The Maine Forest Service recently announced a settlement agreement with Plum Creek Timberlands regarding a 2008 harvest operation that was determined to be in violation of the Maine Forest Practices Act. The situation involved a partial harvest on about 250 acres of forestlands near Greenville. The resulting regenerating forest fell short of the act’s requirements. Plum Creek Timberlands has accepted full responsibility, apologized for the violation and paid a $38,675 penalty.
The Forest Society of Maine has been paying special attention to this situation because in October 2009 — a year after this harvest occurred — these lands became part of the 363,000-acre Moosehead Region Conservation Easement, which the forest society oversees and enforces. The 2008 violation of the Forest Practices Act occurred before the easement existed, so it was not a violation of the easement. If it occurred after the easement took effect, it would be considered a violation of the easement and the act, and the forest society would be pursuing remedies, as well.
The Moosehead Region Conservation Easement took effect when Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission approved the concept plan for Plum Creek’s lands around Moosehead Lake. The terms of the easement keep these lands open and productive, protect fish and wildlife habitats, ensure public recreational access and call for exemplary forest management practices.
The 2008 violation is a clear example of the type of mistakes that can be prevented when a conservation easement is in place. In fact, the Forest Society of Maine sees the 2008 violation as an important case history to examine and learn from. Our assessment is that this error was the result of shortcomings in Plum Creek’s internal controls and oversight.
One of the first things the Forest Society of Maine does with a new easement is to spend time with the landowner to ensure that they have appropriate harvest planning procedures, training, lines of communication and other internal controls in place to keep these types of mistakes from occurring. Since the Moosehead Region Conservation Easement took effect last October, FSM has been doing just that with Plum Creek, and we can report the company has made significant improvements to its operational systems.
With these improvements in place and with the forest society’s ongoing involvement and oversight, we do not expect problems such as the 2008 violation to happen again. However if they do, we will take immediate and appropriate enforcement actions.
Alan Hutchinson is executive director of the Forest Society of Maine.