Protecting the Future of the Northern Forest A Congress-Appointed Council Is Drafting Plan to Balance Northeast Forest Management with Local Job Base

Article excerpt

`IT'S a spiritual place. I can smell the mysteries of the moss."

"I remember rafting down the Penobscot - gurgling near the riverbanks - seeing osprey, moose, red squirrel."

"What we need to do: Buy massive amounts of land for ecosystems. We need a national park, national forest. You can fly over Maine and not leave a clear-cut in half an hour. The game is over. The forest is mostly gone."

These are the picturesque but sometimes urgent words of Patty Gamborini, Maggie Brazalius, and Charles Fitzgerald, respectively, New England residents who voiced their views on the state of the Northern Forest at a recent public hearing held in Boston. Eighteen similar hearings have been held throughout the Northeast over the past two months.

The forest encompasses 26 million acres of mostly private lands (85 percent) from the Maine coast across northern New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York almost to Lake Ontario. It is home to 1 million people and is one of the largest expanses of continuously forested lands in the United States.

Some environmentalists say the forest is in danger from excess development, overlogging, and other poor forest management practices. As a result, its future is the subject of debate.

For the past four years, the Northern Forest Lands Council - a Congress-appointed body comprised of a US Forest Service representative and four governor appointees from the states involved - has studied the forest.

The council recently published its findings in a report titled, "Finding Common Ground," which outlines 33 recommended incentives and regulations that encourage a balanced approach to managing the forest and the economic, environmental, and recreational needs of its inhabitants and visitors.

The recommendations call for action by Congress, state legislators, governors, and other agencies on: property taxes, public land management and acquisition, federal and state tax policies, biological diversity, outdoor recreation on private and public lands, and private forest land stewardship.

Also: forest practices, market development, rural development through forestry, education and technical assistance, workers' compensation insurance, government regulations, and land conversion and forest status research.

The public comment period on the council's recommendations ended Monday. After considering the input it has received, the council will meet this summer to finalize a plan that will then be submitted to Congress and governors of the four states having land in the Northern Forest.

Loggers, mill workers, farmers, and businesspeople in the forest region have, of course, a huge stake in the outcome of any management plan designed for it. Several of these people attended the Boston public hearing.

Many environmentally concerned citizens at the hearing commended the council but said the report did not go far enough.

THE moderator received some boos when she interrupted speaker Ted Reid to say that he had strayed from the subject when he asked for protection along the Maine-New Brunswick border of the breeding area of the eastern panther.

Linda McElroy, another speaker, stressed the dichotomy of the forest issue. …