VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
FOREST HOPE AND RESTORATION
by Jonathan Carter, Director of the Forest Ecology Network
The summer has been busy - attending conferences, meeting with the Governor and the congressional delegation, participating in workshops, promoting the ecological and economic benefits of forest restoration through the creation of a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve, and advocating moving away from industrial forestry (clearcuts/plantations/herbicides) toward low impact sustainable silviculture.
I have also been able to spend considerable time in the North Woods observing current forest practices. Last spring I returned after twenty years to canoe my favorite river, the St. John. A mere two decades ago, access to the headwaters was by float plane only. I remember vividly the flight out of Greenville to the headwaters. A sea of unbroken forest canopy fragmented by numerous wilderness lakes and ponds extended to the horizon.
This time I was able to travel by vehicle to the put-in and take-out points. Needless to say, the on the ground experience was one of massive forest destruction. At one point, we drove through International Paper and Irving land for over eighty miles without seeing a tree greater than three inches in diameter - and of course many of those miles were through herbicide-sprayed clearcuts. Where there had never been car access along the river, vehicles could be found parked. At the same time a walk of a few hundred feet away from the banks of the river revealed more of the "good" work of industrial forestry. While the river was still magnificent, the wilderness had been compromised. I am sure the river could hear the sap-curdling groan of the forest and the cry of the displaced homeless creatures.
In several other trips traveling by foot through over fifty miles of the western mountains, I did not find one view-shed which did not exhibit an array of clearcuts. In fact, in one valley on the west side of Mt. Abraham, where years ago I was dropped by helicopter (the only way to get in) to census owl populations, the denuded areas and road system dominated the landscape. Looking north from the top of Bigelow Mountain, fresh clearcut scars, the handiwork of Plum Creek Timber Company, stood out like rotten spots on fresh fruit.
There are those who will tell you that the battle for the forest is lost. Why bother trying to save a forest ecosystem which is so terribly reduced? The answer of course is that the hope of restoration is very real. While I may never see again in my life time the St. John River corridor recovered or the western mountains intact, rather than allow the tide of destruction to continue, we can implement change which will promote restoration. Knowing what was, allows us to know what, given time, can be. This is why, in no uncertain terms, we must continue to fight for sound silviculture and the return of wilderness.
Recently, I had the opportunity to view a color coded map showing degrees of wildness in the lower forty-eight states. Wild areas, those that were undeveloped and had low population densities, were designated by sky blue. While the western states had large areas in the form of national parks and forests, the eastern seaboard was devoid of any significant wild areas except for this large patch of sky blue located in the north woods of Maine. The map was a striking visualization of the uniqueness of what we have here in Maine. Wildness is a scarce commodity in the east. We should heed Thoreau's words, "in wildness is the preservation of the world". If we don't protect it now, it will be gone tomorrow - and the next generation of this map will show the north woods color coded like New Jersey, Maryland or any other part of the eastern megalopolis.
The Forest Ecology Network's mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the Maine Woods. We will never compromise this mission. Compromise is what we pay politicians to do. As we move forward in our efforts to promote sustainable forestry and to the create a 3.2 million acre park and preserve, we must not waver in the face of constant, but fundamentally flawed, opposition. Their fight is about power and greed. Our fight is about hope and restoration. I am convinced that hope and restoration will win. David Brower once said "politicians are like weather vanes. The role of environmentalist is to make the wind blow like hell". We must continue to push hard using whatever tools are necessary - referenda, legislative initiatives, protests, educational outreach, and dialogue. As forest activists we should remember the words of Winston Churchill, " Success is never final, failure is never fatal, courage is the only thing".