The Maine Legislature’s joint Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee voted unanimously Feb. 9 to report out the findings of the special Commission to Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund and move forward with a public hearing on its recommendations for use of revenue from timber harvesting on Maine’s public lands.
The Commission, which included PLC Board Member Tony Madden (A.W. Madden), was organized by Maine’s Legislature last year to consider Governor Paul LePage’s plan to fund energy upgrades for low-income Mainers with revenue from increased timber harvesting on public land.
The Commission voted Nov. 30 to reject the Governor’s demands, but the lengthy process yielded two significant victories for the PLC and for loggers in Maine. The first of these was a decision to recommend to the Legislature that up to $300,000 in surplus public lands funds be diverted to support education programs for future loggers. That decision could lead to financial support for equipment purchases for high school logger training programs and potentially benefit the new community college Mechanized Logging Operations Training Program as well. The decision followed a ruling by Maine’s Attorney General that public lands timber harvest revenues could be used to support education.
The second win for the PLC concerned bidding eligibility for public lands timber harvests. Previously the process was open to land managers, mills, and others who would then generally subcontract the work out. The Commission has recommended requirements stipulate that bids be limited to professional logging contractors, ensuring harvests are conducted professionally and lowering overall costs. The Commission has directed the Bureau of Public Lands to work with the PLC to revise these eligibility requirements.
Maine Forest Service Director Douglas Denico did not attend the Feb. 9 session but submitted written comments to the committee, including one opposing the funds for education in an apparent reference to current market conditions in the forest products industry.
“Given the industry’s retraction, these funds should be considered for reallocation and spent to create new or sustain existing markets,” Denico wrote. “If we lose 2 million tons (very conceivable) of wood demand, this will eliminate the need for about 80 harvesting operators. It seems counterproductive to bring new recruits into the industry as current employees are dismissed.”
Commission Co-Chair Senator Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, countered that he respectfully disagreed with Denico’s recommendation, stating that while there are ups and downs in the industry, “we’re being very shortsighted if we don’t train new harvesters.”
Earlier in his overview of the Commission’s report, Saviello directly referenced the education funding, calling it, “a tremendous opportunity,” for students and the state.
The Commission’s vote Feb. 9 included a recommendation to direct the Bureau of Public Lands to establish a system whereby eligible programs may apply for the education funding.
Denico also questioned the bidding eligibility requirements recommended in the Commission’s report, arguing instead for Contract for Logging Services (CLS) contracts to be developed with purchasing to “address this issue in as an uncomplicated and legal way as possible.”
Denico also questioned the bidding eligibility requirements recommended in the Commission’s report, arguing instead Contract for Logging Services (CLS) contracts to be developed with purchasing to “address this issue in as an uncomplicated and legal way as possible.” More detail is to be expected regarding these potential changes and the PLC will be sure to work with Director Denico to receive further detail to ensure that CLS contracts are awarded to contractors.
The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine will continue to monitor the issue and be prepared to represent the interest of Maine’s professional loggers at the public hearing. The date for that hearing is expected to be announced soon.