Variances from Performance Standards under Maine Forest Service Rules

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) has responsibility for administering and enforcing several rules, including:

  • Chapter 20, Forest Practices Act (FPA), Forest Regeneration and Clearcutting Standards)
  • Chapter 21, Statewide Standards for Timber Harvesting and Related Activities in Shoreland Areas (SWS) – applies in most organized towns
  • Chapter 23, Timber Harvesting Standards to Substantially Eliminate Liquidation Harvesting
  • Chapter 27, Standards for Timber Harvesting and Timber Harvesting Related Activities within Unorganized and Deorganized Areas of the State of Maine

Under 12 M.R.S. §8869 (6). Variances, any forest landowner may petition the Director of the Maine Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, for permission to operate in a manner inconsistent with Maine Forest Service Rules. Failure to comply with timber harvesting rules without receiving a prior written variance approval from MFS constitutes a violation of those rules and may result in enforcement action.

A variance is not the same as a permit. MFS rules require a landowner to apply for a permit in advance for specific activities to demonstrate how they will meet particular standards. A variance is a petition to exceed the standards of a particular rule.

More information about permits:

Burden of Proof for variances: The burden of proof is on the petitioner to demonstrate that:

  1. Strict compliance with the regulations or standards would, because of unique conditions of topography, access, location, shape, size, or other physical features of the site or forest condition, cause unusual hardship or extraordinary difficulties.
  2. The unusual hardship or extraordinary difficulties claimed as grounds for a variance have not been created by the owner or a predecessor in title.
  3. The proposed use meets the purpose and intent of 12 M.R.S. c. 805.
  4. The public interest is otherwise served.

How to apply for a variance:

Complete this form (PDF | 372 KB) to petition for a variance for Chapters 20, 21, 23, or 27.

Be as complete and specific in your answers as possible. Additional guidance is found on the form itself.

Attach additional sheets if necessary, but identify clearly which question from the form you are addressing.

MFS staff will schedule a field visit at their discretion.

Variances may be submitted at any time. However, please allow 30-60 days for processing of most requests.

MFS will respond with a written decision to all variance petitions. Please note that incomplete variance petitions will be denied.

Variance requests for winter operations that are submitted after October 1 may be delayed until ground conditions allow MFS field review the site free of snow cover.

Note that variance applications will require more background information and field review as the variance area increases. Generally, variances for more than 5 acres and/or 500 feet of regulated shoreline will involve review of adjacent harvest areas and past harvesting practices.

The Maine Forest Service strongly recommends that landowners engage the services of a Maine Licensed Forester to assist them in preparing a variance petition. Please note that by law, an individual preparing forest management and harvest plans and/or providing forest management advice for a fee must be licensed as a forester by the state of Maine.

For more information about variances, please contact the appropriate MFS Regional Enforcement Coordinator:

Statewide Map (PDF)

Southern Region:

Adam Cates
Maine Forest Service
P.O. Box 416
Norridgewock, Maine 04957
Phone: 207.441.4139

Central Region:

Terri Coolong
Maine Forest Service
87 Airport Road
Old Town, Maine 04468
Phone: 207.215.0679

Northern Region:

Randy Lagasse (Acting)
Maine Forest Service
45 Radar Road
Ashland ME 04732
Phone: 207.557.1086