by Susan Sharon
MPBN radio news story
For the second time in four years, the Plum Creek timber company has been assessed one of the largest penalties in Maine history for violations of the state’s Forest Practices Act. The company has apologized for three improper clearcuts in an area near Moosehead Lake that is now protected by a conservation easement.
The violations occurred on a 2008 harvest in Beaver Cove on the east shore of Moosehead Lake. Regional enforcement coordinator Tim Whitworth of the Maine Forest Service says some state foresters visiting the site last year noticed what they thought was a particularly heavy cut. They investigated and found a series of clearcuts that did not have adequate separation zones or required harvest plans prepared by a licensed forester.
“They had a harvesting crew working, like in a thousand acre block or so, and they did these — what they thought were regeneration cuts — and they turned out to be clearcuts,” Whitworth says. “There was a 64-acre clearcut; a 72-acre clearcut and a 104-acre clearcut.”
Under a settlement agreement, Plum Creek will pay a civil penalty of $38,675 dollars for the violation, change its policy for regeneration harvests and participate in forest practices training.
“We made an error with this harvest and removed more trees than our plan had called for,” says Mark Doty, a resource manager and spokesman for Plum Creek.
He says the company will also undergo a voluntary, independent audit of its 884,000 acres in Maine. “We apologize, and we pledge to do better going forward. We have made significant changes to our processes to prevent this from happening again.”
Four years ago, Plum Creek was fined $57,000 dollars for forestry, permitting and wetland violations. At the time it was the largest penalty ever assessed under the Forest Practices Act.
In 2009 Plum Creek acknowledged that it mistakenly harvested a deer wintering yard and violated a voluntary agreement with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. One month later, the company came under fire for a logging contractor’s operations on Kibby Mountain in western Maine, where erosion caused a 900-foot mudslide.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which has been one of the company’s biggest critics, brought that situation to light. NRCM staff scientist Nick Bennett says the latest penalty is part of a pattern. “It indicates a consistent pattern of disregard for both the health of Maine’s environment and for Maine’s environmental laws and regulations,” he says. “It’s just a question of trust and they keep violating the public trust.”
Bennett says what’s also concerning is that the latest harvesting violations occurred in an area that is part of the Moosehead Concept Plan conservation easement. Terms of the easement prohibit most types of development and require the woods to be sustainably managed.
Plum Creek sold the development rights on 350,000 around Moosehead Lake as part of its plan to develop two large-scale resorts and hundreds of housing lots in the same region. Approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission last fall, the plan is being challenged in court by the NRCM and other groups.
In the meantime, Alan Hutchinson of the Forest Society of Maine, says Plum Creek will face more scrutiny from his group, which provides oversight of the terms of the easement.
“The Forest Society of Maine, as the easement holder, is now part of their planning process around harvests like this so we’ll be watching very carefully and trying to ensure that they do things properly, and if they don’t in the future we’ll hold them accountable under the easement as well,” Hutchinson says.
That means in addition to penalties from the state, the company could also face fines from the Forest Society of Maine for any future violations on easement holdings.