Woods Coalition criticizes forest initiative

Posted Feb. 15, 2010, at 10:46 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:05 p.m.

Several Millinocket Town Council members have come out against a draft proposal of the “Great Maine Forest Initiative” and might be joined by the Maine Woods Coalition early next month, the coalition’s leader said Monday.

Coalition President Anne Mitchell spoke critically of the initiative, which the Baldacci administration supports and a host of environmentalists, landowners and forestry businesses are formulating, but said her organization wouldn’t make a final decision on it until next month.

“We just see it as a rewrite of the Northern Forest Stewardship Act in the 1990s, which was quite forcefully rejected,” Mitchell said Monday.

“It is just another attempt to gain control of the north Maine woods by government agencies, state and federal NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and environmental organizations, which ultimately results in job losses in the forest industry,” she said.

The draft proposal calls for a public-private partnership to seek federal funding to protect anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million acres of working forests in the largest unfragmented forest east of the Mississippi River.

The proposal calls for working with landowners to protect land largely through conservation easements. Some “special places,” such as old-growth forests or areas with particular value from a recreational or ecological standpoint, could be purchased from willing property owners with help from federal dollars.

State officials said the initiative would focus on certifying more timberland as being managed sustainably, with potential for a “Great Maine Forest” brand to grow into a significant selling point for Maine forest industry wood products. Other aspects of the initiative would focus on ways to lower energy costs or increase effi-ciency at mills and convert to locally grown “green” fuel sources.

Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said the coalition voted 12-0 during a meeting in Dover-Foxcroft to oppose the initiative, calling it an effort “to lock up our area from ourselves.

“Our goal will be to stop this thing as dead in its tracks as we can,” Conlogue, the coalition’s vice president, told the Town Council at a meeting on Feb. 11. “This comes to no good for northern Maine. It is a job loser, an economy destroyer, and it will not benefit anybody who tries to make a living in this area.”

Councilors Jimmy Busque, David Cyr and Michael Madore agreed with Conlogue. They said that the plan is the product of environmentalists looking to deny Mainers access to lands they have used for work and preserved as the fiber or wood basket of America for generations.

“The Department of Conservation is trying to eliminate us from the fiber basket,” Cyr said, adding that maps of the proposal show the fiber basket moved to western Maine.

“I am sick of people trying to come into the state of Maine and try to save us from ourselves,” Madore said. “I look at the condition of some of the wilderness areas in some states and I [see] how poorly they are taken care of. The Maine forest we have taken care of for hundreds of years.”

Maine Audubon Society, Maine Forest Products Council, The Sierra Club, Huber Resources, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Prentiss & Carlisle, the Trust for Public Land, the Maine Tree Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Maine Quality of Place Council, Baskahegan Co., the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, the Forest Society of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club are among the organizations writing the draft proposal.

They hope to offer it to federal authorities next month.

The coalition is a public interest group that promotes the current relationship between private landowners and the access allowed the public. The group seeks to ensure that decisions regarding the Maine woods come with aid from region stakeholders, according to its Web site, mainewoodscoalition.org.

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