WMNF tree-cutting plan raises alarm bells

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Maine Forest Service's proposed 3,120-acre timber harvesting plan for Albany South in the White Mountain National Forest near Stoneham and Lovell is raising alarm bells as the final 30-day public comment period approaches this spring.

Lovell resident Toni Seger raised the issue at Saturday's Town Meeting and met Tuesday with Lovell Selectmen to urge the town to take a stand. Seger said the project is too large and will strip a buffer zone from a certified wilderness region, the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area.

Moreover, she said, a third of the cutting will occur behind Kezar Lake's north end, near Great Brook, extending eastward behind Keewaydin Lake. Over 250 acres will be clear-cut, in swaths ranging from two to 30 acres each.

A third of Kezar Lake's water comes from Great Brook and its tributaries, which hosts native brook trout and is a spawning ground for many of Kezar's landlocked salmon. She said the forest service is only required to provide a 25-foot setback from mapped streams, and can cut right to the edge of smaller headwater streams, "even though protection of these sources is essential to protecting any watershed, including Kezar Lake." Not only water quality but fisheries as well could suffer as a result, she said.

Seger wants to create a Citizen Ombudsmen program, "to give the public real representation for their birthright, for which they currently have no representation, and to curb the dictatorial powers of the Forest Service which, in a world confronted with climate change for which we need to preserve trees (the lungs of the earth), currently answers to no one."

Seger also pointed out that the logging operation would remove around nine million board feet of trees, requiring thousands of logging trucks to travel on the Hut and West Stoneham Roads and Birch Avenue, which are narrow, winding forest roads.

"Heavy vehicular traffic here and on Route 5 will have a major impact on safety and infrastructure as well as on the normally tranquil nature of our communities," she said.

The Forest Service received 50 letters and e-mails from residents during an initial comment period last fall, and has talked to individuals as well as members of the Kezar Lake Watershed Association and the Greater Lovell Land Trust about the project. District Ranger Katherine Stuart said in a letter last September that all public input will be considered prior to issuing a draft decision in late summer and a final decision by the end of the year.

"Some comments will be used to correct, clarify, or revise the original proposal," Stuart said. "Some of your concerns will be addressed through existing or newly-developed design features (Forest Plan standards and guidelines, State of Maine best management practices, or other site-specific direction to reduce environmental effects). Some will be used to create alternative proposals."

Stuart said that the Forest Service may develop new "design features" to address concerns such as wetland protection, and may even drop some timber harvesting units from the proposal or change the way a recreation site is managed.

As proposed, Great Brook would be closed to camping and Virginia Lake would be closed to all but foot traffic during the timber harvesting operation, scheduled to take place over the summer of 2015.

Stuart said the Forest Service has tried to keep the public informed by putting up posters at local post offices and the Charlotte Hobbs Library, and sending out post cards to Hut Road residents and others most closely affected.

A 30-day Comment Report will be issued this spring and is available upon request by calling Stuart at 603-466-2713, Project Leader Kori Marchowsky at 603-536-6108, or via e-mail at kmarchowsky@fs.fed.us


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