More Concerns About Forest Harvests in Maine’s North Woods
In late March Commissioner Dan Martin of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made inaccurate and inflammatory charges against Senator David Trahan and me. Those charges were part of a response the Commissioner made to my DownEast blog of January 19, 2010. His column is available on this web site.
Commissioner Martin dismisses our concerns that the Gardner Land Company violated legally binding Long Term Habitat Management Agreements with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The agreements covered public lands that were sold to the Gardners as part of the Katahdin Lake deal in 2005. The legislative Resolve that authorized the deal included a requirement – suggested by Senator Trahan – that the Gardners protect deer wintering habitat on the public lands they obtained.
Commissioner Martin charges that we made the complaint “without contacting this office to verify these outlandish allegations.”
He claimed that we “went straight to the news media without confirming these accusations” and called our actions, “both distasteful and unfair.”
Wildlife biologists at the Departments of Conservation and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provided all of the information that served as the basis for our complaint. Information provided to us by the department’s staff included emailed messages from the biologists to IF&W’s Martin and DOC Commissioner Pat McGowan and others raising concerns about the Gardners’ harvesting plans for these lots.
Senator Trahan and I met in late December of 2009 with Commissioner Martin’s staff, including Dr. Ken Elowe, Director of the Bureau of Resource Management, and three wildlife biologists, to review the material they had provided to us and discuss our concerns. After that meeting, we received a three-page memo, dated December 30, 2009, from IF&W wildlife biologists Joe Wiley and Allan Starr, providing more detailed information about what the Gardners had done on these lands.
We took our concerns and all of the information to Ted Koffman of the Maine Audubon Society and Representative John Piotti who chaired the legislative committee that created the Resolve authorizing the Katahdin deal.
Mr. Koffman and Rep. Piotti took our material and concerns to Karen Tilberg in the Governor’s office, after which the press began writing about the matter. The Governor directed Commissioner Martin to investigate the complaint and issue a report.
Commissioner Martin’s Report
Commissioner Martin issued his report to the Governor on March 2, 2010. He minimizes the importance of the deer wintering habitat on these lands, ignores many of the requirements in the Habitat Management Agreement between IF&W and the Gardners, and presents an analysis of the habitat and timber values on these lands that is stunningly different than two previous analyses.
“Since there was no current deer use, Gardner’s harvests have had no effect on deer use in the areas and did not diminish any current or future value for deer,” he concludes.
If deer must now be present to pursue protection of wintering habitat, we’ll never be able to rebuild our deer herd in northern Maine.
He also dismisses all of the material presented to us by his wildlife staff as inaccurate, stating that the lands in question, “according to studies done both before and after Gardner’s acquisition of the lands, failed to provide real opportunity for wintering.” And “none of the HMAs (Habitat Management Areas) in question possessed any potential to be high quality deer wintering yards.”
If the Commissioner is correct, then the legislature was badly misinformed about the wildlife habitat on these lands.
Here are a few quotes from a briefing paper on these public lands titled “General Information Potential Trade Lots” provided to the legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee prior to enactment of the resolve that authorized the Katahdin Lake project.
T2R4. “The lot contains a remnant of a large deer wintering complex, although it is not zoned. This is a high priority deer management area for IF&W regional biologists.”
T2R9. “Easterly portion of the lot is part of a major deer wintering complex.”
Glenwood East. “There is current deer wintering associated with a large wintering complex on the east side of the parcel.”
Glenwood Center. “IF&W has mapped current deer wintering on the lot but no zoned yard.”
Glenwood West. “Regional IF&W view the parcel as being important in the area as there is a component of very large trees as well as deer cover.”
It was this information that led Senator Trahan to suggest language in the Resolve to make sure this important deer wintering habitat was protected and enhanced. It is undisputed that this was not done.
Here is some of what we learned about the Gardners’ harvests on these lands in a briefing paper titled “Current Status of the 5 Lots conveyed to Gardner Land Company with Habitat Management Agreements,” a 12/30/09 report from Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists Joe Wiley and Allan Starr.
T2R4. “The 2009 photography shows that all of the HMA except the shoreland areas were heavily harvested to GLC specifications… Stocking in shoreland areas was reduced 40%. Softwood canopies are now open and intercept little snow. Functionally this HMA is unlikely to support wintering deer in its present condition.”
T2R9. “Extensive harvesting had occurred within the HMA significantly reducing the shelter value and the function of the HMA as a travel corridor.”
Glenwood East. “The photography shows that the entire HMA was harvested… Because GLC practices diameter limit harvests that remove 40 to 50 percent of the merchantable volume the largest trees with the best crowns were removed likely reducing the softwood crown closure to less than 50 percent and making this HMA unlikely to be used by wintering deer.”
Glenwood Center. “From the photography it appears that accessible portions of the HMA were cut by GLC… The largest trees with the best crowns were removed likely reducing the softwood crown closure to less than 50% and making this HMA unlikely to be used as a travel corridor for deer.”
Glenwood West. “Riparian zone travel corridor along the lake has been harvested to LURC shoreland standards removing 40% of the merchantable timber. The residual is unlikely to provide enough canopy closure to function as a travel corridor for deer in winter.”
The legislative Resolve authorizing the Katahdin Lake deal, in Section Two Part 6, requires the Gardners to enter into “an agreement with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to continue management of winter habitat for white-tailed deer on those lots that is consistent with the management agreement between DIF&W and the Department of Conservation in effect on March 30, 2006 and that agreement will remain in effect as long as the grantee owns the lots.”
Please note: the resolve requires the Gardners to manage the lots in a manner that is consistent with the management that was being done by IF&W and DOC.
IF&W and the Gardners signed an agreement on December 13, 2006. Many elements of the agreement have not been honored, nor have the Gardners continued to manage deer winter habitat in a manner that is consistent with the BPL’s management of those lots.
Essentially, BPL was protecting existing deer wintering area and travel corridors, and managing the forest to increase deer wintering area in the future. The Gardners have done neither.
Experts outside of the agencies should now do a fair and objective investigation of this matter.