Maine's Small Woodlot Owners Have Big Clout
There are over 100,000 small woodlot owners in Maine, responsible for a significant portion of the state’s wood supply and recreational property. Of special interest to all who enjoy outdoor recreation is the Maine tradition of free access to private land for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor fun. These are the folks who provide it!
The Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine is the state’s only significant organization representing small woodland owners, and the influential group drew a strong turnout of more than 250 people to its day-long annual meeting last week in Augusta at the Agriculture Show.
Lest I risk the ire of our favorite media critic, Al Diamon, let me disclose that SWOAM contracted with me last year for a landowner relations project funded by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
As a SWOAM member and owner of 160 acres in Mount Vernon, I attended this interesting and informative event. While the group’s advocacy and education programs are impressive, I was astonished to learn that its relatively new land trust has already accepted 5,000 acres of fee-interest and easement donations, with three new projects pending in 2012, including its largest single project ever.
Just like the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, SWOAM has a lot of clout in Augusta, despite a relatively small membership, because it’s the only full-time active voice for the entire constituency it represents. Legislators and others look at these organizations as the primary representatives of their respective constituencies.
During my tenure as SAM’s Executive Director, the organization reached and maintained a membership of 14,000, about 4 percent of Maine’s estimated 350,000 hunters and anglers. SWOAM’s membership of 2500 represents about 2.5 percent of those 100,000 small woodlot owners.
The most interesting presentation at SWOAM’s annual meeting was by Jeff Currier of the Maine Forest Service. Jeff is the supervisor of forest rangers in the southern portion of the state and he’s a dynamic speaker. I had no idea that the Maine Forest Service has 57 field forest rangers (and 9 district supervisors) – almost all of them on duty every day. That’s a bigger force, on a daily basis, than the Maine Warden Service is able to muster out.
Equally interesting, I learned that, while these rangers are right on top of timber theft and trespass, they are also very active investigating and prosecuting those who litter our woodlots with their trash. It was good to hear Jeff report that a new law championed by SWOAM has sharply reduced timber theft. Essentially the law requires that a property boundary be established and marked when harvests cover more than 5 acres or encroach within 200 feet of a boundary line.
As a landowner, I am frustrated and angry over the amount of trash dumped on my property. Jeff said most illegal dumping violations “are solvable. I’ve been through some disgusting ugly messes,” he said. “I’ve thrown up going through some of those messes.” And it was good to know – perhaps because of the latter – that “there are no warnings given for illegal dumping.”
The Maine Forest Service founded and led the Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day in 2011, coincidentally on my birthday, October 15. They recruited volunteers statewide and cleaned up 136 sites.
And they’re now using cameras to capture some litterers. Jeff had some very entertaining photos of guys who thought they were getting rid of their trash when and where no one was looking. Surprise! You’re on MFS’s hidden candid camera!
The issues presented at SWOAM’s annual meeting should concern everyone, whether or not they own land. UMO professor Jessica Leahy’s presentation was an eye-opener. Jessica has been surveying landowners for the last two years on behalf of SWOAM. Among the findings that are of concern: forty percent of Maine’s small woodland owners are over 65, and most do not have a plan to transition that land so that it remains a forest.
Forestry consultant and law school student Mike Maines spoke about the complex laws governing abandoned roads to a packed room of very interested people – many of whom have encountered problems with discontinued roads on or adjacent to their property.
As the afternoon waned, we heard a frightening presentation from the Insect Unit of the Maine Forest Service on the potential harm from a variety of insects that are either already here or close by. When I heard that an Asian insect may wipe out all the Ash in North America – well, that really got my attention!
Those of us who own woodlots in Maine are blessed by SWOAM’s leadership on these issues. If you own a woodlot, and are not familiar with the organization, check out their website, or give them a call toll free 1-877-467-9626, or 107-626-0005, for more information.