Mainers Want to Change the FPA

The People Have Spoken Again, and They Still Want to Change the FPA by William Sugg

How are we to interpret the results of this past November's vote on Question 1? In the context of a legislature attempting to craft forestry legislation consistent with the will of Maine people that want a solution, a more relevant question to ask than "How and why was the Compact defeated?," is "How many people want significant reform to current law -- the FPA?"

The results from 1996 prove unequivocally that 77% of Mainers found the Forest Practices Act of 1989 insufficient as a management scheme for the North Woods, and arguably that nearly the same percentage of citizens again rejected the out-dated FPA in the November 5th, 1997 vote.

Let's look at the facts:

In the 1996 three-way forestry vote, 77% of Mainers voted to change the Forest Practices Act (FPA) . Either substantially, 29%, who voted for 2A, the Citizen's Initiative to Ban Clearcutting, or moderately, the 48% who voted for the Compact the first time around as 2B.

Only 23% of Mainers voted in 1996 to keep the current Forests Practices Act in place.

The interpretation of 1997's vote is less straightforward. The only certainty is that 47% of the electorate voted for the Compact, and they did so because they saw it as an improvement over the FPA. So what percentage of 1997's No vote for the Compact came from those that thought it was an insufficient improvement to the FPA, and what percentage came from the FPA is OK voters? Fortunately, we have some good information to help us draw some conclusions:

Extensive polling done before the 1997 vote showed that 2A (Ban Clearcutting) supporters were likely to support the Compact until they learned about the lack of environmental safeguards in the agreement. Their movement away from the Compact as the campaign progressed was essential to its defeat.

Statewide the Compact received 179,050 No votes and 161,839 Yes votes. It is reasonable to assume that most of the No vote coming from northern Maine came mostly from folks that voted for 2C in 1996, and that most No votes coming from southern Maine (generally considered more environmental and liberal-leaning) were cast by those that were against the 75 acre clearcuts and herbicide spraying the Compact allowed.

graph The Compact received 60,715 No votes from Maine's 7 northernmost counties and 118,335 No votes from the southern counties -- almost a 2 to 1 split. Although certainly some of the votes in southern counties were from the 2C camp, some voters in Northern Maine rejected the Compact on environmental grounds as well.

A straightforward interpretation of the North/South split would mean that 18% of voters in the 1997 election favored keeping the FPA in place. A generous margin of error of 10% would put this figure well within range of the 2C vote in 1996, or 28% (see figure).

graph It seems nearly impossible after looking at this data to interpret it as Mainers collectively declaring over the last two election cycles "We insist that you do nothing! The massive clearcutting and herbicide spraying must continue!" The results of two state-wide elections on this issue gives us much more reliable data on of the feeling of the electorate than any limited and perhaps questionably worded polling ever could.

The Forest Practices Act is what lead to the statewide debate in the first place. The FPA allows 250 acre clearcuts -- the size of over 200 football fields -- and places no limit on the acreage that can be clearcut. It allows an entire ownership to be clearcut in just 11 years!

There are also no provisions of the FPA to protect wildlife habitat and provide for a healthy and sustainable forest. In the words of Rob Bryan, a Licensed Forester and Forest and Wetlands Ecologist for Maine Audubon, "The FPA does not assure a healthy or sustainable forest."

Does anyone have the right to deny future generations the natural beauty, ecological services, and economic bounty of the North Woods that we currently enjoy? While property ownership is an inalienable right of US citizenship, the wildlife and water that run through all land in the state of Maine are owned by the citizens equally. On these grounds alone we of this generation have a common interest in preserving the forest environment.

When the native forest is destroyed and replaced with non-native, even-aged monoculture stands of genetically identical trees, we pass on to future generations a forest environment that: produces fewer jobs; looks like a disaster zone; has decreased diversity of all species of plants, fungi, and animals; is more likely to succumb to pests, disease, and fire; is of lower wood quality and economic value; has decreased productivity and depleted soils; has degraded watersheds; will oblige clearcutting; and will require the input of toxic chemicals to maintain the system.

The majority of Mainers want significant reform of the FPA. Clearly, if a well-crafted citizen's initiative to reform it stood alone on a future ballot, it would win convincingly. It would be unwise and painful, however, to split the state along latitudinal and attitudinal lines when it comes to forestry, or any other land-use issue.

The people returned the forestry issue back to the legislature for a solution. Tinkering around the edges of the Forest Practices Act of 1989 is no solution. It is time for our elected officials to rise to the challenge of their office and pass significant forest practices reform in Maine. The people have said so, again.

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