ORONO — Good logging is so important to the state economy that all woodcutters, equipment operators and logging contractors should be licensed, according to the Maine Council on Sustainable Forest Management.
The license should be easily available for a nominal fee, according to the council, which is studying ways to ensure that Maine grows enough wood to sustain its forest-based economy forever. Loggers found to violate state laws or regulations while harvesting wood could have their license suspended, under the plan.
“I think the public is frustrated with the lack of accountability [for bad logging]” said Isabel McKay of Newburgh, a consulting forester and one of 10 council members.
Maine law already requires foresters to hold a state license, but the approximately 3,000 people who actually cut trees are not required to have any training whatsoever.
McKay and two other council members — Donald Tardie of Ashland and Harry Dwyer of Livermore Falls — have argued for several meetings that airy discussions of sustainability only become real when loggers, foresters and landowners decide how to harvest wood.
“Sustainable forest management is really only as good as the people implementing the practices,” McKay said at a council meeting Monday.
Tardie, who is general manager of the wood products group of Fraser Inc., said professional loggers are tired of the shoddy practices of some outlaw woodsmen. Licensing would eliminate the worst abuses and improve the public image of loggers, he said.
The trio also advocated a higher-level but voluntary program of professional certification for everyone involved in the timber industry — loggers, foresters, wood buyers and landowners. The process would require more training, continuing education and an on-the-ground evaluation of forest management practices used by those seeking to become certified.
“The complexities of managing a forest can only be done by professionals,” said Tardie. “The [existing] Certified Logging Professional program has raised the standards and the expectations of loggers in Maine, and it deserves full recognition for its efforts. … We want to create a chain of professionals from the stump to the mill.”
Added Charles Gadzik, director of the Maine Forest Service: “This … is certification to the people of the state that our [forest management] practices are sustainable.”
McKay said small landowners found it particularly difficult to decide how to pick a logger or forester. The certification process would create an elite group of professionals who have demonstrated competence in doing exemplary work in the woods.
“At some level, I see this as a consumer protection issue,” said McKay. “… This will separate the bad from the good, and the good will get more jobs.”
Many details of the licensing and certification processes will be worked out later, but the council decided that it should involve such independent entities as the Certified Logging Professional program, the American Tree Farm system and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative of the American Forest and Paper Association.
The requirements and qualifications of the independent certifiers would be overseen by a quasi-public board consisting of Department of Conservation personnel, environmentalists and members of such industry groups as the Society of American Foresters.
With a July deadline fast approaching, the council continues to refine its recommendations for ensuring a sustainable harvest of wood from Maine’s 17 million acres of timberland. The work has taken on greater significance now that a referendum proposal to ban clear-cutting and to impose tough new harvesting restrictions in the unorganized territories is heading toward a vote in November.
The state’s largest landowners portray the proposal as a radical measure that could ruin the forest products industry. Recently, however, the most influential environmental group in Maine said it would support the referendum unless the sustainability council crafts a stronger alternative.
In written and oral testimony submitted to the the council over the past several months, representatives for the Natural Resources Council of Maine have argued for clear, silviculturally sound, minimum standards for forest management. The current draft of the council’s recommendations is long on philosophy and short on practicality, according to NRCM.