In a state dense with timberland, Maine’s district foresters have a serious challenge providing landowners with timely information about good forestry practices and changes in state law. There are 10 district foresters employed by the Maine Forest Service and more than 17 million acres of workable forest land across the state. Many first-time land buyers don’t know about the services offered by consulting foresters, and often there is no other ready source of advice on the implications of owning forestland.
Last year, district foresters began connecting with a powerful ally: Maine’s army of real estate agents, the middle-men and -women for most of the state’s thousands of annual land sales.
Ken Canfield, a forester for one of Maine’s southernmost districts, developed a three-hour class for real estate agents on forestry and forestry law in 2008. In the course, entitled “How Forestry Practices and Laws Can Potentially Affect Your Client,” agents are encouraged to alert landowners and would-be landowners about the resources available through the Maine Forest Service. They are also introduced to the potential tax benefits and restrictions on land enrolled in the Tree Growth Tax Law (Maine’s version of current use tax assessment), a program that taxes forestland on its productive value rather than its fair market value. The class also seeks to spread the word about the state’s 2005 law intended to curb “liquidation harvesting,” the practice of buying timberland, removing the merchantable timber, then quickly selling the barren parcel.
“It is a lot easier to talk to real estate agents than it would be to talk to everyone who might be buying land,” Canfield said.
So far, Canfield has given the course two times in Portland, while two other foresters, Jim Ecker and Steve MacDonald, offered it twice in the Bangor region. Each time, the presentation, which is free of charge, has attracted between 20 and 35 real estate agents, who receive continuing education credits from the Maine Real Estate Commission for participating. Agents must earn a certain number of credits every two years to maintain their state license. The foresters believe that this accreditation component has been key to the program’s draw.
Canfield does not expect real estate agents to recall the intricacies of the state’s “current use” designation or Maine’s liquidation harvesting law after a three-hour course. But he hopes they will be able to let their clients know that these programs and regulations exist and to refer them to the Maine Forest Service for more information.
“The take-home message is call us if you have a question,” Canfield said. That message appears to be sinking in. The real estate agents who attended a course in early March of this year at the Keller Williams Realty office in Portland found it informative, according to Keller Williams agent Doug Greene.
“What it teaches us is, if we are dealing with large parcels of land, if in doubt, check with the Forest Service, and really do our due diligence,” said Greene. “A lot of us really didn’t know much about this.”