My name is Cathy Johnson. I am the North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a citizen supported environmental organization with 8,000 members and supporters.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine strongly supports the governor’s initiative to eliminate liquidation harvesting. Liquidation harvesting is a blight on the landscape and on the forest industry. It harms wildlife habitat and water quality. It leaves the forest in such a poor condition that it won’t support any future harvesting or the jobs that rely on that harvesting for decades.
We believe that the proposed rules are an important step in the right direction towards eliminating liquidation harvesting and we support them. They are narrowly focused on the problem and, as such, will not fix all of the problems in the Maine woods. But we are hopeful that they will be effective in eliminating liquidation harvesting.
We do, however, have several suggested changes to the rules – changes that we believe will ensure that the rules are effective in accomplishing their goal.
- Set standards for regenerating a stand under option 2: Under option 2, a harvest plan must include a silvicultural rationale for a harvest that will remove more than 40% of the basal area. If the rationale for the harvest is to regenerate a stand, it is critical that there be some limits on when a stand can be regenerated. We suggest that the rule require that regeneration cuts be allowed as the silvicultural rationale for a heavy harvest only as a last resort, when all the growing stock is fully mature, and only when a two stage shelterwood cannot be employed.
- The third party certification exemption must require a field audit after harvesting and before sale: As written, the rule would allow a landowner to get his or her land third party certified, liquidate the timber and sell prior to the next field audit required by the certification. This loophole should be closed by requiring that a field audit by the certification entity take place following all harvesting, prior to sale of the land, in order to take advantage of this exemption. The rule should also specify that the auditor may have no conflict of interest with the landowner; as written the rule prohibits only financial interest, potentially allowing auditors with non-financial conflicts to certify the land.
- The level of fines must be high enough to take away any potential financial benefit from liquidation harvesting: The current fine structure of the Maine Forest Service is inadequate to ensure that timber liquidators do not profit from the practice. The fines must be high enough to ensure that they are not simply factored in as a cost of doing business.
- Clarify the threatened or endangered species definition to ensure that plants are protected: To ensure that the rules achieve the goal of protecting threatened and endangered plants, we suggest that the definition of threatened or endangered species be amended to read:
- Threatened or Endangered Species means species listed as threatened or endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and species listed as S1 or S2 by the Maine Natural Areas Program.
- Close the cut/buy/sell and buy/sell/cut loopholes: We are concerned that there are other likely loopholes in these rules. In particular, we are concerned that timber liquidators will alter their practices so that they cut the land after entering into an agreement with the landowner to buy the land, then buy and sell the land within a five year period. Alternatively, they may buy and sell the land, and cut it after sale. While closing these loopholes may require a legislative change to the definition of liquidation harvesting, we urge the Maine Forest Service to seek that change to ensure that these loopholes do not simply become the new standard business practice for liquidators.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine greatly appreciates the very hard work by the Maine Forest Service that has gone into the creation of these rules. We strongly encourage the Maine Forest Service to make the adjustments suggested above and adopt the rules.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.