Good afternoon, Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman and members of the committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am a resident of Alna and the North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I am speaking today on behalf of NRCM’s 16,000 members and supporters in opposition to LD 870.
Many sections of this bill repeal outdated provisions of the Spruce Budworm Management Act and we have no concerns about those sections.
The sections about which we have concern and which lead us to oppose the bill include sections 2, 7 and 12 which relate to presalvage and salvage harvesting. These sections would set up a system within the Spruce Budworm Management to allow landowners to bypass the Forest Practices Act. This is inappropriate, will lead to the complete undermining of the Forest Practices Act, and create a nightmare for staff in the Maine Forest Service who are responsible for enforcing Maine’s Forest Practices Act.
Maine’s Forest Practices Act does only two major things: It limits clearcuts to no larger than 250 acres and it requires landowners who clearcut to establish separation zones around the clearcuts.
The Forest Practices Act has a variance procedure that allows landowners to apply for an exception to these standards when they feel it is necessary. The public has an opportunity to see the variance application and supporting information, and comment if desired. The Maine Forest Service then either issues or denies the variance. The vast majority of variance requests are granted.
This bill would allow landowners to completely bypass the Forest Practices Act standards and variance process by simply notifying the Maine Forest Service that certain conditions exist on their land. That information would be confidential, so the public would have no way to know whether the exemption from the Forest Practices Act was justified.
Likewise, Maine Forest Service staff responsible for enforcing the Forest Practices Act would have no practical way of knowing, when they are out in the field, whether the harvest they are looking at is a violation of the Forest Practices Act or whether it is a harvest that was exempt from the Forest Practices Act by virtue of a notice that the landowner had filed pursuant to the Spruce Budworm Management Act.
If a more specific process for a variance from the Forest Practices Act related to spruce budworm is needed, the Maine Forest Service already has the authority to adopt a different process through the rulemaking powers granted to it in the Forest Practices Act. We would support the criteria in this bill, supplemented by the criteria proposed by the Nature Conservancy, for a revised process.
However, it is crucial that the revised variance procedure continue to be open to public review as it currently is. I can think of no justification for keeping confidential the information about a stand that is proposed to be clearcut. In addition, the revised variance process should consist of an actual review process, not simply a notification by the landowner.
We also have concerns about Section 17 and Section 20, subsection 2 which effectively take away a town’s ability to limit aerial pesticide spraying within two miles of public roads. We believe towns should continue to have the authority to protect the citizens and water bodies in their towns.
We also oppose Section 19 which would repeal the requirement that an agency outside the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry prepare an environmental health monitoring report in every year in which there is aerial pesticide spraying for spruce budworm. Spraying activities could occur on hundreds of thousands of acres and we should monitor the environmental health impacts.
We have worked with Maine Audubon to prepare an amendment to the bill which we believe makes the changes recommended above and would support a bill that includes those amendments.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.