A Voice in the Wilderness

by Jonathan Carter

The Forest Ecology Network has had a very successful first year. We have maintained a resolute commitment to defending and protecting the forests of Maine. Our educational efforts have included various workshops and discussions on low impact forestry, global forest decline, logger certification, and a host of other topics. FEN has successfully published and distributed over thirty thousand copies of The Maine Woods. We have established an informative web site at www.powerlink.net/fen. We were leaders in the fight against the industry sponsored Compact.

In one short year, FEN has emerged as the most forceful voice for the North Woods. All this has happened because FEN's staff, board of directors, volunteers, and members have challenged the forces of forest destruction while at the same time attempting to educate about positive solutions and the exploration of potential alternatives. FEN's efforts have changed the forest debate landscape so that now for the first time in my memory we have the paper corporations talking reform and admitting past "sloppy forest practices." Also for the first time we have seen the Maine Forest Service actively investigating, prosecuting, and fining current logging violations. These are all good signs. However, we cannot relax until words and actions are consistent with substantive, on the ground reform -- until practices like clearcutting and herbiciding are no longer acceptable silvicultural prescriptions.

We have an incredible window of opportunity this legislative session to push forward policies which will address the central issues in the forest debate -- clearcutting, overcutting, science standards, and public accountability. In November FEN initiated meetings with the full environmental community which have resulted in a joint policy position on forest practices. This agreement will only allow clearcutting by permit, require silvicultural justification and a demonstration of no reasonable alternatives, and a commitment to creating no ecological damage. The key to this reform lies in public notification and an opportunity to appeal.

In addition, this joint policy position requires that all commercial harvests leave adequate residual stocking. Permits will be required for harvests which fall below scientifically demonstrated stocking levels for applicable timber types.

The recent U.S. Forest Service Inventory concluded that massive overcutting has been occurring in Maine. The large industrial owners have been harvesting fiber close to three times faster than it is growing back (not surprisingly on small ownerships fiber production has out paced harvest levels). This is not sustainable and must stop immediately. The joint policy position mandates sustainable harvest levels.

After years of inaccurate industry supplied data and a continuous disinformation campaign, no reform package would be acceptable without some form of independent audit. The final component of the joint policy position requires a mandatory audit with full public disclosure of the results.

To be sure, the joint policy position does not solve all the problems. For example, it does not tackle the issue of herbicides or fully address the potential loophole of two stage shelterwood removals (which are really clearcuts done over a five year period). However, if we can get the joint policy position incorporated into law, it would be a huge step forward and have national as well as global significance. This is in no way a compromise, but indeed a revolutionary step forward. If it had not been for the last two years of persistence and pressure, we would not even be seriously thinking or talking about these reforms.

In the next several months we must join forces and in a campaign to promote this joint policy position. We must make it clear that the failure of the Legislature to enact our reform package could very well mean another referendum campaign starting in 1998. This should not be construed as a threat, but as our only political recourse in the absence of legislative initiated reform. Our greatest strength lies in letting the opposition know that WE WILL NOT RETREAT. We will continue to educate and cultivate the grassroots.

I encourage each and every one of FEN's friends and supporters to write letters to the papers, to organize community action efforts, to contact your legislator, to attend bioregional meetings, and to come to Augusta and demand the legislature do its job. Your voices and actions are what will make the difference. Carpe diem - let us seize the day!

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