Maine Parks to Tap Timber as Revenue Stream
A proposed change in state law would allow logging in Maine state parks and historic sites, with the money from timber sales going back into the state park system, The Free Press, Rockland, reported.
A public hearing on the proposed change, which is part of the governor's proposed budget for the next two years, was held on March 26, in Augusta.
Almost 3 million people visit Maine state parks and historic sites a year, spending millions to do so, but most of the 48 Maine state parks and historic sites have been chronically underfunded for years. Other New England states face similar problems and some, like New Hampshire, expanded private business ventures within state parks to increase revenue.
Maintenance and rebuilding of Maine state park roads, camping facilities and buildings has been put off for so long, in some cases, that park managers have learned to be creative to get things done. Some have tapped into volunteer labor and sought donated materials to reconstruct park facilities.
Park Manager Bill Elliot of Camden Hills State Park is one of them. Elliot reconstructed a backcountry overnight camping lodge in the heart of the popular park using pocket change and donated lumber. To keep costs down, he milled some lumber from state park trees.
There is nothing new about that. Maine state law authorizes cutting trees from state parks and historic sites for a variety of reasons: to provide lumber for in-park use, reduce insect infestation, reduce fire risk, improve wildlife habitat, create more recreational opportunities and improve the scenery. Some parks provide firewood to campers that comes from culled trees.
A change in that approach began earlier this decade when a handful of Maine state parks were designated to manage their lands for timber, as well as recreation. The goal was to demonstrate responsible forest management to the public while making some money to put back into the parks to improve them for their primary use: recreation.
The new proposal goes beyond educational forestry. If approved, it would allow timber harvests on state parks and historic sites with the primary goal to make money for the park system. To do so, state parks and historic sites would have to develop a forestry plan that includess managing for recreation and wildlife as well as timber. The forestry plan would be overseen by a state forester and open to a public comment period. That kind of oversight would be new for many state parks, where decisions have traditionally been left up to park managers.
Opponents to the proposed change, including the Maine Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, testified at the public hearing, saying the shift in priorities from nature-based recreation to resource extraction was unnecessary and at odds with why people go to state parks. Opponents noted that 550,000 acres of state-owned lands known as Maine Public Lands are already managed for timber harvests and the state parks and historic sites – about 80,000 acres – should remain primarily as nature reserves.