the Maine woods in the Boston Globe, part two

Joseph Zorzin redoak at
Mon Sep 25 02:37:34 EST 2000



Author: By Beth Daley, GLOBE STAFF Date: 09/19/2000
Page: D4 Section: Health/Science

Second of two parts

BAR HARBOR, Maine - Strategically situated on this
tourist town's main drag, the Maine Woods Visitors'
Center would thrive if it had one key ingredient: An actual
Upstairs from a store that sells wooden bowls and nestled
among dozens of souvenir shops, the center draws
thousands of visitors each season who come to see a
vision for the enormous imaginary park. If a reality, the
park would encompass 3.2 million acres of Maine's north
woods around Baxter State Park.Idyllic as the idea may
sound, few proposals are more divisive in Maine. The
park would be carved from the heart of timber country,
banning logging in a region where cutting, hauling and
milling wood are the economic lifeblood. Though a new
poll shows majority support statewide, people in northern
Maine passionately oppose the park: Supporters last week
even postponed three public meetings on the plan out of
fear for activists' safety.

Logging in Maine is under siege. Gone are the days when
the lumberjack was a symbol of the state's rugged
individualism and the stench of a paper mill described as
"the smell of money." As the economy becomes less
dependent on the woods, Mainers are increasingly
intolerant of the environmental damage done by woods
industries, from the swaths of forest stripped of trees to
pollution at the mills.

In November, the industry will literally be on trial as
voters decide whether to severely restrict logging
operations in the state. The referendum will limit
landowners from cutting trees faster than new ones can
grow back, based on the average growth rate for the last
ten years. It also requires anyone wanting to cut down all
the trees, a practice known as clearcutting, to get a permit
for parcels larger than five acres.

"The forests of Maine have experienced two million acres
of clearcuts in the last 20 years," said Jonathan Carter, the
former Green Party gubernatorial candidate who is
sponsoring the November referendum. "They have been
cut and harvested so heavily they aren't going to
regenerate. We need this vote to keep the forests

Many timber owners, however, say the referendum's
passage would sound a death knell for a way of life. In
particular, the referendum harms small lot owners who
don't have enough land to manipulate such complicated
cutting limits, they say. Land will be sold for development
because there will be no incentive to invest in woodlands.

Even for environmentalists, however, the referendum
poses a difficult choice. Much as they abhor logging's
excesses, the woods industry's dominance across two
thirds of the state has succeeded at one of their key goals:
keeping the land free of development. As ugly as clearcuts
are, with the gray dead wood they leave behind, the trees
grow back. If a house is built, that piece of forest is gone
forever, they say.

With seven weeks to go until election day, it's unclear
how the vote will turn out. Two similar referenda Carter
sponsored in the last five years failed. But, for people in
woods-related industries, public support for the national
park that they despise serves as a warning that they could
easily lose on the logging issue as well.

In many ways, the heated debate is about two Maines:
The sparsely-populated, woods-dependent north and the
urban Portland and coastal areas where most of the
people live - many who think any cutting of trees is
wrong. The woods industry is campaigning heavily against
the vote in southern Maine.

But choking off the timber industry, many foresters say,
could have the exact opposite affect environmentalists
want by destroying the "working forest." Landowners
who can't make a living in wood, will sell to the highest

"If the only time I saw a tree was in Central Park, I
wouldn't want people to cut it either," said Jim Robbins,
who is the fourth generation in his family to run 30,000
acres of timberlands and a sawmill in Searsmont. The mill
Robbins runs with his brother cuts about 25 million board
feet of wood a year. The two also run a Christmas tree

"But it's different here. This is our way of life," he said.
"If this referendum passes, frankly, I'm out of business."

The timber industry in Maine, in many ways, is fighting a
public image problem. While still the single largest
contributor to the economy in Maine, employing 32,000
people, jobs are disappearing in many of the northern mill
towns, and there is a distrust of the new timber
conglomerates that seemed to come and go at alarming
rates in the last three years

The industry has started down a bumpy road trying to
prove to the public that they do care about the
environment - promising to grow trees so they are around
for their grandchildren and cut in a way so everything
from mosses to moose are safe. Certification programs
have begun to stamp wood `green' so consumers know it
was cut with nature in mind. But as urban New
Englanders - the vast majority without ties to the wood
industry - increasingly come to the north woods for
whitewater rafting, hiking, snowmobiling and other
recreation, `green' may mean no cutting at all.

"We have to protect our environment, and that means
keeping the forest pure," said Martha Branborg, of
Boston, while in Bar Harbor recently. After visiting the
visitor center and being given a fake visitor's guide of the
proposed park, she said she was convinced logging should

"Any cutting is too much," she said, "I don't think we
should trust that the timber companies will have the
forest's best interest at heart."

The push for a national park is more about timber
companies than anything else. Restore: The North
Woods, the Concord, Massachusetts, based group
pushing the idea, and other supporters say the new timber
companies can't be trusted to steward the forest for the
long-term. And they say the real threat to Maine are the
companies' abuse of the land - not development. Because
of all the logging, Maine's trees are younger than they
were 40 years ago, and the old trees needed to host fragile
wildlife are disappearing.

"The streams have been silted, the land degraded," said
Carter. "The argument about development has limited
merit, let's be realistic: how many people are going to
want to go up and put a remote cabin in the middle of
nowhere? It is a threat, but it's somewhat exaggerated.
We want to make the companies care about the forest."

Once, the wood industry defined inland Maine; a giant
statue of Paul Bunyan, ax on shoulder, greeted visitors to
Bangor, the unofficial gateway to the north woods. The
spruce and fir trees were owned by five or six huge
companies. Directly or indirectly, harvsting the trees
employed almost everyone in northern Maine.

Bustling company towns sprang up in the middle of
millions of acres of trees. Great Northern Paper Company
created Millinocket above the West Branch of the
Penobscot. Dubbed "the Magic City" for its amazing
growth in the middle of nowhere, the city grew from
seven people in 1898 to a construction camp for 1,000
workers by the turn of the century. By the 1970s, it had
8,000 residents, and the timber companies were in charge.

"From the 1930s to the '50s, the industry had tremendous
clout in the state," said Dave Field, chair of the
Department of Forest Management at the University of
Maine. "They could get anything done."

By the 1970s, however, the environmental movement
began to challenge that power. Activist Ralph Nadar
devoted one of his well known "Nader Reports" on
Maine's "paper plantation," saying the companies
exploited "the water, air, soil and people of a beautiful
state." In 1974, massive river log drives, which floated
trees down to mills, ended. By the early 1980s, a massive
road-building campaign was underway so the trees could
be hauled to mills on trucks.

The dirty, silty roads weren't particularly pretty, but an
uglier blight was to come: Clearcutting. A tiny insect called
the spruce budworm began attacking the millions of north
woods spruce trees in epidemic numbers. To salvage
them, thousand of acres were cleared of everything, but
stumps using high-tech equipment that literally grabbed
several trees at a time and sliced them off at the base.

>From there, timber companies began tree plantations,
where only the spruce and fir trees for the paper industry
were allowed to grow. To make that happen, they often
sprayed herbicide to kill off the vegetation they don't

Since then, a series of concessions by the timber
companies and state officials have dramatically reduced
the amount of clearcutting. Clearcuts today are seldom
larger than 75 acres and the practice declined from almost
54,000 acres in 1994 to 18,754 acres in 1999.

In fact, some say, the Maine woods is slowly becoming
healthier than its ever been. There are more woods than
ever, thanks to the conversion of farmland back to spruce
forest. And the forest - unlike in the Northwest - has an
amazing ability to regenerate itself naturally. Even in areas
that were clearcut, thousands of spruce shoots make the
ground hard to see. But many say the vast majority of the
public - in southern Maine and far away from the woods,
don't see any of the good.

"You can't just say the forest is in bad shape," said Field.
"I'd say with water quality we are in great shape, and
some kinds of timber supply too. The forest is always
changing and you can't apply one (blanket statement) to

Voters who have nothing to do with the woods will rule
the polls in November. Jobs are declining in the old
company towns and people are moving away. What little
voting power those towns have is whittled away
everytime someone leaves town.

Nowhere is that more visible than in towns such as
Millinocket where the population has declined by 2,700
since 1985. The state's $6 billion a year woods industry is
thriving, but companies are getting more efficient because
of mechanization - and also finding it cheaper to move
mills down south where labor and capital costs are
cheaper. In the last 15 years across the state, jobs in
manufacturing of lumber and wood products, fell from
31,505 in 1985 to 10,522 last year.

In Millinocket, empty storefronts dot Penobscot Avenue
and most people piece together a living with two or three
part-time jobs. Many say they don't know how long they
can hold on, and they live in perpetual fear that the mill
may close altogether.

That's why a national park is needed, says Jym St. Pierre,
of Restore: The North Woods - especially in gateway
towns like Millinocket that are near natural wonders like
Mt. Katahdin. Just like Bar Harbor, which has enjoyed a
booming economy because of Acadia National Park,
Millinocket could serve as an entrance to the splendor of
the woods, he says.

And tourism is increasing in Millinocket, albeit slowly.
More guides are getting certified to lead people up Mt.
Katahdin Maine highest peak. Two whitewater rafting
bases have been built in the three years in town. But
unlike the paper industry, where jobs are $18 to $20 an
hour, most tourism jobs hover around $6 or $7 an hour.

"There used to be an attitude in the woods here that we
only did pulp and paper, but, these days, there is more
accommodation to the tourist trade," said Eugene
Conlogue, town manager of Millinocket. "But it's never
going to compensate for the woods industry. That's why
people are leaving."

Despite their reduced circumstances, Northern Mainers
remain fiercely protective of the timber industry that has
given them jobs and writing paper, grocery bags, homes,
and many other forest products to the rest of the country.
Some sport bumper stickers that say "If you don't like
cutting trees, try using plastic toilet paper."

"Everyone tries to tell us to preserve our heritage and do
what is right," said Luke Muzzy, owner of Century 21
Muzzy Real Estate in Greenville. "But the heritage of
these towns is log trucks rolling through them all the


It's a sober feeling to stand in a field of stumps in view of
regal Mount Katahdin and know that the trees died to
make morning newspapers for people in Boston.

But that's the way the North Woods has been used for
decades, as huge mechanized harvesting machines
denuded hundreds of thousands of acres to make
everything from houses to paper plates.

Now, after years of fighting with environmentalists,
timber companies are trying to convince the public that
they can cut trees and still be good to nature. So far, more
than 2 million of Maine's 16 million forested acres have
been "certified" by outside agencies for following
environment-friendly land management. Another 2 million
acres are under review.

But, while home improvement stores like Home Depot
and Lowe's Home Improvement have recently pledged to
give preference to the green wood, customers so far don't
seem to care. Polls show that most Americans want their
wood to come from ecologically friendly forests, but
many don't seem willing to pay for it at the cash register.

"For the most part, people want to protect our woods, but
their awareness is not really on where the wood is coming
from," said Daniel F. Rawling of Highland Builders &
Design Inc. in Waltham. His business tries to lead
customers toward more ecologically friendly products.
"They don't have that connection."

Even if the connection were there, only a fraction of
America's wood is bought by individual customers. Stores
such as Home Depot mostly sell to the weekend suburban
deck builder or small contractor. The vast amounts of
wood used to build homes or print newspapers are bought
by wholesalers.

"The people who read Greenpeace [magazine] and say
they shouldn't destroy the forest don't buy wood very
often," said Lloyd Irland, a forestry consultant and author
in Maine. "And they don't think about where their
products come from. Why should they be concerned or
even care about the wooden pallet used to transport their
can of beans to get to the grocery store?"

Still, many companies around the country are becoming
certified at huge costs in large part because they think the
market is eventually going to demand green wood. As the
green movement takes hold, they expect they will have to
prove they are managing thriving forests or face tough
regulations that could put them out of business.

Exactly what certification means is up for grabs. Now,
there is an alphabet soup of acronyms of at least four
certification programs. Some, such as the Forest
Stewardship Council, or FSC, are incredibly rigorous,
expensive and rooted in the environmental movement.
But others, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, are
industry-driven and don't require an independent audit or
even full disclosure of what a timber company is doing.

In other words, some certification programs could allow
massive clearcuts and heavy use of environmentally
damaging herbicides to kill commercially less valuable
trees. Another, however, may require only limited use of
the two practices.

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