FRENCHTOWN TOWNSHIP, Maine — Plum Creek Timberland’s harvesting in 2009 of an area too close to a rare plant in the Frenchtown area of Piscataquis County is being investigated.
The timber company advised the Forest Society of Maine on Monday that it had harvested within a buffer around a rare lesser wintergreen plant, a violation of the Moosehead Region Conservation Easement.
None of the rare plants was damaged, officials said.
The Forest Society of Maine oversees and enforces the easement, which was established in October 2009 as part of the Land Use Regulation Commission’s approval of Plum Creek’s concept plan for development and conservation of its land in the Moosehead Lake region.
“Early Tuesday morning, FSM sent a team to inspect the site, and it appears that a violation of the easement has occurred,” Alan Hutchinson, the forest society’s executive director, said Friday. He said the harvesting at Meadow Brook, one of the protected spots in the conservation easement, had ceased.
Although the timber harvesting was within a 250-foot buffer, the plants were “perfectly” intact and had not been touched and the stream was running clear, according to Hutchinson.
“The plant is only found in a handful of sites in the state of Maine, and it’s a more northerly species that’s found in Canada going north,” Hutchinson said. “It’s really kind of a remnant of, as I understand it, when Maine was a colder place.” He said the plant is found along the banks of relatively high, clean-running, cool streams.
Mark Doty, Plum Creek’s spokesman, said Friday the company discovered the error last week and reported it to the forest society. He said there are two small patches of the plants in the area.
“Plum Creek respects the important role the Forest Society of Maine plays in ensuring conservation easement requirements are met, and we apologize for our error,” Doty said. He said the company is cooperating with the forest society and also is doing its own review of the incident.
Doty said Plum Creek recently implemented a new harvest management system to ensure that all conservation easement requirements are met and verified twice before a harvest occurs. “While that system was not in place to prevent the 2009 situation, we are confident it will prevent issues like this in the future,” he said.
Plum Creek was in the process of preparing for a required on-the-ground audit by the forest society and an audit team from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which is required under the easement, when the company discovered the violation, according to Hutchinson. That audit was to have been conducted this week, he said.
Hutchinson said the forest society will rely on the state ecologist in the Department of Conservation’s Maine Natural Areas Program to help verify that the plants are truly intact and to help the forest society decide what kind of action should be taken against Plum Creek. That action could range from restoration of the site to financial mitigation to cover costs, he said.
“The Forest Society of Maine takes our obligation of overseeing and enforcing this easement very seriously,” Hutchinson said.