GOULDSBORO — A brother and sister’s petition to cut 30 acres of trees, a large percentage of which stretch along the shoreline, has prompted strong protests from residents and officials here citing environmental concerns.
The land owned by Keith Young and Susan Webber covers all but a small portion of the Point Francis Peninsula and has no buildings. The cutting plan concerns town officials and a local neighborhood association because they fear wildlife habitats will be destroyed.
According to state law, plans to cut along the shoreline need to be filed and approved with the Maine Forest Service. The owners filed a petition for a variance with the service on July 29 requesting approval to cut, citing oversized spruce trees that are blowing over, dying and limiting regeneration on the land.
Jim Ecker, the regional enforcement coordinator with the forest service, is in charge of the matter. He sought public comment during a 15-day period that ended Aug. 11.
Ecker said he doesn’t know of a variance ever being denied. He also doesn’t recall a town opposing a petition for a variance.
On Aug. 1, Gouldsboro’s Planning Board cast a nonbinding vote unanimously opposing the project. The vote doesn’t block the plan, but was meant to provide input to the forest service, based on concerns regarding tidal waterfowl and bird habitats.
Rebecca Albright, Gouldsboro’s code enforcement officer, wrote a letter to Ecker saying she had visited the Point Francis site with Town Manager Bryan Kaenrath and found that the area is protected wetland.
“It is my professional opinion that this variance is not necessary and should not be granted,” she wrote.
George Moon, a Hancock-based contractor hired by Young and Webber, said he and the landowners were following a tree growth plan laid out by a state-licensed forester in 1995. The plan to cut, he said, is not a clear-cutting, but is meant to clear damaged trees and allow for renewed growth. He said more sunlight will reach the ground below, helping revitalize the land.
“They’re dead, they’ve hit their life span,” he said of the spruce trees on the property. “The forest is a big garden — that’s all it is. You have to go in and weed it out.”
He said the plan is meant to help protect the land, and while it may affect bird life in the long run, it will actually help more vegetation grow, attracting more wildlife. As of now, he said, the root systems of the spruces are damaged.
“It’s just a forest fire waiting to happen,” he said.
Moon said the best time to complete the harvest would be late summer because it would minimize erosion.
Albright said in an interview that when she walked the property with Kaenrath, they didn’t see evidence of damaged trees.
“It’s a sensitive area, and it’s just ugly and unnecessary,” she said.
Kaenrath highlighted the concerns among residents, saying they were very disturbed.
“For the neighbors, it’s a big, big issue,” he said. “We don’t see a lot of these on that scale.”
A nearby resident, Carol Prince, said she had attended the town Planning Board meeting and scrambled to gather information about the plan, alerting neighbors and organizing opposition. She’s also the secretary of the Paul Bunyan Road Association, which opposes the attempt to cut trees along the shore.
“I’m not a forester, but one does wonder whether it has to do with the state of the trees or the sale of the lumber,” Prince said. “We’re very concerned that no damage is done to the bird life or the bay.”
Ecker said the review for a variance request involves seeking input from many sources: neighbors, town officials, the National Resources Council of Maine, multiple teams within the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, among others.
He wouldn’t comment on the Point Francis property, but said the next step is to submit an opinion to a team of foresters with the service. The service will then issue a final decision.
“It’s not a quick process to get a variance, and every variance is treated on its own merits,” he said.