The Bangor Daily News
Thursday, July 16, 1998
Forestry rules spark opposition
By Susan Kinzie, Of the NEWS Staff -- AUGUSTA - Proposed state forestry rules intended by officials to clarify and simplify the existing logging law were greeted with contempt Wednesday by environmentalists and land rights activists as either ridiculously lax or dangerously extreme.
Jonathan Carter, clear-cutting opponent, said the new clear-cutting standards weren't worth the paper they were printed on.
"Are we really trying to protect trees?" asked Helen Gordon, a property-rights activist, complaining the rules would just promulgate boxes of paperwork.
Chuck Gadzik, director of the Maine Forest Service, said the proposed rules are meant to make the Forest Practices Act easier to comply with and enforce. But that didn't make many people happy.
"The problem with the proposed rule changes is that the state is still fiddling while Rome is ablaze," said Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of RESTORE: The North Woods. "They're tweaking things a little bit, looks like they're making things a little looser in some areas and a little more stringent in some areas, but not in any way improving the protection of the forest."
But where St. Pierre saw industry given free rein to destroy the woods, property-rights activist Robbie McKay saw more government intrusion. "This issue is going to keep going until the environmental industry drives out the paper industry," she said.
A handful of forest industry representatives said they were not able to discuss the rules yet because they hadn't had time to read them carefully.
Rep. George Bunker, D-Kossuth Township, and co-chair of the legislative committee that oversees forestry, defended the proposed rules as a good compromise.
He said Maine Forest Service people had told committee members they were having trouble enforcing the rules because they were so confusing. "They were pulling their hair out. Now they can be enforced in a diligent manner."
The most dramatic of the possible changes would be to require permits for clear-cuts on more than 75 acres - forcing landowners to convince the state they have a legitimate reason for the practice. Reasons could include extensive weather damage or a need to develop a plantation of a certain species. That would make it more difficult for companies to "cut and run," harvesting their trees quickly without regard for the forest's future.
But clear-cuts that large are rare. Ninety percent of the clear-cuts in the state are smaller than 35 acres, Gadzik said.
"There are no limitations on the amount of clear-cutting in this at all," countered a disgusted Judy Berk, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, after a quick reading of the 40-something-page document. "There is no scientific justification required for 90 percent of all the clear-cutting."
Other possible changes include more stringent requirements for buffer zones between areas of land that have been stripped of trees, and elimination of the requirement that people clear-cutting on their own land get permission from a neighbor if the cutting comes within 100 feet of the neighbor's property.
Landowners would have to report more information, more often, to the state - especially for clear-cuts of more than 35 acres.
Bunker said "an enormous change" is contained in the proposed definition of a clear-cut. While the definition, based on the circumference and height of trees that are left within a certain area, doesn't look very simple on paper, Bunker said it is much better and will be far easier for everyone to understand.
"The forest service couldn't enforce the rules because they were so confusing, time-consuming and expensive to do enforcement action against cutters. ... Now I can walk onto something and define whether it's a clear-cut or not - anybody can by looking at these rules," he said.
Gadzik said that after two years of fierce debate set off by a citizen initiative to ban clear-cutting, "we certainly expect to hear loud voices on both sides" at a series of public hearings in August. "We just hope those parties take the time to actually read the rules and give us some good guidance."
Public hearings will be held in South Paris at Oxford Hills High School on Aug. 18, at the Ellsworth Middle School cafeteria on Aug. 20, at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Aug. 25, and at the Augusta Civic Center on August 27. Each one will last from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m.
Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.