Private Landowners Gather in Augusta

Forest landowners from throughout the state gathered today at the Augusta Civic Center for the day-long annual meeting of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, the principle organization representing small woodland owners in Maine. The large turnout was typical for SWOAM’s annual meetings, held in conjunction with the Agriculture Show at the Civic Center each year.

After an informative presentation about the organization by SWOAM’s staff, led by executive director Tom Doak, and SWOAM’s Board members, led by President Rich Merk, two former State Senators, Kevin Raye and Ethan Strimling, offered an entertaining and informative presentation on political and legislative issues. SWOAM Board member Richard Nass (a former Senator himself) moderated the discussion.

Raye noted that Maine is strongly aligned now with the Democratic Party and its candidates, and tough terrain for Republicans. Strimling noted that his Democratic Party has come in third in two straight major races, and said Democrats may get the same result in the 2014 race for governor. There was a lengthy discussion of the 2014 gubernatorial race, of great interest already to political pundits if not the people.

Raye and Strimling also provided pointers for individuals who wish to be effective in lobbying at the state level. Raye said that building a relationship with your own Representative and Senator was most effective in making your voice heard in Augusta. Strimling agreed, saying calls from the home district were most effective. Raye said preprinted mass-produced post cards are the least effective lobbying technique he’d seen.

Steve Long offered an interesting presentation on key issues and concerns of small forest landowners. Long is the editor of Northern Woodlands magazine and author of More Than A Woodlot, a book to help small woodlot owners “get the most from their family forest.” The book includes everything from how to improve wildlife habitat to how to sell your timber.

Bettina Ring, senor vice president of the American Forest Foundation, spoke on “The Changing Land Ethic,” followed by Tree Farm Awards.

After lunch, Dr. Max McCormick, professor emeritus at the University of Maine, told the audience about 1200 years of oak management in Germany – in just 45 minutes!

Of special concern to the audience was a presentation on insects plaguing or threatening the state’s forests.

Landowner Relations

Of special interest to me was Mark Latti’s talk about a new landowner relations program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. SWOAM’s Tom Doak and I worked together at the last legislative session to repeal the statute that established DIF&W’s Supersport Program and landowner relations program, and directed the agency to create a new more comprehensive and effective landowner relations program.

Latti said his goal was to make the landowner relations program attractive to participants and useful to landowners. He’s calling it The Outdoor Partners Program, to emphasize that the program is a partnership between outdoor recreationists and private landowners who provide many of our recreational opportunities.

Latti said we need to get rid of the attitude of entitlement that some recreationists demonstrate.

Participation in the new program will cost $15, with participants required to abide by a code of ethics and to assist at least one landowner each year. Participants will also receive coupons from some of the businesses that support the program.

Latti said one of the most important tools in his arsenal is education, and he will use the ethics code to emphasize the importance of asking permission to use private land, respecting the land, and thanking landowners after using their lands. He said he will email a newsletter to participants, and has gotten commitments from the Maine Professional Guides Association and Maine Snowmobile Association to help with the newsletter. He said he will be marketing the program at shows, retail stories, and elsewhere.

Although it sounded like the program was up and running, I went to the department’s website to see if it is while Mark was talking. There is some information on the website about the Outdoor Partners Program, but there is no obvious way to join the program. It appears that you must begin by purchasing a license – and even there, the information presented is about the old repealed Supersport program, not the new program. And of course, the new program is unavailable to anyone who is not purchasing a license or permit from DIFW.

This is not the program Tom Doak and I envisioned and offered to DIF&W, but we do hope it is successful.

The final presentation of the day informed landowners about cost-share assistance programs from the Natural Resource Conservation Services.

As the day wrapped up, I was reminded of the value in my SWOAM membership. As the owner of a 150-acre woodlot, I’ve been a member of this outstanding organization for quite a few years. From its monthly newsletter to today’s annual meeting, SWOAM does a superb job of informing us about key issues, educating us about good forest management, and representing us at the legislature and elsewhere.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.