by Susan Sharon
Maine Public Radio news story
More than a decade after Maine voters were besieged with confusing forestry terms and a series of statewide referendums designed to restrict large-scale clearcutting and improve forestry standards, Maine’s Conservation Commissioner says the state’s forests are healthy and Maine’s loggers are using best management practices. “We have more standing timber in the woods today than we’ve had in the last 60 years but we’re also using great practices to harvest that wood from Maine’s multi-billion dollar forest products industry.” Commissioner Pat McGowan says the results of a new survey on logging practices and water quality come as a pleasant surprise. The survey of 250 randomly chosen timber harvest sites over 2006 and 2007 found that more than three-quarters of Maine loggers are using appropriate logging methods. “You know the numbers of complaints have gone down and so we knew that things were anecdotally getting better but the fact of the matter is is that this proves that loggers are paying attention, their training has paid off. It’s working.”
Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine agrees that forest management practices are improving. A similar survey in 2000 found only 60 percent of loggers were using best management practices. But Bennett says 75 percent is still not a high grade. “So 75 percent isn’t great. I mean we’d really like to see close to a hundred percent of people using these best management practices. They’re not rocket science. They’re common sense things um used to keep stream banks from eroding and keep mud and rocks and debris out of streams so you don’t harm fish habitat and really close to 100 percent of people should be using these BMPs by now.”
Under mandates from the Maine Legislature and the federal Clean Water Act, the Maine Forest Service began monitoring water quality on timber harvest sites eight years ago. But instead of relying on anecdotal reports, as it has in the past, ten district foresters began visiting the sites, to observe them up close and compare their findings to previous data. It’s a protocol that has been adopted by several other northeastern states as well.
“We’re in the process of developing a protocol that looks at other aspects of harvest but this one just concentrates on water quality.” Keith Kanoti is a water resource forester with the Maine Forest Service. He says the fact that Maine loggers are employing better methods means they can avoid stricter regulation and oversight by the federal government under the Clean Water Act. “Timber harvesting is exempt from non point source permitting under the Clean Water Act and in order to maintain that exemption we have to monitor best management practices on timber harvests and have a program in place to train loggers to protect water quality.”
Without the monitoring and education program, Kanoti says the federal government could take away the exemption. Kanoti says more than 10 million acres of Maine’s 17 million acres of forestlands are currently certified under one of several forest sustainability programs. He says it’s too early to say for sure whether the water quality survey’s results can be attributed to forest certification. The Maine Forest Service plans to do similar surveys of logging sites for other factors like biodiversity and silviculture.