The Bangor Daily News
Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Forestry bill backed by activists rejected

By A. Jay Higgins, Of the NEWS Staff -- AUGUSTA - Members of the Maine House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a minority version of a forestry bill Monday night that had the backing of allied environmental groups.


After debating the bill for more than an hour to a less-than-capacity audience, House members voted 100-39 in favor of an ought-not-to-pass motion, setting the stage for a vote on an opposing bill favored by Gov. Angus S. King and the paper industry later this week.


Maine continues to grapple with the question of how to manage 70 million forested acres in the aftermath of November's referendum defeat of the Compact for Maine's Forests. Now lawmakers are attempting to address some of the problems posed by clear-cuts on parcels of lands exceeding 100,000 acres.


The minority report rejected Monday night would have attempted to ensure sustainable harvesting levels by requiring large landowners to grow more trees each year than they harvest. The bill would have limited the total amount of acreage Maine's 15 largest landowners could clear-cut in a given year, imposed scientific stocking standards, and required an independent public audit to verify protection of water, wildlife and workers.


Earlier in the day, several environmental groups held demonstrations inside the State House and later tried to win over lawmakers as they moved through the halls of the Capitol.


Everett B. Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, skewered members of the Legislature's forestry committee for going through the motions of pursuing real forestry reform legislation only to suddenly abandon efforts to turn out a meaningful bill.


"The heavy hand of the pulp and paper and forest products industry then descended - and the result was a majority committee bill that was a clone of the industry proposal," he said. "We can do better. We must do better. The Legislature can take a fresh and independent view of the options before it."


Jonathan Carter of the Forest Ecology Network said the minority report struck down almost 3-to-1 by the House was a moderate compromise that would have initiated protection for the forest and prevented a future referendum.


"Every single poll shows that 80 percent of the people or more in this state want forest policy reform," he said. "We need to move forward with forestry policy reform and we can do that today by sending the clear message to our legislators that the amended version of (Monday's bill) will accomplish sound forest policy initiative."


The state's current Forest Practices Act does not guarantee a healthy forest, according to Thomas Urquhart of the Maine Audubon Society. The act, he said, does nothing to limit the total amount of clear-cutting allowed, nor does it address any aspects of timber harvesting other than clear-cutting.


"The Forest Practices Act needs to be strengthened so that it guarantees a healthy forest," Urquhart said.


But Rep. Al Barth, R-Bethel, said the Forest Practices Act has never been fully funded or extended the opportunity to live up to the expectations of the lawmakers who crafted it in 1989.


"So now we have this law on the books and people just want to throw it out and start with something new when we haven't even seen whether it will work," he said. "My feeling is let's make sure it works, fully funded. If it doesn't work, then we have some places to make some changes."


Rep. Judith Powers, D-Rockport, told her seatmates that it is their job to provide leadership in defining sustainable forestry, and to ensure that Maine's forest lands are being managed competently. She said that through the scrutiny provided under the four-point plan backed by environmental groups, large landowners would actually see their harvests per acre increase.


"That would be an easy objective," she said.

Copyright © 1998, Bangor Daily News Inc.