LePage’s bleak take on Maine forest industry jobs doesn’t add up

Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage was in Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in February and something he’s attributed as saying there is puzzling people who watch Maine’s forest industry closely.

A summary of that meeting, also attended by New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and his staff, cites the governor as saying Maine has 500 people “going on the unemployment rolls each week” partly because of new tariffs on Canadian softwood that LePage has fought.

But Maine only has about 4,000 loggers and industry watchers say they don’t know how the governor got his figures. Job losses that high would be an all-out crisis. A 2016 study for the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine said the state had 4,600 logging jobs in 2014 and state data says logging jobs have decreased slightly since recovering from the recession. LePage spokespeople didn’t answer questions on his assertion.

LePage blamed supposed job losses on tariffs and the exchange rate. Mindy Crandall, the University of Maine forest economist who co-authored that logging study, said the state has lost logging jobs during the past four years, but it’s “pretty hard to disentangle all of the effects” and that mill closures may be a likely culprit.

Crandall and Eric Kingsley, a partner in Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, a Portland natural resources consulting group, said they’ve seen no evidence for LePage’s jobs claim and another claim in the meeting that the forest industry has all but disappeared in eastern Maine.

“We’d be out of loggers in eight or nine weeks,” Kingsley said, “and we’re not out of loggers.”

There are broader issues at play here, including the tariffs and a war of words between the governor and two brothers who own four Maine mills. Canadians fighting the tariffs from President Donald Trump count LePage as a key ally and Maine’s forest industry is dominated by cross-border companies such as J.D. Irving, a Canadian behemoth.

But the U.S. Lumber Coalition, an industry group, has backed Trump up on the tariffs. It’s chaired by Jason Brochu. He co-owns Pleasant River Lumber alongside his brother, Chris Brochu, and it is Maine’s only spruce and fir business that doesn’t straddle the border.

The Brochus hammered LePage for a “Canada-first” trade message in a Bangor Daily News op-ed last year. LePage referenced them in a meeting with Ross and they’re central figures in a legislative inquiry into his administration’s allocation of timber from state lands.

The Legislature’s forestry committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss that (if it doesn’t get snowed out). So more could be coming soon on this subject.

Today in A-town

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is working overtime today. The deadline set by legislative leaders for committees to finish their work on bills was Friday, but with six weeks left until the Legislature’s statutory adjournment deadline of April 18, some aren’t finished.

The criminal justice committee is the only one working today, starting the day with possible recommendations on two bills related to outlawing female genital mutilation. The committee is also scheduled to take public comments on a bill to reorganize the Department of Public Safety’s State Bureau of Identification and then vote the bill out of committee right afterwards, which is a bit unusual but not unheard of.

Reading list

  • Marissa Kennedy was laid to rest on Saturday. The 10-year-old girl from Stockton Springs, who died last month allegedly at the hands of her mother and stepfather, was beloved in the New York community where she was born and spent her first few years. Her family’s friends and former teachers there said they sensed no major problems in the girl’s life. On Friday, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to authorize an investigation into Kennedy’s death, as well as that of 4-year-old Kendall Chick and the state’s child welfare system as a whole.
  • A memo claims that Maine Department of Labor destroyed complaints about the state’s embattled unemployment filing system and rolled it out despite employees’ concerns. The unsigned memo from a department employee was obtained by the Morning Sentinel and it says “thousands of dollars in temporary staffing and overtime are accruing because of poor planning and decisions that look a lot like coverups.” The department has blamed problems with the system on user errors. Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said if department officials covered up problems, they “should lose their jobs.”
  • Who are Maine’s career politicians? It’s not a cut-and-dried term to define but there are dozens of current and former lawmakers who intent to serve in the Legislature well beyond the eight consecutive years they are allowed under Maine’s term limits law. We’ve listed most of them.
  • Maine schools are taking over preschool special education programs in anticipation of a bill that LePage is expected to introduce. The bill, which hasn’t been submitted even though there is little more than a month left in the legislative session, would have local schools take over special education services for 3- to 5-year-olds. Six school districts have already started the process.
  • U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ father died Saturday at age 92. A Republican who served in the Maine Legislature, Donald F. Collins was also the former mayor of Caribou and a decorated World War II veteran. Among those he left behind are his Patricia, his wife of 70 years.
  • High school students in Lisbon face possible penalties if they walk out of school on Wednesday to protest gun violence. Administrators at Lisbon High School are planning a moment of silence but have told students there will be disciplinary action if they walk out for 17 minutes to honor the memories of those killed by a gunman Feb. 14 in a Florida high school, as scores of other students are planning to do. That makes Lisbon unique among surrounding schools.
  • A staffer hired by gubernatorial candidate Mark Eves last Monday was fired Thursday morning. The Democratic staffer, Brandon Maheu, is accused of harassing women in multiple settings, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Maheu admitted to the behavior and said Friday that he is in treatment for his actions.

By the time I get to phoenix

I’ve always wanted a wood stove. It probably relates to the whole “men love open flames’ syndrome that has spurred humans to barbecue everything from mastodons to Oreos.

When we converted our barn into a living space for my wife’s parents — it is a lovely new apartment; we did not relegate them to a barn — we added a great, new Maine-made wood stove. It’s upright with glass on three sides, so you can watch the flames while gearing up to shovel for the next in an unending wave of nor’easters. It’s been a warming, cozy and pacific addition to our home.

Until Sunday, when I awoke to wild scratching and thrashing in the chimney. The cats were fascinated. I was dazed and confused. I almost called the bravest man I know, Chris Cousins, until I remembered that he’s not the most successful varmint hunter.

Before I could pick up the phone, the ash in the stove went poof and a bird appeared — like in all those magic tricks you see as a kid. But there were major differences. The bird was not a dove. It was a starling. And it was on fire.

The stove manual did not explain how to deal with such situations. The cats were no help. I could hear other birds outside squawking. Despite the pandemonium, everyone else in the house was asleep.

I have no training for such situations. But I at least knew that if I just opened the stove door, we would likely end up with a flaming bird flying around inside the house, chased by five cats and an uncoordinated editor.

I did manage to free the bird and avoid burning down the house. I would tell you how I did it, but the whole process made me think that flaming bird removal could be my next career. So I will treat the details as proprietary information and see if Unwanted Hot Chicks is trademarked. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

NOTE: If you’d called, I’d have told you to serve it up with rice and vegetables. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.