By Kevin Miller and Nick Sambides Jr.
INDIAN STREAM TOWNSHIP, Maine — Plum Creek officials acknowledged Monday that they mistakenly logged part of a deer wintering area in Indian Stream Township but are now taking steps to address the issue.
Plum Creek’s statement came after members of the grassroots groups Native Forest Network began calling on the timber company to halt harvesting in an area west of Big Moose Mountain.
The Native Forest Network, an all-volunteer group that says it works to protect Maine’s North Woods ecosystems and traditional way of life, had previously sent delegates to the logging area without any conflicts with Plum Creek, the landowner, network officials said.
But this past weekend members of the group, who intended to document what they claim are sensitive winter deer yards in the logging areas, were turned away by Plum Creek security.
“It seems like they are trying to hide something,” Native Forest Network activist Ryan Clarke said in a statement released Monday. “If ‘open to the public’ means that they close active logging operations to hide illegal logging operations from the public, then will the conservation lands actually be open to the public?”
Mark Doty, resource manager with Plum Creek, acknowledged that the company had mistakenly harvested within 12 acres of a deer wintering area in the Indian Stream Township area. Doty said the parcel is part of the 32,000 acres of forestland that Plum Creek has agreed to manage for deer habitat as part of a voluntary pro-gram with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He described the 12-acre parcel as a “finger” that extended from the rest of the deer wintering area.
Doty acknowledged that Plum Creek discovered that the logging had crossed into the deer yard only after the Native Forest Network and local residents, including Charlie Baker, began asking questions.
“It was a boundary mistake, plain and simple,” Doty said Monday. “We want to thank the Native Forest Network and the local residents for pointing out the mistake in the harvest. We initiated our internal review after that.”
Native Forest Network notified the Maine Forest Service and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about its concerns with the Indian Stream parcel. DIF&W biologists have agreed to investigate the logging operation and the status of potential winter deer yards in the area, the group said.
Plum Creek also contacted those organizations and plans to redraw deer yard boundaries to make them more visible to workers on the ground. Doty said the exact boundaries for this deer yard have yet to be set but that the new protected area will be “well in excess of 12 acres.”
Native Forest Network members and Plum Creek have had a tense relationship in recent years.
Members of the grass-roots group were active participants in the Land Use Regulation Commission’s months-long review of Plum Creek’s historic development plan for the Moosehead Lake region. The organization adopted a “no compromise” position against Plum Creek’s rezoning request for nearly 1,000 house lots and two resorts.
Several members of the organization were summoned in 2007 for trespassing on Plum Creek property in Greenville, although those charges were later dropped.
The Native Forest Network and other groups also waged a successful campaign to persuade Plum Creek officials to scrap a plan to log in an area near Eliotsville that had largely never been harvested, the group said. Plum Creek has since agreed to sell the land along Big Wilson Stream to a conservation buyer.
Plum Creek was fined $57,000 in 2003 for clear-cutting violations. It has violated protections for deer wintering areas in the past as well, Network members claim.
Doty said Plum Creek reserves the right to close active logging areas to the public at any time. He said the Indian Stream area was closed recently for “safety-related reasons.”