Fresh from the Woods
Sustainably harvested logs are loaded in the Scientific Forest Management Area at Baxter State Park. (Photo courtesy of Baxter State Park)
Keeping Maine’s Forests Part II:
Exploring Options for the Maine Woods
By Andrew Kekacs
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series about a landmark report on Maine woodlands issued in late 2009.
“Keeping Maine’s Forests: A Study of the Future of Maine’s Forests” offers a number of recommendations for maintaining the state’s premier resource into the next century.
Led by Bruce Wiersma, director of the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forest, the wide-ranging study group included academics, industry representatives, environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts and members of the Baldacci administration. The document can be found at www.crsf.umaine.edu/pdf/KeepingMainesForests_2009.pdf.
While Maine’s forest faces serious challenges, the study group found that “action is possible, and imperative, on a wide variety of fronts, using established and new conservation methods to protect the economic vitality, recreational opportunities, environmental assets and wildlife diversity of this important region, which comprises nearly 90 percent of Maine land area and represents a significant portion of the state’s economy.”
Participants identified seven opportunities for the state. The first, called The Great Maine Forest Initiative, proposes that Maine use a mixture of public and private funding to craft a landscape-scale initiative to protect large tracts of forestland.
“Because the menu of options is so much broader that it was 20 years ago, it is no longer necessary to argue about national parks and forests, on one hand, and a fully privatized, unregulated form of management on the other,” the group said. “An intelligently designed initiative can include qualities desired by all parties to the debate over the forest’s future, tailoring the mixture to meet resource needs as well as local circumstances and priorities.”
The Great Maine Forests Initiative has attracted preliminary support from landowners, environmentalists and government officials. Negotiations are continuing over a large-scale conservation project that could include substantial amounts of federal funding. “Fresh from the Woods” will look at the initiative in greater detail in a future edition.
While much of the public attention has been focused on GMFI, participants in Keeping Maine’s Forests offered six other proposals to help secure the future of the Maine Woods:
- Encourage consideration for transfers of development rights
Transfers of development rights (or TDRs) have not been widely used in Maine, but the study group believes they should be. Put simply, TDRs allow developers to build more densely in places suitable for growth, in exchange for payments that are used to buy easements or title to forests, farmland, waterfront or other properties with high conservation values. “The TDR system permanently protects a community’s environmental assets while also using resources more efficiently in developed areas by avoiding sprawl,” stated Keeping Maine’s Forests. “TDRs are more likely to focus on larger towns and cities … (but) on large ownerships in the unorganized territories there is a potential for pairing permanent conservations through TDRs with development that includes resorts and other relatively intense uses.”
Vivid colors of the autumn forest are reflected in a pond.
- Encourage planning for and development of community forests
“There is a strong tradition of town and city forests in Maine, some of them dating to the 19th century and the original settlements. More recently, rapidly changing land ownership has prompted renewed examination of local public ownership.” The study participants identified the Farm Cove Community Forest in Grand Lake Stream, and efforts in Amherst develop a new town forest, as two examples.
- Rationalize green certification for forestry and encourage branding for Maine forest products
Forest management on 7.5 million acres of Maine forestland is “green certified,” but the economic benefits to landowners have been mixed. Attempts to market certified forest products at higher prices have often been unsuccessful. “Creating a financial premium (for certified products) … could spur further certification by landowners. Creating additional value for forest products from Maine will be vital if the state is to remain competitive in a world market where other producers can grow fiber faster, and may face fewer regulations and restrictions.”
- Encourage and plan for development of new forest products, markets and uses, while maintaining existing capacity
Pulp and papermaking, lumber production and biomass energy (whether from firewood, wood-burning power plants or wood pellets) have long sustained Maine’s forest economy. The mills add $10 billion annually to the state’s economy.
More recently, new uses for wood as the raw material to make ethanol and other chemicals has drawn substantial interest from both scientists and business people. “A new generation of value-added forest products is arriving,” wrote participants in the study group. “With continued investment in research and technology, and use of existing and expanded manufacturing facilities, Maine’s rural economies can be substantially strengthened.”
The forest can also be a preferred setting for activities that do not require cutting wood, such as wind farms. In addition to providing new income sources for landowners, such activities are less likely to cause conflicts if set in relatively remote areas. “In many of these cases, new systems for permitting and planning facilities will be needed. Local, state and federal governments will need to be attentive to these new uses in terms of minimizing conflicts and delays, while still ensuring protection of the environment and other public resources.”
- Credit active forest management within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and emerging national cap-and-trade systems
“Healthy, growing forests have significant potential for carbon sequestration and reducing the harmful effects of greenhouse gases.” The study group said the costs and value of active timber management should be included in any “carbon credit” markets that develop as a way to address climate change, whether through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative adopted by Maine and other Northeastern states, or a similar program being developed in Congress.
- Form a Maine Forest Advisory Council
Participants said the work of Keeping Maine’s Forests should be carried on by a new group that includes representatives from industry, landowners, conservation groups and others. “All of the diverse interests present in the KMF group will be essential to sustain progress …”
“The objective should be not simply keeping Maine’s forests, but making them a more valued and valuable resource in the years ahead.”
Fresh from the Woods is produced by Forests for Maine’s Future, a collaboration of the University of Maine, Maine TREE Foundation, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and the Maine Forest Service.