals, improve data quality, and further clarify how data is intended to be used we have recently:
- Removed the USFWS habitat suitability polygons from maps that present MDIFW data. The USFWS data is based on computer models, not field investigations and sometimes was confused with actual Significant Wildlife Habitat polygons or state mapped rare, threatened and endangered species habitat.
- Revised the narrative information presented on the legend of the BwH maps to further emphasize the nature of this voluntary program and the role that the public can take.
- Revised the program guidebook and other supporting information to clarify how maps should be used to inform local decisions, limitations of the data, and the importance of verifying habitat information with Department staff prior to relying on maps for local land use decisions.
Additionally, we are also undertaking:
- Deer Wintering Areas – an extensive review of all deer wintering areas (DWAs) located in our two southern-most regions (Regions A and B), with removal expected of several DWA polygons that no longer meet habitat requirements, are not actively used, or for which we do not have a management agreement. DWAs are a critical habitat for our deer population in certain areas and under critical conditions. These resources have been more present and necessary in more northern and higher elevation areas. Our staff is actively investigating methods for assessing and revising DWA data and will incorporate it as soon as available. In the interim, we have modified map legends to clarify that DWA locations and boundaries shown are estimates and intended to identify locations where Regional Biologist contact is strongly encouraged prior to basing land use decisions on DWA polygons presented.
- Public Presentations – The Department is typically invited to a forum as a guest. To the extent possible, staff will encourage the event organizers to invite local legislators, Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, Planning Boards, conservation groups, municipal officials, landowners, economic development interests, and other potentially interested parties, if not already a part of the planned forum.
- BwH Steering Committee – The BwH Steering Committee includes the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine, Maine DOT, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coastal Program, USFWS, and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. The Department will investigate the feasibility of expanding representation on the steering committee and welcomes suggestions.
- Increased Capacity to Address Landowner Needs – For the first time in the program’s 10-year history, the program is now fully staffed with two biologists and a full-time cartographer. We now regularly work with landowners, realtors, and land managers to assist with the development of parcel specific management plans, provide customized maps, and provide information to best inform future development planning efforts. Some recent steps to this effect include collaborative work with Maine Forest Service to develop an on-line data checker application for foresters; launch of an on-line BwH map service; and on-going work on species and habitat specific management guidelines.
In Maine, 80 percent of production is by whole-tree systems compared to only 46 percent in Vermont, and only 7 percent of Maine’s production is by tree-length systems, compared to 34 percent in Vermont.
There was overwhelming support (70 percent of respondents) for entry-level training for in-woods workers. In fact, close to 90 percent of cut-to-length contractors indicated that there was a need for such training compared to 70 percent of whole-tree and tree-length contractors.
Jeff Benjamin, associate professor of forest operations, and Bennet Leon, graduate research assistant gathered responses from over 420 contractors. Their survey provides a useful snapshot of the existing logging infrastructure, business owner demographics, harvest methods, production and capacity, and equipment infrastructure in the northeast and a baseline against which to measure change and trends over time through periodic resurveys.
Results of the survey will be presented and discussed by Jeff Benjamin at FRA’s April 4 Maine Forestry Forum. For more information contact Jeffrey Benjamin.
The Maine Conservation Recreation Forum was a forum in the true sense – an opportunity for a very lively debate on everything from “amenities” in the Maine woods, to “foraging” on private property, to alewives in the St. Croix.
“I think it’s good to get industry and environmental groups and government agencies all in the same room to bat ideas back and forth,” said Jim Robbins of Robbins Lumber. “Even if we don’t agree on everything. It doesn’t hurt to hear the other side.”
Robbins represented MFPC at the forum, which attracted about 40 participants from across the state to our conference room. The forum was co-sponsored by MFPC and the Maine Conservation Alliance and funded by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. George Smith, a journalist and former director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, organized and moderated the event.
“We had some really great, challenging statements made – people didn’t hold back from expressing their conflicts and unhappiness with this and that,” Smith said. “And that’s exactly what never happens at the State House.”
The Conservation Recreation Forum was a key recommendation of Gov. John Baldacci’s Task Force on Public Lands. The Forum consists of organizations representing environmentalists, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, and landowners. It meets from time to time to help participants learn about key issues, reduce areas of conflict, and find new ways to collaborate.
“I was very pleased by the diversity of participation and by the enthusiasm and engagement by the people who came,” said Maureen Drouin, executive director of the Maine Conservation Alliance.
The featured speaker was Carolann Ouellette, Maine director of tourism, who led a very lively discussion as she presented statistics about “Maine’s Outdoor Recreation Economy – Past, Present, and Future.” Her presentation, which included research on tourism in the Maine woods, travel trends and marketing strategies, provoked many questions and much debate.
“That was really worthwhile, said Barry Burgason of Huber Resources.
“Yes,” agreed Sarah Medina of Seven Islands. “Carolann could probably have talked for another hour to explain some of the things that her office looks at and does and how they determine their marketing because it really is a well-coordinated effort that they do. They really do try hard to spend their $9 million in the most appropriate places.”
Sen. Angus King also had planned to speak federal actions affecting Maine’s key natural resources and outdoor recreation issues, but a scheduling conflict kept him in Washington, so he sent a taped message. Edith Smith, his chief of staff in Maine, was on hand to answer questions.
“I think the biggest value in anything like this is networking,” Medina said. “And I think this was a good opportunity for that. There was a good mix of people here.
She and Burgason were especially pleased that the landowners’ point of view was central to many of the discussions.
“It is important to have landowners here and I think George did a good job of pointing out that the recreation industry is based on private land and that people need to be aware of that,” Burgason said. “When groups are lobbying, they need to consider what the implications are.”
Smith hoped the success of Friday’s forum would lead to similar events in the future.
“We only have money for this one forum, but everybody was so enthused I hope we can raise money for future forums,” he said. “I think we had forgotten how much fun this is and how successful.”