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Task Force Calls for Congress to Preserve Northeastern Forest

A multistate task force renewed calls Tuesday for Congress and the northeastern states to preserve the 26-million-acre forest that stretches from New York to Maine.

A multistate task force renewed calls Tuesday for Congress and the northeastern states to preserve the 26-million-acre forest that stretches from New York to Maine.

The panel's report says that conservation efforts during the past decade have helped, but that the Northern Forest is under increasing development pressure because of rising land values and competitive pressures on the forest-products industry.

Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York must work together to sustain the rural economies that rely on the forest, and must work with the federal government to conserve forestlands that face development pressures, the report says.

"Maine isn't the only state going through these changes and this really resonated across the region," said Karin Tilberg, Maine's deputy conservation commissioner and a member of the panel.

The report was compiled by the Northern Forest Land Council 10th Anniversary Forum, a 23-member group that included conservationists, community leaders and timberland managers from the four states.


The North East State Foresters Association convened the group to update the work of the original Northern Forest Lands Council, which issued its report in 1994 after a six-year, $5 million study.

At the time of the initial report, the first major land sales in the region were feeding concern throughout the Northeast about the future of the forest. The council made a series of recommendations to Congress and the four states, from changes in tax policy to aggressive conservation efforts, to keep the forest from getting fragmented and developed.

The Northern Forest has continued to change hands at a rapid rate as paper companies divested huge tracts of land. The use of conservation easements and the availability of federal funds and other money have allowed states and others to prevent future development of large chunks of land.

Most of the forest, however, is still facing development pressure, which continues to encroach on the remote forests, lakes and mountains.

The new report is circulating as the largest subdivision ever proposed in the Maine section of the forest is under review by the Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission. Plum Creek Timber Co.'s proposal includes two resorts and nearly 1,000 house lots in the Moosehead Lake Region north of Greenville.

The new report focuses more on the forest region's economy and on how to sustain paper mills and forest-product businesses that are struggling in the face of increasing international competition. It recommends a new regional effort to assess the northern forest economy and develop strategies to sustain it, Tilberg said.

"It will give us more tools to face the new challenges that are before us," she said.

The report also recommends that state, federal and private agencies continue working to conserve land that becomes available and to support sustainable forestry practices and recreational access to the forests.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News