The Bangor Daily News
Friday, August 21, 1998

Clear-cutting hearings draw little response

By Orna Izakson, Of the NEWS Staff -- ELLSWORTH - After three years of extremely contentious debate about clear-cutting in Maine, proposed new rules to regulate the practice on private lands are making surprisingly few waves - at least based on the turnout at the first two of four hearings on the proposal. The proposed rules require landowners to justify all clear-cuts larger than 35 acres and to obtain permits based on four biological reasons for clear-cuts larger than 75 acres. The proposal increases the number of clear-cuts that fall under the most stringent of regulations, changes the requirements for buffer zones between clear-cuts, and involves new notification, reporting and posting procedures.


At the first of the hearings, in South Paris Tuesday, only 15 people attended an afternoon session and 20 attended in the evening, according to Chuck Gadzik, the director of the Maine Forest Service.


The numbers did not improve Tuesday in Ellsworth. Sixteen people attended the afternoon session, although fewer than half that number offered testimony or asked questions. Only eight attended the evening hearing, including three who stayed after the afternoon session.


The attendance was so low on Thursday evening that the session, scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m., officially ended after only 40 minutes. A staff presentation about the proposed rule changes took up half of that time, with the remainder filled by two questioners and no actual testimony.


Property-rights activist Mary Adams attended both of Thursday's sessions, but offered no comments. ''I'm here to learn,'' she said.


Of the half-dozen people who did speak on Thursday, those representing forest-products companies said they planned to submit more detailed comments in writing.


But the comments they did offer focused mostly on the question of requiring permits for clear-cuts larger than 75 acres.


Peter Triandafillou of Huber Resources said he had great concerns about having the public involved on a site-by-site basis over forestry decisions on private lands.


Stephen Richardson, representing Champion International, said he opposed the permit requirement because it ''opens up the door to intervention by the environmental industry,'' and ''goes beyond the Legislature's intent'' when it called for new forestry rules.


Gadzik, who has been in the center of the maelstrom over clear-cutting in Maine since he took his job three and a half years ago, was optimistic the low turnout signaled some level of acceptance of the changes.


''The truth is, there's not a lot here in terms of ... deviation from where we've been,'' he said in a Wednesday interview.


But Gadzik added on Thursday that he ''wouldn't be surprised if one of these hearings turned into a venting session'' on the state of forestry.


Indeed, environmentalists appear to be saving their thunder for hearings in Augusta next week, although anti-clear-cut activist Jonathan Carter has vowed to boycott the hearings because he says the proposed changes are a farce. Adams suggested the people who share her antiregulation views might show up for the Augusta hearings as well.


The Maine Forest Service will conduct final hearings on the rules Tuesday, Aug. 25, in the Grand Ballroom of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and Thursday, Aug. 27, in the Augusta Civic Center. On both days, the hearings will run from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. The bureau will accept written comments on the proposal through Sept. 7.


After that, staffers will adjust the rules based on the testimony they received during the four sets of hearings, and present a final draft of proposed changes to the Legislature next year. The Legislature's Forestry Committee will then have the final say over what rules are implemented, and that process is likely to include further public hearings before lawmakers.

Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.