A Buxton man may be among the first loggers in Maine to feel the sting of a state law that imposes tough new rules on forestry workers who have past convictions for cutting down trees illegally.
But Anthony P. Boisvert, 31, said he is the target of unfair enforcement by the Maine Forest Service and that the state’s new rules will effectively put him out of business.
The provision of the law that Boivert is criticizing was passed in 2013 and requires that any Maine logger who has been convicted twice in the previous five years of unlawfully cutting trees – such as harvesting the wrong timber or taking trees from the wrong side of a property line, for instance – go through extra steps before being allowed to resume logging.
Boisvert, who has been logging since he was a teenager and bought his first skidder after high school, has been convicted twice of unlawful tree-cutting, in 2015 and again in 2018, along with another civil violation for failing to notify the state of a commercial timber harvest.
Boisvert said those were honest mistakes or accidents and that he paid the landowners for the trees. And now the cost imposed by the new regulations may force him to leave the profession he loves, he said.
“I’m a live-or-die logger,” said Boisvert, who learned in August that he was subject to the heightened rules when he received a stop-work order from the state. “For eight weeks, I haven’t worked. I feel like my whole world has been taken from me.”
In addition to the stricter regulations he must meet before taking on new work, Boisvert also is facing two pending counts of unlawful cutting of trees from a job he did in Scarborough in July. Boisvert said those charges were the result of the landowner not marking his property line correctly, leading Boisvert to cut trees that belonged to a neighbor and to the Saco Valley Land Trust, according to court records. There is no indication in court records of how many trees were improperly cut on either property.
Though that case has not yet been resolved, Boisvert already is running up against the tougher state rules. Anyone with two convictions within five years is now required by the Department of Conservation, Agriculture and Forestry to seek prior approval of each new logging job, submit their work contract with the landowner and secure a $500,000 insurance bond. Forestry officials have 30 days to approve each request to work, according to the rules.
One of the law’s original sponsors, Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, said during testimony in 2013 that he submitted the bill as a response to a series of massive timber thefts in his district by a forester, David Crane, who cut tens of thousands of dollars worth of trees on private property without the landowners’ permission.
A forestry official also testified that the law was needed to prevent bad actors such as Crane from hastily transferring equipment and other business-related assets to family members to avoid paying the restitution costs once victims win in court. One of Crane’s victims testified at the committee hearing that despite a court judgment, no one could force Crane to pay.
The Legislature did not, however, heed the advice of a logging lobbying group, which recommended that language be added to require forest rangers to prove the unlawful harvesting was done knowingly or recklessly. The law does not take into account whether a logger cuts the wrong trees by accident.
The bond requirement is meant to protect landowners from liability for illegal cutting. For Boisvert, it has become a nearly insurmountable obstacle to his livelihood. The $500,000 insurance bond would cost him $15,000 for each new job he took, he said, rendering most logging jobs a net loss.
“I’m in a rock and hard spot. It’s eating away at me. I don’t know what to do,” Boisvert said, noting he already had laid off his three employees as he continues to make $16,000 monthly payments on the roughly $600,000 in logging equipment he owns.
The Forest Service could not provide hard numbers on how many loggers are now subject to the this new set of rules, but an industry lobbying group that represents half of the timber harvesting contractors in the state said this case may be the first to trigger the new regulations since they went into effect in 2016.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of the Forest Service actually using this authority,” said Dana Moran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, which represents about half of the logging businesses in the state. Boisvert is not a member, Moran said, but he has been contacted by Boisvert.
“If one of our members were going through a situation like this, I can’t guarantee it, but there is a high likelihood they would contact me and I’ve heard nothing to date,” Moran said.
Loggers follow state-established rules for cutting wood lots, and are required to take steps to make sure they take the right number of trees in the correct place, including requirements to mark both property lines and trees that are planned for harvest, in addition to myriad other regulations.
Unlawful cutting of trees is a civil violation, meaning a fine is the most severe penalty that can be levied, and forest rangers calculate damages or restitution amounts based on the diameter of the tree that was improperly harvested, from $25 for a tree less than 6 inches in diameter, up to $150 for a tree larger than 22 inches in diameter.
Boisvert pleaded guilty to a 2015 charge of one count of unlawful cutting of trees, and paid restitution. At the time, the state had sought $9,375 in restitution, but it was not clear from court paperwork how much Boisvert or his insurance company eventually paid and how many trees were cut down illegally.
His second conviction came in response to a 2017 summons for unlawful cutting of trees. Boisvert pleaded guilty in that case in April 2018 and paid a $200 fine. He also pleaded guilty at the same time to a separate civil infraction for failing to notify the state of a commercial tree harvest of less than 50 cords of timber, according to court documents.
During the two-year period between Boisvert’s two civil infractions, in July 2016, the state finalized the rules needed to implement the 2013 law, giving forest rangers a new, powerful enforcement tool.
Boisvert contends that the Maine Forest Service is overstepping its bounds by counting the 2015 conviction even though it happened before the rules were finalized.
George Harris, the District Ranger in Southern Maine for the Maine Forest Service, said he interpreted the regulations to mean that the five-year period in which convictions are counted against loggers is retroactive starting July 2016 – meaning any violations between summer 2011 and 2016 are fair game, he said.
Boisvert said he is struggling to decide what to do next. Fighting the charges could cost thousands in legal fees, he said, with no guarantee of success.
Boisvert is due back in court Dec. 18.