The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Four     Number One                           Late Winter 2000



by Jonathan Carter, Director of the Forest Ecology Network

Margaret Mead once wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." These words ring loud and true in regards to FEN's successful effort on election day in collecting 42,000 signatures on the new forestry initiative, "An Act Regarding Forest Practices".

Over 500 volunteers from Kittery to Fort Kent sat at the polls. This is a sure indication of the strength of FEN's network of dedicated forest activists. These folks deserve our praise and thanks as we move forward with the ensuing "Forest for the Future Campaign".

Already it is clear that the paper corporations have begun a systematic effort to brand this campaign as the work of "extremists", and they are once again using the argument that this initiative will devastate the economy of the state. We must not play to their rhetoric, but simply put forth the truth about the state of Maine's forests and how sustainable forestry means long term economic stability. "An Act Regarding Forest Practices" is a reasonable approach to the problem of overcutting and clearcutting. It simply asks for sustainable cutting levels - cut should not exceed growth - and that all proposed clearcuts go through a review and permitting process. To most, this is common sense, but to industry, which has been cutting at rates far in excess of growth (two to three times the rate of growth) this challenges their historical cut and run extractive behavior which threatens and is currently undermining the very foundation of the woods products economy. How many mills have closed down in the last several years? How many jobs have been lost in the woods? If we do not stop this downward spiral to the bottom, the future will only be bleaker.

What has always amazed me is that while the paper corporations have been over cutting during the last twenty years, they have been given huge tax breaks under Tree Growth Tax Law. Tree Growth Tax subsidies were designed to encourage "sustained yield forestry". Far from practicing sustained yield, the industry has clearcut two million acres and overcut another four million acres - the equivalent of 30 Baxter Parks. Why should Maine citizens subsidize these unsustainable forestry practices? Inevitably, the paper corporations will try to use the small woodlot owners to attack the citizen initiative. They will argue that by tying sustainability to Tree Growth this will place a burden on small landowners. However, only about 18 % of the million acres enrolled in Tree Growth belongs to small landowners and data from the U.S. Forest Service shows that small landowners are harvesting at sustainable levels. The truth is that small woodlot owners will not be impacted by the sustainability part of the initiative.

While "official" estimates of the amount of clearcutting currently taking place has declined, the volume of wood removed from the forest has actually increased. Rather than incur the public wrath over clearcuts, industry has decided to cut to the margin of the definition of a clearcut. These are not selection cuts, nor in any way do they reflect good silviculture. They are designed to extract as much fiber per acre without triggering the clearcut definition - great for PR, but terrible for forest productivity and health. The clearcut component of "Act Regarding Forest Practices"
is not a ban (as we learned, a politically volatile word), but will require clearcutters for the first time to openly apply for a permit. The burden of proof will be on them to demonstrate silvicultural justification, no ecological damage, and the absence of alternatives. If the issuing of a permit is based on sound science, clearcuts should become a thing of the past or, at least, a rare event.

Perhaps, the weakest link in the initiative is the new Sustainability Council. The concession to allow the Governor to appoint the Council could certainly prove problematic considering Angus' history in dealing with forest issues. For sure, the head of the Maine Forest Service, Tom Doak, who will sit on the Council, has industry connections. However, I have high hopes for the input of Jensen Bissell, the Director of Baxter State Park's Scientific Forestry Unit. I have seen firsthand his work. It is of high quality and should be a model for industrial forestry. At least the new Council will have to deliberate in an open public hearing process.

Our new campaign, "The Forest For the Future Campaign, is in the early stages of organizing. After the signatures have been validated by the Secretary of State, the legislature will have the option to pass the initiative or send it out to referendum. I don't think we should hold our breath in expectation of passage. We must prepare for an all out campaign to pass this initiative on November 7th by a people's vote. We have demonstrated that we have a tremendous network and a great message. We are far better prepared now than we were four years ago during the Ban Clearcutting Campaign. This time, in the absence of a competing measure, we can win, but it is going to take an extended effort on all our parts. We have made a great deal of progress in the last four years. We have exposed the carnage of industrial forestry. We have educated the public about the problem and offered sensible solutions. We have persevered in spite of all the propaganda of the paper industry.

"Endless pressure, endlessly applied" will bring results. Please help us get "The Forest For the Future Campaign" off to a solid start. We not only need your financial contributions, but also your help in developing local outreach in every community in the state. All of the past years of struggle for silvicultural reform will bear fruit if we pull together for the final offensive against the destruction wrought by industrial forestry. Get involved!



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