Anti-clearcutting group threatens new referendum


Associated Press Writer

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AUGUSTA - An anti-clearcutting group condemned plans by a major paper company to cut more trees, warning Tuesday that a new referendum on reducing timber harvests is likely to be launched next year.

"It seems to me what they're doing is begging for another referendum," Jonathan Carter, leader of the Forest Ecology Network, said. "We think it's a lot of wasted energy and money. Why don't they just do it right?"

Jeff Toorish, spokesman for the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, said Carter's "sabre rattling" was nothing new and he defended the industry's practices.

Carter's news conference followed reports that Champion International plans to double its clearcutting and increase herbicide spraying on its 914,000 acres in Maine.

Carter, an unsuccessful candidate for governor for the Green Party four years ago, said discussions are under way among environmental groups to get a citizen initiative on the ballot in 2000.

At the same time, Carter's group is bolstering its "outreach" program to educate the public through a Web site. He said he also plans an aggressive push in the Legislature for more forest-cutting controls.

Voters rejected a clearcutting ban pushed by Carter's followers in 1996, and last year turned down an alternative backed by Gov. Angus King and industry.

Earlier this year, the Legislature imposed minimum buffer zones around clearcuts and gave the state conservation commissioner the power to set more stringent standards for zones around clearcuts greater than 35 acres.

The Maine Forest Service also must create a process to assess forest sustainability, including the development of standards and a monitoring system.

The Forest Service released a report recently saying that at the current rate of growth, the forests cannot sustain indefinitely the volume of wood now being harvested. It said improved management and intensive silviculture can improve the harvests.

Toorish said growing more trees is the correct solution to the fiber shortage problem foreseen by the report.

Champion officials say the best way to respond to a wood shortage is to increase productivity in areas where spruce and fir grow rapidly.

"We need to work very hard to grow trees faster," said Champion spokesman Keith Cunningham. "We agree with the state's assessment on that."

Cunningham defended the company's approach to forest management, saying it balances the social, biological and economic needs of the woodlands.

To achieve the yields it wants, Champion may have to double its clear-cutting acreage to more than 8,000 acres. But the company says it would not clearcut more than 9,140 acres, the limit that would have been imposed under the proposal voters rejected last year.