Laws & Ordinances
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Several statewide conservation laws are designed to protect landowners, as well as water quality and forest health. Amendments of the laws occur periodically, so it is a good idea to call the Maine Forest Service (at (800) 367-0223, toll free in Maine, or at (207) 287-2791), or other agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection or the Land Use Planning Commission, for updates on current amendments before you cut trees or move soil. Your town office is also a good place to start to find out about local regulations in your area. Even if few local regulations exist, the state laws still apply.
A brief summary of these laws follows. However, you should always call Maine Forest Service for complete information or to answer questions specific to your property.
Maine Forest Service Rangers investigate over 1,000 complaints annually involving timber trespass - inadvertent or intentional cutting across property lines - or deliberate theft of timber. Cases of fraud where the value of timber is substantially misrepresented also have occurred. The vast majority of loggers are honest business people, but cases of illegal cutting can and do occur. Absentee landowners are among the most common targets of timber theft. Maine law provides specific remedies for landowners who are victims of timber trespass or theft.
If you believe you have been a victim of timber trespass or theft (or if a harvest on your land crosses onto your neighbor's property without your knowledge), your first call should be to the Maine Forest Service's Forest Protection Division. MFS Forest Rangers and Foresters can help investigate alleged illegal cutting, help determine a settlement, or work with local law enforcement officials if prosecution is warranted. HOWEVER, depending on the circumstances, trespass or theft may be a civil, not a criminal matter. In some cases, landowners may need an attorney represent them, to hire a surveyor to map their ownership and establish (or re-establish) boundary lines on the ground, or to hire a consulting forester to help establish the volume and value of timber cut illegally.
The best way to prevent timber trespass is to protect your property with a few simple steps.
- Keep all property lines well marked and brushed out.
- Know who the adjacent property owners are.
- Have someone you know and trust keep an eye on your property if you are unable to.
- If you suspect someone is cutting wood on your property, call the nearest Forest Ranger.
- Never give oral permission for someone to harvest your timber.
- Always have a written contract for all timber harvesting.
If you are conducting a harvest on your property, it is your responsibility as the landowner to ensure that property lines are clearly and accurately marked and adhered to.
Timber harvesting is a large part of Maine's economy. Preventing theft of timber is in everyone's interest.
Foresters in Maine must be licensed by the state in order to offer forestry advice and services to landowners. State licensing laws require that applicants for a Forester license be qualified by education and experience to make scientifically based assessments and recommendations and to deal fairly and ethically with their clients.
For assistance finding a private consulting forester, contact the Maine Forest Service.
Several laws protect important natural resources, especially streams, lakes, wetlands, and other water bodies, or known areas of important wildlife habitat. Planning forest management on your property should include developing an understanding of where such areas exist on your land. If you are implementing a timber harvest, it is especially important that you understand how you will comply with these laws, before you begin harvesting.
The Protection and Improvement of Waters Law and the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act are basic laws that require landowners to prevent pollution (by soil, chemicals, debris, etc.) of Maine water bodies, such as streams, lakes, wetlands, and coastal areas. The best way to ensure you comply with these laws is to make sure erosion and other pollution control measures (Best Management Practices) are used and properly installed and maintained. The Natural Resources Protection Act defines more specifically certain protected natural resources, especially water bodies and wildlife habitat. The law regulates work done in, over, or next to any body of water, as well as sand dunes, marshes and other wetlands, high mountain areas, and areas of designated significant wildlife habitat. Regulated activities include soil disturbance by logging equipment, use of fill, stream or wetland crossings, and in some cases, clearing of vegetation for purposes other than forest management. In most cases, landowners conducting these activities must abide by certain standards and/or obtain a Department of Environmental Protection permit before beginning work.
Each town adopts a Municipal Shoreland Zoning Ordinancethat regulates activities as wide ranging as timber harvesting, building construction and pruning or clearing trees within 75 feet of streams and within 250 feet of ponds, lakes, rivers, tidal areas, and certain freshwater wetlands. It is important to check with the town office on local zoning requirements. Each town should have a Town Shoreland Zoning map posted in the town office that shows zoned areas on your property, and be able to provide you with a copy of the town ordinance. Shoreland Zoning is usually enforced by the town's Code Enforcement Officer, and permits may be required for some activities. It is particularly important to understand that "timber harvesting" and "clearing vegetation for development" are recognized as distinct activities under shoreland zoning. Assistance is also available from the Department of Environmental Protection. Certain towns have repealed the timber harvesting portion of their ordinance and elected to adopt Statewide Standards for Timber Harvesting and Related Activities in Shoreland Areas instead. Statewide standards are consistent in all towns that have adopted them. Statewide standards differ from Municipal ordinances and are enforced by the Maine Forest Service. To find out if a particular town has adopted the Statewide Standards for timber harvesting, and for more information on the standards visit the Maine Forest service statewide standards website.
If you live or own land in the unorganized territories of Maine (most townships and plantations, as well as many coastal islands), check with the Department of Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's Land Use Planning Commission. This agency serves as the zoning and land use authority in all areas of the state without municipal government. As with organized towns, there are maps of unorganized areas available showing protected natural resources, designated land use "districts" and standards that apply to certain activities, including timber harvesting.
The state Forest Practices Act is administered and enforced by Maine Forest Service. It has three primary components:
- Landowners must file a Forest Operations Notification, along with a location map, with the Maine Forest Service before beginning any timber harvesting activity. Forms and maps are available in most town offices and from MFS. The notification is not a permit and carries no fee. Notifications must be posted at the operation's principal log landing until the harvest is complete. Landowners who submit a Notification are required to complete and return a Landowner Report of timber harvesting at the end of each year in which harvesting takes place.
- Landowners who create clearcuts must adhere to standards for separation zones between clearcuts, and must have a Licensed Forester prepare harvest plans for clearcuts greater than 20 acres. Additional regulations concern the definition, size, arrangement, and managementof clearcuts.
- Landowners must ensure that clearcuts have adequate regeneration of tree species within 5 years after harvest.
Check with the Maine Forest Service for current information on this law. A few towns also have municipal ordinances specifically on Forest Practices that exceed the requirements of the MFS Forest Practices act, so it is important to check with the town as well.
A host of other laws address different aspects of owning and managing forestland in Maine - worker's compensation law, private liability for public recreation, all terrain vehicle use, wildlife conservation laws, and others. Please call Maine Forest Service if you have specific questions.