The LePage administration is proposing to merge Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) into Maine Forest Service (MFS), but this hasn't happened yet. Officially, MFS and the BPL are still separate agencies. The BPL is not supposed to be run by the head of the Maine Forest Service.

Documents obtained by the Natural Resources Council of Maine show that the MFS has been trying to influence the BPL for a number of years to increase the cut and increase cutting intensity. Governor LePage has also made it clear that he wants to tap into $5 million per year of the extra revenues from the increased cutting on Public Lands to spend on subsidies for energy conversions.

It appears that the push to increase cutting (and siphon off funds) came first, and that the excuses for the increase came later. In October of 2012, a memo from the MFS to the LePage administration pointed out that, in contrast to Public Lands, surrounding industry lands have 40 percent less volume per acre, but they are cutting 50 percent more wood per acre. As if industrial overcutting leaving understocked forests is a good example for Public Lands.

The most telling quote from the MFS memo was that Public Lands, because it has much more volume per acre than industry lands, is "holding public money hostage." This leaves the impression that upping the cut is the equivalent of liberating the "hostage" money.

The excuses that the MFS settled on for upping the cut were that there is too much wood on Public Lands, there is too much tree mortality that is going to waste, and the spruce budworm and other bugs are coming, and the Bureau needs to pre-salvage.

The plan is to cut more than growth for the next 20 years. Why 20 years? Will the budworm and other bugs go away at that time? In any case, we will, we are told, hardly notice the decrease in inventory because the average volume per acre over the hundreds of thousands of acres of Public Lands will only go down by 9.3 percent. Assuming that the threats to the forest go away because the cut has increased.

Focusing on the average misses the point that there will be more individual stands that have been cut more heavily, and these will have less large wood and more seedlings and saplings than what had previously been the case.

Christine Parrish, in her article of February 19, 2015, interviewed Robert Seymour, a well-respected silviculture professor at the University of Maine, who said the reasons offered to cut more than growth for the next 20 years were bogus. In response to this article, on February 21, 2015, Ron Lovaglio, former head of the Department of Conservation, added his agreement with Seymour.

Larger volumes per acre are a good thing, not a bad thing. It means bigger trees, more growth, and better aesthetics, all of which fit into BPL's multiple-use mandate. Having some dead standing and dead trees is also a good thing. These trees create important habitat for numerous species and contribute to forest health. The BPL has been managing to diminish the impact of the budworm, by cutting balsam fir more heavily, for years. All species of trees in our Public Lands aren't about to crash simply because a certain percentage of fir (the most susceptible species) might die - if there is a serious outbreak.

On February 26, 2015, DACF Commissioner Walter Whitcomb and MFS Director Doug Denico wrote to The Free Press to complain about Christine Parrish's article. They did not refute what Seymour said. What is most interesting is that Doug Denico, of the MFS, rather than an official from BPL, was defending the changes in policy. This confirms the impression that the MFS is acting as if the proposed merger has already happened.

Not only are these gentlemen acting as if the merger of the two agencies has already happened, Public Lands acted, last year, as if the Legislature had already approved a higher level of cut. The Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee asked Public Lands to stay within the 141,000-cord allowable cut limit last year. Yet Public Lands cut more than 167,000 cords.

Whitcomb and Denico claim the increased cut is because of good weather, but it will all balance out over the years, which may be the case. But why didn't Public Lands inform the ACF committee while the increase was ongoing, rather than let them learn about it from an article in The Free Press? Why did two long-term directors of Public Lands resign within a year?

So, who's in charge?

Mitch Lansky, Wytopitlock, Reed Plantation

Mitch Lansky has been involved in Maine foresty issues for decades. He's the author of "Low-Impact Forestry: Forestry as if the Future Mattered" and "Beyond the Beauty Strip: Saving What's Left of Our Forests." He was town manager of Reed Plantation for years.