Maine Woods National Park
The Economic Value of Protecting Wildlands

Most of southern Maine is prospering while most of northern Maine is languishing. Northern counties have seen their manufacturing jobs go away and nothing has moved in to replace them.
--Michael Hillard, Economist, University of Southern Maine

For centuries people have cherished the Maine Woods as a home for a rich mix of wildlife, as a resource for timber and paper, and as a place to enjoy canoeing, camping, hiking, and other recreational activities. Yet, an over-reliance on a declining forest products industry has made the economy of Maine vulnerable, especially in an increasingly competitive global market.

Recent job cuts and large land sales underscore the need to generate additional sources of employment to compensate for the continuing demise of the forest industry in Maine. More than 2.5 million acres of forest land in the Maine Woods changed hands in late 1998 and early 1999 in a small number of sales. These sales show that there are opportunities for the public to purchase and protect large areas as the foundation of a more diversified economy for Maine and the Northeast. Creating a new Maine Woods National Park & Preserve could be one of the most beneficial economic development initiatives for northern Maine in decades.

An Economic Problem: Over-reliance on a Declining Forest Products Industry

Study after study has found that forest industry jobs have been declining in Maine over the past few decades, despite increased logging, and that more forestry jobs will be lost in the coming years whether our mills and woods operations are modernized or not. Indeed, expanding mechanization and automation will leave fewer and fewer forestry jobs for Maine workers.

*Even thought total timber cutting in Maine increased by 67% between 1960-1994, total employment in Maine's lumber and paper industries decreased by 27% during that period. In 1960, the cutting of 1,000 cords of timber supported 9.6 jobs in Maine. In 1994, cutting the same amount of timber supported less than half (4.2) as many lumber and paper jobs. Similarly, in 1960, 1 in 11 people were employed in the forest industry in Maine. Now it is fewer than 1 in 23.

*Employment in the Katahdin-Moosehead region is especially vulnerable to shifts in the forest industry. In that region 13.4% of total employment is in the forest products industry, as compared to 4.9% in the rest of Maine. From 1984-94, 3,500 forest industry jobs were lost there, a 44% drop in employment. Logging jobs alone fell even farther, down 54%.

*The U.S. General Accounting Office projects that forest products industry employment will decrease by at least 27% over the next 50 years, even if timber cutting across the nation increases by 55%. The Maine Department of Labor forecasts that employment in Maine's lumber and paper industries will decline at least another 4 and 7 percent respectively by 2005.

*Not only fobs are at risk. The legislative Commission on the Future of the Paper Industry found that sales and income taxes from paper manufacturing in Maine plummeted from $39 million in 1988 to less than $12 million in 1992.

An Attractive Solution: Expanding Public Lands

The healthy forests, unspoiled mountains, pristine waters, clean air and diverse wildlife of the traditional Maine Woods has long made northern Maine and extraordinary place to live, work and recreate. This unique wildland heritage is valued by residents and visitors seeking beautiful scenery, recreation in a natural landscape, and rural towns with a slower pace. It is the foundation of the region's quality of life and its economy. If these special qualities of the Maine Woods are permanently protected, they will serve as the basis for a strong economy in the future. If they are not, the region will lose it potential economic advantage over other regions.

Maine has a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the most distinctive natural asset of the Katahdin-Moosehead region, its legendary reputation as one of America's great wilderness areas. By protecting special places in this beautiful region as public land, we can make it a major attraction for people and businesses seeking to relocate to a high quality environment, and for tourists looking for refuge in an increasingly fast-paced world. A Maine Woods National Park & Preserve offers enormous economic value to the public.

*Wildlands have important ecological values, such as water and air filtration, biodiversity protection, recreation and scenic beauty. Only recently have economists been able to measure the economic value of the "ecosystem services." Based on the estimated ecosystem services values calculated in one recent study, the Sappi and Bowater lands recently sold would have been worth more than $250 million per year if protected in public ownership.

*Protecting more public wildlands will attract clean businesses to Maine. The number of new high tech and service jobs created Maine between 1986-1994 was 16 times greater than the number of lumber and paper industry jobs lost during the same period. However, most of the new jobs were in southern Maine. We will attract well-paying service and professional jobs (such as trade, transportation, finance, business, health care, legal services and education) to northern Maine if we protect and restore the natural environment in key areas through public ownership.

*At the same time we should not underestimate the economic potential of tourism. already tourism has become at least a $3 billion industry in Maine. Tourism employs over 78,000 people, making it the state's single largest employment sector. But the vast majority of those jobs are in southern Maine. Similarly, lodging in northern Maine generates only one-tenth as much as along the coast. Permanently protected public areas in northern Maine would attract tourists who want to visit beautiful forests and would be a magnet for new bed and breakfasts, inns, motels, and resorts.

*The potential particularly for ecotourism businesses in the wild Maine Woods is enormous. the growth in non-consumptive activities, such as wildlife watching, kayaking, canoeing and backpacking, has been explosive. Birders alone spend over $5 billion a year on goods and services in the United States. One survey found birding to be the fastest growing recreational activity in America from 1982-1995. More than 10% of the adults in the U.S. now take birding trips. Wildlife recreation contributes in excess of $1 billion to the economy of Maine every year.

*There are economic advantages to keeping wildlands undeveloped since open space costs much less to service than developed land. Recent studies from southern New England and New York show that open space costs governemtna n average of $0.34 for $1 in revenue generated by those lands. In contrast, residential lands costs $1.15 for each $1 in revenue.

*Properties near protected lands are worth more than otherwise similar properties. The value of land in the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve rose by an average of 35% after the reserve plan went into effect there. Near the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont land is approximately 8% more valuable in towns with federal Wilderness Areas than in towns without.

*The economies of rural counties with national parks, such as Rocky Mountain in Colorado and Yosemite in California, support higher incomes, lower unemployment, less poverty, a higher level of education, and more employees in professional jobs than the forest products-dependent economies of Maine. For example, the average household income is almost $9,000 higher in counties with national parks, than in Maine's Piscataquis County.

*A study of the proposed Maine Woods National Park shows that it could generate between $109 million and $435 million in annual retail sales, and it could support 5,000 to 20,000 jobs in Maine.

Selected sources:
Costanza, R. et al. 1998. Ecological Economics (25):3-15.
Gateway to a Healthy Economy. 1996. RESTORE: The North Woods.
Power, Thomas Michael. Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies. 1996. Island Press.
Valuing the Nature of Maine. 1996. Maine Audubon Society.

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