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A new report progresses this goal

By Ramona du Houx

January 3 2010

Maine’s Western Mountains. photo by Ramona du Houx

The great state of Maine is almost ninety percent forestlands. Viewed by satellite at night, more than the top half of the state is dark. Lights disappear, and the forest continues on like a sea. The health of these forestlands prescribes the health of a major portion of Maine’s economy. Their future is the focus of a new report that will serve as a foundation for lawmakers and potential future funding for their sustainability.

The Keeping Maine Forests report has seven recommendations that use new and existing conservation models, while tapping into federal funding to protect large areas of forestland.

“The report highlights that inaction is unacceptable. Other states have witnessed their forests decline because of competing land uses. A key concept of the findings is that new models for conservation should be explored that build on existing partnerships and trusted conservation and economic development tools that have served us well in the past,” said Governor John Baldacci. “Maine is well positioned to maintain and retain more forests. There is already interest at the federal level. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and I had extended conversations about this, and then he followed it up with his trip to Acadia. The secretary is interested to find new approaches to forest management that respond to the needs of landowners, state and local partners. He’s excited about this project.”

Alec Giffen of the Maine Forest Service said, “This is all about — keeping Maine’s forests Maine’s forests. We are already moving forward with implementation. We have meetings lined up with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.”

The report takes the best forest management practices that have developed over the past ten years and recommends the best ways forward, using them to sustain Maine’s unique forestlands for generations.

The Baldacci administration has continually brought together opposing stakeholders that are involved with Maine’s forestlands to work together. Breakthroughs in sustaining Maine’s forests have already taken place with expanding forestland protection, using easements for access to woods, certifying forests as “green,” converting paper mills to generate biomass, and encouraging wood-pellet production, along with other measures.

The report recommends continuing these initiatives and sets key goals to: maintain a stable or increasing flow of wood fiber and timber products to Maine’s forest products industry, protect key natural resources, maintain air and water quality, preserve key wildlife habitat, provide abundant diverse recreational opportunities, and sustain local communities.

Maine in the past has benefited under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy program with tens of millions of dollars to help protect working forests.

Karin Tilberg of the Governor’s office and Alec Giffen understood that a report of this magnitude was important to garner broad support and continued funding for forest sustainability in Maine, so they created this committee which represented all Maine’s forestland stakeholders.

“With increasing competition for federal funding for these efforts, we needed a comprehensive report to show what is being accomplished in Maine with our forestland and what can be accomplished. Maine could be a model to other states,” said Tilburg.

The answer, said the report, to protecting Maine’s Northern Woods, is not looking at it singularly as a potential park but looking at it from diverse perspectives, from people who earn a living in the forests to those who enjoy the quality of life it affords Maine citizens.

The report read, “It is unlikely that any single conservation or management technique can provide all of the results necessary to maintain a healthy, intact, and economically productive North Woods. An emphasis on innovation and flexibility will be necessary to craft a plan that meets the most important objectives.”

The report highlighted and recommended that conservation easements, sustainable forestry certification, and community-owned forests should continue to be encouraged to grow along with sustainable forest products.

The governor, when he was a U.S. representative, served on the House Agricultural Committee for eight years and expressed his gratitude and respect for the committee’s work compiling the report. They represented loggers, landowners, paper companies, recreational industries, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups. They proposed the Great Maine Forest Initiative. The Initiative would include this collection of public and private interests. The Initiative would work to protect and sustain Maine’s wilderness and working forests.

“It was an incredible group of folks to work with, who spoke their minds and put aside their differences to work together. A lot of information and diverse perspectives were brought to the table. For 12 months we listened to 22 different experts. This committee’s dedication to the Maine forest was bound by our love for the state, which kept us focused,” said Prof. Bruce Wiersma, former dean of the University of Maine’s College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, who led the Volunteer Committee. “We all have a great respect for the forest resources, resources that define us in Maine and the people of the state of Maine.”

Sherry Huber of the Maine Tree Foundation said, “The breakthrough for me was when we realized the forest industry needs our forests to be there for their businesses as much as we need them to be there for conservation. The report gives us the basis of moving forward with the more difficult task of creating a unique model that we have never seen before.”

“We had a common goal, to explore options to secure the future for Maine’s Forest heritage. We are ushering in a new era of proactive, collaborative, comprehensive planning — and that’s Maine planning,” said Karen Woodsum of Maine’s Sierra Club.

Some of the state’s largest landowners working on the committee realized that working cooperatively benefits everyone. Peter Triandafillou, vice president of woodlands for Huber Resources Corp., said, “The state’s expansive commercial forests are large enough to provide for sustainable forestry, economic development, and conservation. A collaborative approach will allow us to create solutions that work for all parties.”

“Public and private funding for this project should expand under the banner of the Great Maine Forest Initiative. The report really is for Maine and of Maine. It’s a good foundation to move forward,” said the governor. “This report suggests a roadmap for how Maine can effectively respond to this interest at the local, regional, state, and national levels in an effective and successful manner.”

The report is accessible online at http://www.crsf.umaine.edu