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Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 27, 2014
Deer Isle Planning Board considers state forestry standards

by Rich Hewitt

Following a presentation from the Maine Forestry Service and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in late February, the town planning board will this month review the state’s statewide standards for timber harvests in shoreland areas.

The state has been pushing for a single standard that would apply to shoreland areas throughout the state that would replace the current town ordinances regarding timber harvests and establish the Maine Forest Service as a single enforcing authority. The standards, according to Keith Kanoti, a water resources forester with MFS, apply only to commercial harvests where the timber harvested is intended to be used for forest products. They do not apply to other types of timber harvests, such as cuttings for development, which are regulated by other measures.

The new law went into effect in January 2013 and, according to Kanoti, provided towns with three options. Towns could repeal their ordinances and adopt the state standards; amend ordinances to include the state standards or maintain their existing shoreland zone ordinances.

In the first option, Kanoti said, the forest service would take over all enforcement of the standards; in the second option the town could either request that the MFS administer and enforce the ordinance, or adopt a memorandum of agreement for joint administration and enforcement.

With option two, he said, the town can retain its home rule authority and still apply the statewide standards with the help of state foresters and forest rangers. Kanoti noted that the MFS has 10 state foresters and 65 forest rangers statewide that can work with communities on the administration and enforcement of the plans.

Under the third option, the one that Deer Isle chose prior to the law going into effect, the town administers and enforces its existing ordinance. The MFS no longer has a role in enforcement, which would be the town’s responsibility through the code enforcement officer.

“It’s the town’s responsibility; they’re more on their own,” Kanoti said. “If an enforcement issue comes to us, we send it to the code enforcement officer.”

In his one “sales pitch” for options one or two, Kanoti said that this was one instance where the state was “offering to take something off your back.”

The state standards set specific restriction of timber harvesting in defined shoreland areas including the harvest levels, the amount of cleared openings, stream crossings, road construction and exposure of the soil. Those restrictions differ based on the size of a water body and the proximity of the harvest to those lakes, ponds, streams or shorelines.

A number of Maine towns did adopt the state standards either through option one or option two.

“It’s been in effect for a year now and it’s going pretty well,” Kanoti said.

The statewide standards differ from the basic shoreland zone ordinance, which the DEP oversees, and, in some cases, are less restrictive than the local ordinance. But Kanoti noted that while the language and the methods might differ, the overall goals were the same.

The town has continued to work with its existing shoreland zone ordinance, which has been approved by the state. The board requested the joint presentation after an issue arose with a proposed timber harvest in town. According to Code Enforcement Officer Hubert Billings, the planning board had approved a harvest plan that exceeded the 40 percent clearing set in the ordinance, which the board has the authority to do. When the DEP disapproved the plan, Billings said, the landowner and logger approached the board about implementing their forest management plan under the terms of the statewide standards.

It was unclear whether the proposed harvest would be allowed under the statewide standards, Billing said.

“It might be allowed under the standards; it sounded like you could,” he said. “But it sounded like it might be ambiguous and that they [MFS] might have to send someone in to look at it.”

With the request from the landowner to operate under the state standards, the board decided to ask for details from the two state agencies involved.

While the DEP does not work on enforcement of timber harvest restriction under the local shoreland ordinances, Stephenie MacLagan, a shoreland zoning coordinator with the DEP, said she often provides technical assistance to towns as they develop their enforcement actions in cases where there have been alleged violations.

Also, if the town decided to adopt the state standards, MacLagan said she could help develop language for a proposed ordinance and encouraged them to work with her on that.

“If you want something different than option three, you want to follow it all the way through,” she said. “You want to be careful so that when you come to the DEP for approval [of the ordinance], the forest service also accepts it.”

The board made no decision after the presentation, but members appeared wary of some of the practices allowed under the statewide standards and concerned about giving up some of the existing protections included in the town ordinance. They agreed, however, to discuss the pros and cons of the two approaches and were scheduled to do so March 20. According to board chairman Jeremy Stewart, if the board decided to recommend a change, the members would have to develop a new document and present it at a public hearing before sending the recommendation to the selectmen for a vote at a town meeting.