Can we force Plum Creek accountability?

Posted March 10, 2009, at 7:50 p.m.

In the article “Plum Creek Admits Wrongly Harvesting Deer Area” (BDN, Feb. 9) Mark Doty, Plum Creek’s chief forester, was quoted, thanking the Native Forest Network and local residents for pointing out Plum Creek’s harvesting oversight. Immediately after this expression of “gratitude,” Plum Creek posted the roads leading to those cuts, thus preventing further public scrutiny. What more is Plum Creek hiding?

Native Forest Network’s monitoring, regardless of Plum Creek’s hollow thanks, was not carried out for the benefit of Plum Creek, but rather on behalf of those communities whose deer yards Plum Creek is illegally cutting for a quick profit. Plum Creek must be held accountable in such a way as to make it stop once and for all its reckless disregard for Maine’s forests, which are the birthright of Maine residents.

This is not the first time that Plum Creek’s actions have harmed local communities and our forests. In 2006, the company gained the dubious distinction of having been forced to pay the largest fine in Maine history for repeatedly violating Maine’s Forest Practices Act. What was the fine for? Primarily deer yard cutting, yet again, as well as building a power line corridor without a permit, and harming local water supplies.

Most of the protections we have for deer yards in Maine are based on voluntary agreements. In order for these agreements to mean anything at all, the agreeing parties must be trustworthy. Plum Creek has violated that trust time and again in its land-holdings from Maine to Montana.

The issue of trust came out repeatedly at last year’s public hearings on the company’s development plans for the Moosehead Lake region. Flathead County Commissioner Joe Brenneman came from Montana to speak about Plum Creek’s history in his community. He explained, “I suspect that like Montana, in Maine you still do things with a handshake and an understanding that [your] reputation depends on this and so [you’re] going to follow up. It has been my experience with Plum Creek that that doesn’t work. If it’s not in writing and not clearly understood, it is probably going to be questioned and changed depending upon the corporate desires at the time.”

Most of Plum Creek’s recent deer yard destruction has occurred in land that will be part of the conservation easement, which is supposed to offset the impacts of the planned resort developments. The company advertises its forestry practices as “sustainable.” But what do words such as sustainability or conservation mean when these are the sorts of actions that result?

Plum Creek is the largest private landowner in the United States. We already have seen that a relatively minor fine for its destruction of Maine forests is not a strong enough deterrent for future violations. In fact, it likely is more profitable in Plum Creek’s calculations to break the rules and pay the fine than to go through an uncertain permitting process. So, how are we, as Mainers, going to hold Plum Creek accountable for this and other damage to the land base that sustains us? How can we make sure that this Seattle-based corporation does not continue to ignore the public good for the sake of quick profit?

Here are a few suggestions. The Land Use Regulation Commission should enforce real independent oversight, and oblige Plum Creek to sign legally binding agreements with serious consequences for breaking them (not some-slap-on-the-wrist fine). That would be a first step in the right direction. If strong and decisive action taken on the part of LURC still does not stop Plum Creek’s depredations of Maine’s forests, then Maine communities may need to instigate civil litigation against Plum Creek.

If you are concerned about other deer yard cuts and possible violations, contact Native Forest Network at nfnmaine@gmail.com.

Noah Dillard of South China is a volunteer with the Native Forest Network.

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