Maine Forest Policy in 2017

               The First Session of the 128th Maine State Legislature is underway and forestry will be among the many topics considered by our representatives. On January 9th, the preliminary list of bill titles became available, giving the public a glimpse into what issues will be up for debate. Bill titles of potential interest to the FSG include:

  • An Act to Create the Maine Forest Resources Council, sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello of Franklin County
  • An Act to Encourage Development in the Logging Industry, sponsored by Senator Troy Jackson of Aroostook County
  • An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Support the Biomass Industry, sponsored by Senator Troy Jackson of Aroostook County
  • An Act to Protect the Biomass Industry, sponsored by Tom Saviello of Franklin County

The content of these bills will only become apparent when the bills are printed, which began in early January. While legislators must submit their bill titles prior to a certain date, the governor is not on a deadline. It is entirely possible that Governor Paul LePage will introduce forestry-related bills.

               The content of one bill that will be of interest to the FSG, however, is already known. An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello is already known because the bill was considered by the 127th Legislature. The “Public Lands Study Commission bill” implements the recommendations of a legislatively-created, bipartisan study commission comprised of legislators and opinion leaders from the forest products industry and recreation sector to study the management of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands.

               Maine’s Public Reserved Lands are made up of more than 600,000 acres of publically-owned forests located across Maine in 30 or so separate parcels. These lands are statutorily mandated to be managed for wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and sustainable timber harvesting. Public Reserved Lands are enjoyed for their outstanding hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting opportunities and have the reputation of being some of the best managed forests in the state. The study commission was created in response to attempts by the LePage administration to increase harvesting to unsustainable levels, needlessly restructure lands management, and siphon off essential funding for unlawful purposes.

               The bill does a number of things to ensure that our public forests continue to be managed to preserve and enhance their multiple values into the future, including requiring:

  • A detailed forest inventory every five years to ensure that state foresters are able to make informed management decisions.
  • That the Bureau of Parks and Lands report forest growth and harvest levels for each public land unit to keep state foresters and the public informed on how these lands are managed.
  • The allocation of existing funding for infrastructure improvements such as trailheads, bridges, and signage, as well as projects that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing all Maine people to enjoy these resources.

The Public Lands Study Commission bill will come before the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee later in the session. Hopes are high that this bipartisan, commonsense bill will find success this session. Last year, despite gliding through both the Senate and House, Governor LePage vetoed the bill and there were not enough votes to overcome his veto.

               For more information about this bill and other bills of interest this session, contact Eliza Donoghue, Forests and Wildlife Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine at eliza@nrcm.org or (207) 430-0118.