July 13, 2020

Forest service seeks enforcement staff> More frequent inventory a priority

AUGUSTA — The director of the Maine Forest Service told a legislative committee Thursday that his department needs seven new staffers to beef up enforcement of the Forest Practices Act and contribute to a more frequent inventory of the Maine woods.

Chuck Gadzik, Maine Forest Service director, said the two proposals would cost approximately $370,000 per year. The money was not included in Gov. Angus King’s supplemental budget despite the governor’s support for the plans, Gadzik said, because the proposals only came forward in the past few days.

Gadzik made his request at a work session of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee that was devoted to updating lawmakers on the state’s Forest Practices Act and to analyzing shifts in tree species in the forests.

Will McWilliams, of the U.S. Forest Service, outlined his agency’s findings about changes in the Maine woods between a federal inventory in 1982 and the next one in 1995.

The much-touted survey found that Maine’s critical softwoods — spruce and fir trees — had dropped by 20 percent between the two surveys, while hardwood volumes increased by 16 percent. Overall, he said, the state cut twice as much softwood as it grew during that period.

Bruce Wiersma, dean of the University of Maine College of Natural Resources, Forestry and Agriculture, recommended that the state get involved in the inventory and complete one each year.

“I don’t know how you can make good, sound forest policy without that kind of information,” he said.

Gadzik said his department believes that a more frequent inventory would help determine the condition of the forests and enable the state to model the effects of proposed regulations. By using existing staffers and opening up four new positions, expected to cost up to $200,000, Gadzik said, the state could help the U.S. Forest Service put together such information more regularly.

Rep. George Bunker, D-Kossuth Township, House chairman of the committee, seized on the idea, saying the Legislature should fund a more frequent inventory in the current session. “I don’t plan on leaving without it,” he said.

Bunker told Gadzik to tell the governor to quickly submit a financial request for the expanded inventory. “I can’t do anything if someone up in appropriations … spends all that damn money before we get there,” Bunker said. “This is too important to the state of Maine. … can’t allow something to derail this on a technicality somewhere down the road.”

Earlier in the day, Gadzik and a four-member panel consisting of two foresters, one certified logger and a state wildlife biologist, told the committee that the 1989 Forest Practices Act is working to achieve its goal: limiting the rolling clear-cuts that once were allowed in the state.

The act has provided the infrastructure necessary to track harvests, he said, but does not guarantee good forestry. Several of the panelists suggested providing incentives for good forestry, through taxes or other mechanisms.

“It’s very hard to legislate good forestry,” said Dave Harvey, a forester with Mead Corp. who lives in Skowhegan, and one of the people on the panel offering their views to the committee.

Gadzik said that most landowners want to comply with the laws. The biggest problem with enforcing the act, he said, comes not from a lack of field foresters but rather from the difficulty in tracking violations as they move through the process.

He recommended hiring three new coordinators, one each for regional offices in Ashland, Old Town and Bolton Hill, who would devote their full attention to the Forest Practices Act. The new personnel would cost the state roughly $170,000 per year, he said.

Gadzik gave no indication that King, who spearheaded two unsuccessful efforts to pass the Compact for Maine’s Forests, would sponsor legislation on the proposals.

“If these things emerge as a consensus in the Legislature, then the governor is going to support it,”he said after the meeting. “The vote put the issue back in the Legislature’s hands.”

Gadzik said he expects to prepare proposals for the committee with the help of its legislative staff.

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