AUGUSTA, Maine — A task force representing major stakeholders in Maine’s North Woods, from large landowners and loggers to environmental groups, is proposing a new, collaborative initiative aimed at protecting large swaths of working forest in the state.
In a report presented Thursday to Gov. John Baldacci, the “Keeping Maine Forests” group recommends using both new and existing conservation models while tapping into federal funding to protect large areas of forestland.
Group members stressed Thursday that they are not proposing a new national park, which has been fiercely opposed by landowners and many northern Maine residents for years.
Rather, the so-called Great Maine Forest Initiative could become a new model of public and private partnerships aimed at strengthening the forestry industry while protecting Maine’s natural resources for both wildlife and lovers of the outdoors.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was briefed on the initiative during a recent visit to Acadia National Park.
“Secretary of the Interior Salazar and I had extended conversations about this, and then he followed it up with his trip to Acadia,” Baldacci said. “He is very excited about that.”
The Keeping Maine’s Forests groups included representatives from large landowners and managers, such as Huber Resources and Wagner Forest Management, as well as conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Other organizations represented at the meetings included Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, sporting camp owners and federal agencies.
Bruce Wiersma, former dean of the University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture, said the diverse interests represented in the group were able to set aside differences and focus on their common vision.
“We all love the Maine forests and we all have a great respect for the forest resources, resources that define us in Maine and the people of the state of Maine,” said Wiersma, who led the volunteer group. “And I think that gave the vision that kept us together, kept us focused and kept us moving forward on this report.”
The report highlighted the significant role that conservation easements, sustainable forestry certification and community-owned forests have played in land protection in Maine in recent years. Those techniques should be continued and improved upon, the report states.
Maine also has benefited under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy program, which has funneled tens of millions of dollars into the state to help protect working forests.
But with increasing competition nationally for Forest Legacy money, Maine should explore new conservation models with the federal government, the report suggests. At the same time, the mere mention of federal involvement in Maine should not cause polarization because there are many more options than simply creating a national park vs. allowing unregulated commercial forest, the authors wrote.
“An intelligently designed initiative can include qualities desired by all parties to the debate over the forest’s future, tailoring the mixture to meet resource needs as well as local circumstances and priorities,” the report reads.
“It is unlikely that any single conservation or management technique can provide all of the results necessary to maintain a healthy, intact, and economically productive North Woods. An emphasis on innovation and flexibility will be necessary to craft a plan that meets the most important objectives.”
Peter Triandafillou, vice president of woodlands for Huber Resources Corp., one of the state’s largest land managers, said he would not have been involved in the group if the purpose was creating a national park or removing land from timber management.
Triandafillou said the state’s expansive commercial forests are large enough to provide for sustainable forestry, economic development and conservation. He said while group members may not have always agreed with one another, everyone was respectful and eager to work together on the common goal of protecting the forests over the long term.
Karen Woodsum, who represented the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, said she believes the report is “ushering in a new era of proactive, collaborative, comprehensive planning” to preserve Maine’s forest heritage.
“The report gives us the basis of moving forward with the more difficult task of creating a unique model that we have never seen before,” added Sherry Huber, executive director of the Maine TREE Foundation, which seeks to educate the public about forestry issues.
Baldacci said he would review the report but generally agreed with the emphasis on maintaining the diverse uses of Maine’s forests.
“This report suggests a roadmap for how Maine can effectively respond to this interest at the local, regional, state and national levels in an effective and successful manner,” Baldacci said.