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.”
By Michele MacLean, Council lobbyist
The pace at the legislature is slowly picking up and more and more bills are getting printed. We are around 700 bills printed so far with approximately 1,000 still yet to be drafted. We still await the ACF merger language.
The Tax Committee held hearings Monday on two tree growth bills, LD 400, An Act To Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, and LD 492, An Act To Increase Reimbursement to Municipalities under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law. The Council strongly opposed LD 400 which would require wood harvested off of tree growth enrolled land to be harvested by Maine workers and processed within Maine. The only support for the bill came from the sponsor, Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, and co-sponsor, Senator Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, specifically raising bonded labor as an issue that should be tied to Tree Growth eligibility. Many lined up in opposition including MFPC, SWOAM, the Maine Forest Service (MFS), PLC, Maine Audubon, Huber Resources (see video) and The Nature Conservancy. A work session was held March 1 with some discussion by the legislative committee about bonded labor. However it was ultimately decided that the Tax Committee had no jurisdiction over labor matters. Furthermore the committee wanted to wait to see the MFS treegrowth report due back to them next session. The bill was unanimously voted ought not to pass.
LD 492, a separate tree growth bill, was drafted as a concept bill. Without legislative language and based upon the title, MFPC testified in opposition, raising concerns about increasing municipal reimbursement rates and negatively affecting the overall program as well as referring to the last MFS study on Tree Growth, which recommended no changes with regard to reimbursement. Language was brought to the Tax Committee at the public hearing specifically addressing municipal reimbursement versus the countywide rate. The bill was tabled in the Tax Committee, while a fiscal analysis is done. There is some interest on the committee in moving forward with a version suggested by the Maine Municipal Association at the hearing.
A work session was held on LD 107, A RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Permit the Legislature To Provide a One-year Period of Penalty Relief for Withdrawal of Forest Land from Current Use Valuation. The is a bill by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, which we wrote about several weeks ago. A motion was made by Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Somerset, to allow properties of 25 acres or less to be withdrawn for one year without penalty. The motion to accept his amendment failed and the bill was then voted ought not to pass by an 8-4 vote. Sen. Thomas’ proposal will be the minority report. The bill is essentially dead, as a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature before going to the voters, which clearly would be a challenge.
In Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on Tuesday, there was a public hearing on LD 284, An Act To Amend the Duties of the Division of Forestry, which was a Department bill that would include landowner relations and a supporting program to be included within the Forest Services mission. MFPC and SWOAM testified in support referencing the outstanding work that has already been done between MFS and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to support landowners with clean-up days and efforts to stop illegal dumping of trash, as well as patrols in the spring for vehicle traffic on private roads to minimize rutting on soft roads. The bill was unanimously voted ought to pass by the committee.
The Natural Resource Network will be meeting next Tuesday morning at the Council office with ACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb and Carlie MacLean, a senior advisor to Gov. Paul LePage, to hear their plan and legislative proposal on the ACF merger as well as to reviewing a proposed merger organizational chart.
The major topic of discussion February 20 at Gov. Paul LePage’s roundtable with MFPC members might strike some as surprising. It wasn’t manufacturing, bills or even taxes. It was how to reach Maine’s young people.
“I thought the meeting went well – very positive and candid,” said MFPC Vice President Jim Contino of Verso. “We probably talked about logging labor and education systems more than any other single topic.
The governor began by saying that swing to a Democratic majority in the Legislature in November election meant accomplishing anything through legislation would be very difficult.
“There are things we can do by policy,” he said. “I am very concerned about energy costs, transportation, education and just overall red tape. The red tape we can take care of. Energy is the major issue, the one we hear about most.”
Energy was probably the second most talked about issue, with several members talking about the rising cost of gasoline.
“Energy – at the pump—is probably the single biggest unknown for us,” said Mike Beardsley of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.
Beardsley and other members also brought up contracts to harvest on state-owned land. The problem, they told the governor, is bids only allow work in the three months of winter. Ten months would be better and if the contracts were for five years, they said, it would help companies invest in equipment.
“It’s a very small window,” said Eric Dumond of Reenergy. “Everyone wants their wood cut in the winter.”
The governor listened carefully. “I am very, very interested in that,” he said. “We are looking at our state-owned land. The state-owned land has to be part of the revenue stream.
LePage got a big laugh when he added, “I appreciate what you said and I will try to influence Mr. Denico. (Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service).”
Several members praised the Maine Forest Service, including Jerry Poulin of Wagner, who said, “They’re always there for anything we need.”
But members kept turning back to their concern about how to recruit more young people into the industry.
Dumond kicked off the discussion by telling the governor, “I’ve been in the forest products industry for 35 years. We need to look at how to get younger people to come in. We need to plant the seed to get young kids interested in our industry.”
The group talked about internships, apprenticeships, co-op education and whether the law that restricts students younger than 18 from job sites might be changed.
“If the MFPC can tackle one issue,” Poulin said, “ in my mind it is the recruitment and training of new employees. As the economy improves I feel the lack of trained forestry employees will become a major bottleneck in the wood supply chain for landowners and mills in Maine.”
But Jim Nichols of Nichols Logging told of spending $5,000 on a co-op program for a person who only lasted a few months on the job. He thought many young people just don’t know what they want to do and that “the training they need is not what they’re getting (in tech schools).”
The governor spoke strongly in favor of internships, apprenticeships and more technical education at the community colleges. He offered to work with MFPC and said there might be grant money available to help create a better career path into the industry.
“The technical schools are a really great, untapped resource,” LePage said. “In Maine, we’ve had the attitude that every kid is going to go to college.”
One common complaint from members was about the bad image of the industry projected by guidance counselors and others. Nichols urged the industry to unite to change that image.
“Perception is reality,” he said. “We’ve to face that. The mills, the contractors and the landowners have got to work together to get some kids into the industry.”
The governor also commented on:
- The Tree Growth Tax Program: “There are guys in the Legislature who want to tinker with the Tree Growth law and I’ll tell you that is D.O.A.”
- Taxes: “Lowering taxes in the next two years will be impossible, but I plan to run again.” But he added, “Taxes, I can assure you, are not going up.”
- His plan to suspend revenue-sharing: It has “zero chance of passing …We all want local control, but local control is very expensive. Don’t call it revenue-sharing, call it local control costs. You want local control, pay for it.”
After the meeting, there were many favorable comments from members who appreciated the governor’s continuing support of the forest products industry and found the roundtable “informative” and “productive,” and the governor “attentive and interested.”
“I very much enjoyed the opportunity to hear Gov. LaPage’s take on our issues,” Poulin said. “I am encouraged the governor is willing to take on the challenges facing our industry.”
The whole industry wrings its hands, in Maine and across the nation. The story is the same, the older generation is retiring and new entrants to the business are scarce as crosscut saws. Luckily, as the logging force gets smaller productivity gains have picked up much of the slack. But that luck won’t last forever, it’s finite and every mill owner or manager has to ask themselves daily, “How am I going to log my mill when the rest retire? What’s my plan”? It’s true, wood grows on trees — but it doesn’t move to the mill by photosynthesis.
There are lots of reasons for the scarcity of new entrants — interest, pay, skills, difficulty developing skills, openings, proximity to where young folks live and the perspective on whether logging is a “neat profession” to be in — and more. And most of the barriers are true.
Industry has looked at this demographic for at least 40 years and made valiant attempts with initiatives to attract new entrants. Unfortunately few have worked appreciably.
The cost of entry into logging is huge, no more pickup, chain saw and maybe a skidder. The machinery used in today’s logging is complex, brand diverse and expensive, making it even harder to learn. Where do you go to learn and who will let an inexperienced person operate quarter million dollar and more machines.
Schools of different levels, from high school to advanced degree, don’t have the capitalization themselves to keep up with the latest machinery. In many cases they depend on hand-me-down machines that are not the current technology and, like a used truck, expensive to maintain. If they were still efficient, loggers wouldn’t have traded them.
Until many guidance counselors started believing you had to go to college to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, skilled trades were taught on the job through apprenticeship programs supported by state criteria, review and state certification of apprenticeship completion. As an example, many states have apprentice programs for machinists and tool makers. In some cases it is the trade itself that certifies, a welder is certified by American Welding Society after demonstrating proficiency.
We should rethink bringing the apprentice model back — engaging landowners, mill management and logging contractors who will support an apprenticeship program. The state’s role would be to put teeth into the program, develop standards, grading, review and certification. And oh yes, it is not unreasonable to think that some state subsidy for apprentices will be necessary — luckily, it is usually cheaper than unemployment payments.
It’s also not unreasonable to repeal Maine laws designed to discourage Canadian loggers when no one has derived a solution on how to replace those loggers. Canadians have been a part of Maine’s logging force and logging culture since we began logging in the north woods. We have few domestic entrants into the job market, an impending shortage, and we tell those still willing to do the work, “Don’t come here.” Go figure!
We do have two big hurdles: showing that the profession is rewarding and appreciated by society, and geographic proximity to the job site from population centers. Cable TV’s American Logger has shown that young people are really interested in what goes on in the woods. There is a fascination with hard work and “proving yourself.” Other more serious demonstrations can show what the job is like, how to start out and try it, what skills it calls for, trading the Play Station skills for real joystick skills and maybe seeing the harvester as akin to flying a drone. Can we even think about operating a harvester in Northern Maine remotely from an office near Paul Bunyan’s statue in Bangor?
What is left to overcome is how new entrants, making starting pay as apprentices, can afford the time and money to travel to remote job sites every day. Years ago we did that with logging camps but the cost of running the camps, as well as workers wanting to be home at night, caused their demise. I believe proximity is the most difficult challenge, but even today, Canadians and Americans are going to the oil fields of Alberta and North Dakota for jobs. We have to make the opportunities attractive and entry hurdles reasonable.
Gerry Lavigne, Maine’s state deer biologist for three decades, discusses areas, especially in northern Maine, where there is deer habitat, but no deer. For more of Lavigne’s views on the Maine deer herd visit the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Deer Recovery section or read: Northern Maine deer ecology
Other information: The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife presented the its Plan to Increase Maine’s Northern, Eastern and Western Deer Herd, including white tailed deer population goals and efforts to create a five-year benchmarking system on Jan. 25th, 2012.
People keep talking about the “dying” forest products industry, but what they don’t realize is we’re doing just the opposite. We’re changing. You have to. You either change or you die.
When I went to work in the Rumford mill one summer to pay for college, there were five people on a paper machine that had been around for 50 years. I was the spare, so I just filled in on jobs. I trained for the second most complicated job in one day – one day!
One of my friends made $5,000 in his summer mill job, so when they offered him a fulltime job, he took it. I also thought long and hard about not going back to college. It wasn’t an easy decision for someone who came from a pretty modest upbringing to pass on what was then big money for unknown earnings later.
I was in grammar school when my dad became disabled and died a few years later. My mom went to work at an insurance office. There were five of us at home, so we all worked. I had a paper route, but I couldn’t lug more than 30 papers because the bag was too heavy for me. It would drag on the ground and my mom had to keep repairing it.
In high school, I worked 30 or 40 hours a week at the supermarket and I didn’t do very well in school. But my older brother, who had two kids, went back to school to become an accountant. So I looked at what he was making, saved up a couple of thousand bucks and went off to Husson College with a lot of help from the school.
The summer I worked at the mill, I had three years to go – three years to pay for – so you can imagine how tempting those mill wages were, but my mom convinced me to go back to college. When I graduated, I made $8,000 a year and the guys I went to high school with were making three times as much in the mill. But 10 years ago, the Rumford mill downsized and several of my friends lost their jobs.
I also took a long-term view of life when I chose Prentiss & Carlisle in 1987. I had three job offers and I picked this one, even though it wasn’t the top money and top benefits. I looked at the future and the people involved and I just knew this was the best place to be.
At the time, we only had 24 or 25 employees. The Carlisles had never really hired someone for a key position from outside the company but they hired me as their financial guy. I am less conservative than the Carlisles, but they’ve been great. They gave me plenty of rope – I could have hung myself or make them a nice bow – and luckily most of the stuff worked out all right. We pushed the envelope. The entire staff at P&C works very hard and we’ve got a great team. We’re more profitable, we’re way bigger and we have a lot more timberland. We’re now up to almost 100 employees.
So I believe that we should not only expect change, but we should actively search for ways to change — wisely. Most of the mills we are associated with sell products that are global commodities. Therefore, we are tied to a world whose population is getting bigger. The demand for fiber is increasing. The ability of Maine to match markets with resource is going to be the key. We have to be able to look at where the demand is in the world and adjust to it.
The worst thing we can do is let the government steer us in a direction they think markets are going. We’ve got to let the market system drive it. Some of the markets we know and love may not be the markets of the future but we should be very careful before we give up old friends for new ones. But there is an increasing demand and we are in a good position to meet it.
- The demand for fluff pulp – toilet tissue, facial tissue and paper towels – is only going to increase. That needle only has to move a little bit when you have 5 billion people in China, or Middle East or some of these developing countries. And if we can match up with that, we should be perfectly fine.
- Housing starts are coming back. Private housing starts in October were 41.9 percent higher than in October 2011.
- The price of dimension lumber is coming up.
- We produce some of the best oriented strand board in the country.
- We have a diversity of species.
- We have a diversity of markets. We sell to 100 different mills – a hundred different mills! In New York, Wisconsin, Michigan or Canada, we deal with six mills, eight mills, 12 mills.
I know we’ve had some tough years, but right now the most important thing to understand is that none of us can be successful if one of us in not successful.
Let me tell you where the key is. We produce more pulp than Wisconsin. What’s Wisconsin noted for? It’s the number one paper-producer in the country. Why are we producing more pulp and they’re producing more paper? Because we’re selling our pulp. That’s not bad, because we currently can’t consume all the pulp. But we’re not taking it the next step in the value chain. Pulp sells for $1,000 a ton. Paper or tissue paper or any of those things when you put them in a nice fancy cardboard box sells for a lot more than that on a per ton basis.
The further up the value chain we are, the more money comes in the state and the more jobs there are. The more the mills can pay for the wood, the more the contractor can get paid. So we’ve got to go up the value chain.
If you back up and look at it from 25,000 feet or 50,000 feet, it really isn’t that complicated. We are going to be facing change constantly. The unions have changed. The pulp and tissue mills have changed — I couldn’t be backtender today on a paper machine. The players who owned the mills have changed. So what? We’re evolving. Change is constant and we’re willing to change. Yes, we’ll go head to head with the Chinese. We’ll go head to head with anybody.
Manufacturing appears to have great potential, excellent job growth and momentum over next five years in Aroostook County. But may not be enough workers, Robert P. Clark, executive director of the Northern Maine Development Commission told the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce & Economic Future. To see his presentation, click on. Northern Maine Development presentation
MFPC’s annual legislative reception was crowded with legislators, state officials and members Feb. 7 and they were 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.”