Volume Five Number Two Late Fall 2001
The proposal for a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve spells the end of the woods industry to some, while others see it as a total panacea for the economic and ecological woes of northern Maine. Neither extreme is accurate. The truth lies somewhere in between. We need to move beyond the extreme rhetoric and move forward with a thoughtful examination of the MWNP proposal. Unfortunately, Mr. Lovaglio's extremist rhetoric and economic analysis just adds fuel to the polarization of the proposal and distracts from meaningful consideration. The head of the Department of Conservation, as a public employee, should not, in my opinion, be engaged in taking sides, but in helping to mediate thoughtful discussion.
In examining Mr. Lovaglio's economic analysis, I find some disturbing flaws. While it may be true that the wood products sector of our economy contributes 5.6 billion to the Gross State Product and that there are about 17 million acres of forestland in Maine, it is totally misleading and patently not true that the industry generates "$323.00 for the state's coffers" per acre of forestland.
We all recognize the importance of the paper industry to Maine's economy, but Mr. Lovaglio's numbers wildly overstate the contribution. At most, only 20% of the $5.6 billion enters the Maine economy, the rest is shipped out of state to corporate headquarters. The truth is that the total woods product industry is responsible for an important 4% of our employment (this is declining rapidly as mills close and technology replaces workers), generates less than 3% of individual tax receipts, and provides about 0.5 % of the general fund from corporate taxes. In sum, a reasonable estimate is about 50 million dollars to state coffers. This represents about 2% of our annual state budget. However, it means that each acre of industrial forestland generates about $6.00 per acre, not Mr. Lovaglio's extreme $323.00! The $6.00 per acre is probably also overstated since not all forestland is equally productive. Due to massive overharvesting and clearcutting, the 3.2 million acres in question are certainly some of the least productive in the state. On the question of jobs, many of the forest related jobs in the proposed MWNP are held by Canadians who do not pay taxes in Maine. This would further erode the current economic input to the state coffers.
The Maine Woods as a natural resource have provided a lot of economic value from fiber extraction. However, times are changing. We must be open to recognizing that the contribution of the Maine Woods to our economy may be far greater if we protect and restore them, rather than simply carry on with business as usual. We must be forward looking, not mired in past truths and current myths. The MWNP may offer the potential to not only restore a vast tract of heavily damaged land, but to improve the lives of the citizens of northern Maine. In my opinion, it would be unwise and irresponsible to leave any rock un-turned in trying to find ways to protect and restore our forests and to better the lives and opportunities for northern Maine citizens.
At the very least, a well thought out and constructed feasibility study of the MWNP should be undertaken. What do we have to fear from gathering information? It can only help us as we struggle to find a solution to the economic and ecological difficulties in northern Maine. We must move beyond Mr. Lovaglio's extremism, and get down to the task of seriously and honestly examining the pro's and con's of a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve.
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