The Bangor Daily News
Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Forestry bills spur activists' pressure

By Frank Fisher, The Associated Press -- AUGUSTA - A coalition of environmental groups used a boisterous press conference at the Capitol on Monday to ensure legislators knew how they felt about rival forestry bills coming up for a vote.


The question of how to manage millions of acres of Maine woods landed in the Legislature after voters in a referendum last November defeated the Compact for Maine's Forests, a set of reforms backed by Gov. Angus King, the paper industry, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Audubon Society.


Lawmakers have been caught between two contending forces: those who believe more needs to be done to protect the Maine woods, and those who want less government regulation. Hanging over the heads of policy-makers is the threat that no matter what law they come up with, it may trigger a people's veto or referendum.


Anti-clear-cutting activist Jonathan Carter urged the Legislature to pass a bill that won only minority support in the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee last week.


The bill would reduce the maximum size of clear-cuts and limit the total amount of acreage Maine's 15 largest landowners could clear in a given year. Permits would be required for clear-cutting, and it would have to be proved that such cuts are necessary and will cause no ecological damage. A mandatory audit also would help ensure landowners grow more trees than they cut, supporters say.


"We've been through two statewide initiatives, initiatives which were meant to make the wind blow like hell so that the legislators who are weather vanes would point in the right direction," Carter said as about three dozen sign-waving supporters cheered and applauded.


"Unfortunately, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee weather vane seems to be rusted in place," he said.


Most of the committee has recommended the Legislature pass an opposing bill that would require landowners to leave more uncut trees around a clear-cut and submit a management plan for clear-cuts larger than 35 acres. But the main thrust of the bill is to order the Forest Service to do an annual census of the woods, conduct more frequent studies and set benchmarks for logging companies to meet.


King and the paper industry support the plan.


"I think what they did is good work considering the contending forces and where we were coming out of last fall's vote," said King, who has often complained about a lack of reliable forest data.


Jeff Toorish, president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, said his organization was not "terribly thrilled" with some parts of the bill, but it was "meaningful legislation" the group could support.


Carter and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club and the Maine Audubon Society, say the majority bill does nothing to restrict clear-cutting.


Private property activists like Mary Adams of Garland say Maine already has some of the strictest forest laws in the nation. She angrily condemns what she calls a radical environmental agenda trying to foist extreme clear-cutting bans, despite losing at the polls.


"We are right on the edge, the cutting edge, too far out on the edge, in regulations," Adams said. "It's hurting our business climate, it's hurting our attractiveness for doing commerce, and these people want to give us more of what we have too much of."


Rep. George Bunker, the forest committee's co-chairman, said the majority report would help the state get more accurate information and therefore make better policy.


"I guess if Mary Adams and Jonathan Carter are both mad at me, then the committee must have done an excellent job," the Kossuth Township Democrat said.


Voters in November rejected the compact 53 percent to 47 percent, marking the end of a two-year referendum battle that was the most expensive in Maine's history.


Under provisions of the failed proposal, the maximum size of clear-cuts would be reduced from 250 acres to 75 acres. Owners of more than 100,000 acres could not clear-cut more than 1 percent of their property annually.


Despite the compact's defeat, large landowners said they would still voluntarily limit their clear-cuts.

Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.