A Voice in the Wilderness

By Jonathan Carter

Ten years ago the paper corporations in Maine operated to a large part outside the purview of public scrutiny. Although a cadre of forest activists were ringing the bells of alarm, their voices were heard pretty much only within the sandbox. Times have changed dramatically. In the last several years we have been able to educate a broad segment of the population about the ecological disaster taking place in the North Woods. Polling shows that well over 70% of the public wants clearcutting and the spraying of toxic herbicides to stop. An overwhelming majority from both the south and the north would support a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve on a willing seller willing buyer basis. Having burst the myth of a Thoreauvian pristine paradise being benignly treated by all caring multinational corporations, we have offered the stark truth of a compromised landscape in decline. Accepting the harsh truth and giving up denial are important steps in bringing about change.

FEN's decision to boycott the public sessions on rule changes to the existing Forest Practices Act was based on the fact that the proposed changes were meaningless. It is clear we can not expect the Maine Forest Service under the leadership of Chuck Gadzik to be anything more than a proxy for the paper corporations. It would have been a waste of our time to participate. However, the recent Timber Supply Report 1995-2045 released by the Forest Service finally admits what we have been saying all along - the forests are being cut faster than they are growing. The problem with the report is that it recommends more intensive management - clearcutting, conversion, and herbiciding - as a way to make up for the shortfall. Indeed, Champion has already announced they plan to double their clearcutting, toxic herbicide applications, and monoculture conversion of natural forests. This approach not only flies in the face of science based silviculture, but also is in direct opposition to the expressed desires of the people of Maine.

What is ironic is that the shortfall could be overcome with a selective harvesting approach. Data shows that fiber yields are two to three times higher on well managed selectively cut lands. Small woodlot owners in Maine (who for the most part do not clearcut or spray herbicides) grow on average .36 cords per acre while on industrial lands the yield is only .18 cords per acre per year.

The huge land sales of over 25% of the North Woods points out the lack of a long term commitment on the part of the industrial owners. Maine is simply a commodity to be bought and sold to maximize corporate short term profit. Plum Creek's acquisition of Sappi lands portends an ominous future for the North Woods. Not only does this company have a reputation as a massive clearcutter in the Pacific Northwest and as a chipper in the Southeast, it openly markets its land for real estate development. In addition, the Irving Ltd. of Canada purchase of a million acres of northern Maine portends more clearcutting, monoculture plantation, and chemical application forestry.

In New Brunswick Irving has converted 50% of its extensive holding into biologically 'dead' chemical dependent plantations. On a positive note, the 650,000 acres purchased by MacDonald Investment Co. of Birmingham Alabama will be managed by a forest management company, Wagner, which does a "relatively good job" on the Hancock lands it currently oversees in Maine.

All these land sales, coming on the coattails of the recent forest practices debate, reconfirm the need for large scale wilderness purchases. Once again public sentiment supports large scale acquisition, but the politicians seem oblivious to their desires. Is it unreasonable to place 30% of the 10.4 million acres comprising the North Woods into the public trust to remain forever wild? Maine has one of the lowest percentages (less than 5%) of public lands in the country - compare this with Vermont at 15%, New Hampshire at 19%, and Massachusetts at 24%. It is time for the state of Maine to call for a ten year 300 million dollar bond issue to purchase public lands.

With 50% fewer logging jobs and 25% fewer mill jobs than ten years ago, with companies closing mills and moving offshore, with the biological health of the forest severely damaged and the fiber yields diminishing, it makes sense to protect and restore some of our natural heritage before it is too late. Like the shoe industry and the chicken industry, the paper corporations are on the move out of Maine. They are leaving a wake of destruction - broken communities, unemployed workers, and devastated forests. It is time that we recognize that the highest and best use of part of the North Woods is not a fiber farm, but a place where natural ecosystems thrive. Not to act now to protect and initiate the process of restoration would compromise Maine's economic future.

A central part of the economic revitalization of northern Maine should be large scale wilderness reclamation. The National Park and Preserve being proposed by RESTORE: The North Woods offers tremendous hope for protecting the biological diversity of the forests and offering a new and lasting strategy for the development of an economic base for the most depressed areas of the state. It represents a balanced win-win opportunity for both the people of the region and the forest.

The unfolding of forest related issues has never been more pronounced in recent history. And, in my opinion, is only going to accelerate as the winds of change pick up speed. We must be ready and willing to fight for the heart and soul of Maine, Thoreau's Woods. FEN will continue to work relentlessly for sound silviculture and the restoration of Maine wilderness. We are committed to bring about a new wildland ethic which stands resolutely for diversity and long term biocentric relationships with the natural world. Our work today is critical if we are to leave a legacy that future generations can honor and emulate.