AUGUSTA (AP) – A bill to reduce a forest-cutting practice known as “liquidation harvesting” completed its legislative circuit and awaits the signature of Gov. John Baldacci, who submitted the legislation.

The bill authorizes state forestry officials to write rules that substantially eliminate the practice of cutting and removing valuable lumber and then subdividing and selling the land within five years.

Baldacci, a Democrat, pledged during the gubernatorial campaign last fall to ban the practice altogether.

An estimated 6 percent to 8 percent of Maine’s harvested acreage – or 30,000 to 45,000 acres – are subjected to liquidation harvesting each year, Donald Mansius, the Conservation Department’s director of forest policy and management, said Thursday.

A 1999 study Maine Forest Service showed that individual liquidation harvests ranged in size from 10 to 4,000 acres, but most were 150 acres or less.

The practice, which is considered a threat to forest management, industries and workers, puts landowners who cut their trees for sustainable, long-term growth at a competitive disadvantage, the administration says.

The new law, which continues a process that started with legislation that passed last session, will require more oversight by forest managers and cutting that takes into account the long-term health and productivity of the forest.

In addition, the bill sets into motion discussions aimed at finding alternatives to liquidation harvesting.

Another forestry bill that received final passage Thursday cracks down on timber theft, the intentional cutting of trees belonging to someone else, which also a serious problem in Maine’s woodlands.

The bill authorizes state forest rangers to enforce Maine’s 4-year-old “trip ticket” law, which requires that any load of logs being transported to be accompanied by papers identifying the landowner, logger and other information verifying the source of the wood.

Timber theft “really remains a serious problem. We get several hundred cases a year,” said Mansius.

Some cases occur when property lines are not clearly defined or landowners have conflicting ideas about who holds title to a parcel.

Theft cases have been reported all over Maine, but they are less prevalent in the unorganized territories where big land management and forest products companies keep closer eye on their holdings, according to state Forest Service officials.

AP-ES-05-29-03 1806EDT

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