Plan to increase timber harvest on Maine's state-controlled lands causes concern over lack of transparency and public input, risks to biodiversity and wildlife of increased logging of mature forests; officials believe increase can be done sustainably

LOS ANGELES , October 4, 2013 () – Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) intends to increase the amount of timber it harvests on the 400,000 acres of forestlands it manages, Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) reported on Oct. 1.

The move will result in an increase to the annual harvest of almost 30% by 2015 and is not without its critics.

BPL officials are confident the timber harvest can be raised without jeopardizing standards set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)—an important factor for the LePage administration, which sought the increase.

The governor’s office in April posed a series of questions to both the Maine Forest Service and the BPL related to how much additional wood could be sustainably harvested from public lands and for how much revenue, MPBN reported.

The question arose after a 2011 forest inventory showed the average amount of wood growing on public lands had increased by 1.5 cords/acre.

Public lands are managed for multiple uses, and BPL resisted the 20 cords/acre stocking level the Forest Service initially lobbied for. Eventually, a compromise was reached on 21.5 cords/acre and the timber harvest over the past year was increased to 140,000 cords from 128,000 cords, MPBN reported.

Further incremental increases are planned next year and in 2015, to reach 160,000 cords per year, which will be held for about 20 years, said BPL Director Will Harris.

Some environmental groups, however, say the state is using the public forests as a cash cow.

Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine acknowledged the public lands are well managed, but said the harvesting increase represented a major policy shift and that the process had lacked transparency or any opportunity for public input.

University of Maine’s Dr. Malcolm Hunter worries about the effects on biodiversity and wildlife of increased cutting on mature forests. Hunter and fellow members of the Silvicultural Advisory Committee that advises the BPL on forest management believe the increased harvesting can be done sustainably, but they want revenue generated from timber sales to go into supporting conservation, recreation and other BPL programs.

Chuck Simpson, BPL’s eastern regional manager for public lands, told MPBN he doubted the public would be able to tell the difference when the harvest is raised, noting that the reduction in standing inventory of trees would only be about 6.5%.

The primary source of this article is Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Bangor, Maine, Oct. 1, 2013.

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