McGowan outlines forest initiative

Posted April 22, 2010, at 10:20 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pat McGowan offered additional details Thursday of an economic plan that he said would simultaneously strengthen Maine’s forest products industry and protect the state’s natural resources.

As commissioner of Maine’s Department of Conservation, McGowan was a key architect of a proposal focused on large-scale land conservation and encouraging sustainable management of Maine’s expansive commercial timberlands. McGowan stepped down as commissioner earlier this year to run for governor.

But a broad coalition of interest groups sometimes at odds with each other on land use issues — including timberland owners, environmental leaders and the paper mills — has continued to work on the proposal.

State officials plan to seek federal funding for the “Great Maine Forest Initiative,” which they hope could become a new model for public-private collaboration. The initiative proposes “landscape-scale” conservation largely through easements that keep forests in sustainable timber management and protect public access.

On Thursday, McGowan made the initiative a major part of his campaign platform heading into the June 8 primary. McGowan said he also would like to see the initiative include policies that encourage long-term wood supply and “green energy” contracts between landowners and mills.

“We need to reconnect our land base with our manufacturing facilities,” McGowan said in a statement. “We can use government policy to encourage landowners to have long-term, firm fiber supply and energy contracts with Maine mills. We can turn wood into high value products or critically needed energy right here in Maine.”

During an event at a University of Maine laboratory dedicated to pulp and paper research, McGowan said suggestions that Maine’s papermaking days are limited are entirely wrong.

By focusing on the growing market for wood supplies that have been independently certified as being sustainably managed, Maine’s forest products industry and mills can better compete globally and help create a “Maine brand,” he said.

“We are making more paper today than ever and are making better paper than ever,” McGowan said. “[The initiative] ties the land back to the paper mills and more importantly … to the people and to the jobs.”

McGowan said he “stepped away” from the initiative planning process when he announced his candidacy for governor in order to avoid introducing politics into the discussion.

Some observers have suggested that despite the involvement of landowners and forest industry representatives, the Great Maine Forest Initiative is actually a back-door attempt to create a national forest in Maine.

McGowan said there is no basis for such statements.

“I can state emphatically that I don’t favor a national park and that I don’t favor a national forest,” McGowan said.