July 09, 2020

Clear-cuts referendum discussed > Loggers, bankers, fear harmful effects if voters approve measure

SHERMAN STATION — Members of the Green Party continued to avoid public discussion of the so-called clear-cutting referendum in Aroostook County when they turned down an invitation to debate the issue Wednesday night at Katahdin High School.

The party, some of whose members had drafted the proposal on which voters will act in November, also has skipped similar debates this summer in Ashland and Fort Kent.

It’s believed referendum supporters think the issue will not fare well in northern Maine, and are spending most of their time in southern Maine where people generally know less about the Maine logging industry.

Despite the no-show by the Greens, 85 people from the Patten-Sherman area turned out to learn more about the issue.

Steve Richardson, chief executive officer for Katahdin Trust Co., which has branches from Patten to Caribou, said that of the bank’s $100 million loan portfolio, more than $21 million of it was directly related to the woods industry.

If people lost their jobs, those loans, as well as other business and personal loans, would be in jeopardy, Richardson said. In that case, as much as half of the bank’s loan portfolio could be affected.

“We’re nervous,” he said about bank officials in the region, “we’re all affected by the woods industry.”

“I’ve never been so upset about anything in my life as I am this referendum,” said Michael Robinson, whose family has owned and operated Sherman Lumber Co. for 102 years. The company is one of about a half-dozen mills in the area that could be hurt if the referendum passes.

Noting that his company owns 17,000 acres of woodland, Robinson said careful management of that land has resulted in there being 30 percent more wood on that land today than there was in 1978.

“I don’t see why a tree is any different than a corn stalk,” he said, noting that a properly managed forest is no different from an agricultural crop.

“It’s not evil to cut down a tree, but that’s the message that’s out there. If the [referendum] passes, we’ll never get that 30 percent out of [our land],” he said.

Greg Cyr of Portage, president of the Professional Loggers Association, told the group that sponsors of the clear-cutting ban and its related regulations are assuming a one-size-fits-all approach is best for the logging industry.

He said that under the proposal selective harvesting now practiced in the Maine woods could be considered clear-cutting. The elimination of that harvesting option, he said, could have a negative impact on the health of the forest.

“If it’s not good for the Brazilian jungle and it’s not good for the Northwest [United States], it must not be good for Maine either,” he said of the Green Party view, “We don’t think any of us [will be able to] stay in the woods and make a living.”

Kevin Paradis of Ashland, a third-generation logger who owns his own logging company, has spent considerable time studying the referendum and the impact it would have on logging operations. He demonstrated what Cyr was talking about.

Before the meeting, he measured the school’s auditorium and determined that it was about one-sixteenth of an acre.

(An acre is 43,560 square feet, or approximately 210 feet by 210 feet. A sixteenth of an acre is an area about 52 feet by 52 feet.)

Paradis applied the formula for timber harvesting that is part of the November referendum question to that area.

Nineteen people seated throughout the room were given placards representing different sizes and species of trees, spaced in a manner that would typically be found in a wood lot of the same size.

Under the proposed harvesting formula, only three trees: one 12 inches, one 10 inches and one six inches were “harvested.” Even then, Paradis exceeded the basal area that would be allowed under the new law.

“[We’ll] end up worrying about breaking laws rather than doing what’s best for the forest,” he said.

Al Cowperthwaite, director of recreation management for North Maine Woods, said that as many as 100,000 people have visited the 3 million acres managed by the company for about 25 commercial and private landowners.

Contrary to what referendum supporters have claimed, he said he didn’t think more people would visit the Maine forests if the logging guidelines were changed.

With the region’s population centers in southern New England and New York, he doubted people would bypass the White Mountains National Forest and the Adirondack Mountains to come to northern Maine.

He said most of the region’s popularity with visitors is a direct result of improvements made by the landowners, including logging roads and camp sites. If those landowners aren’t allowed to manage their land, he said, there could be fewer improvements to attract visitors.

“Recreation can be complementary, but it can’t be a replacement for the woods industry,” he said.

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