BANGOR, Maine — The term “natural resources” means different things to different people. In Maine, the dividing line often falls between the state’s forest products industry and those with a mission to keep Maine’s wilderness essentially as it is.
Roxanne Quimby, who is best-known as the co-founder of the now internationally known Burt’s Bees line of skin and beauty products, falls decidedly in the latter category.
Through an Old Town-based conservation and philanthropy entity Quimby founded called Elliotsville Plantation Inc., she has purchased and preserved approximately 120,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods.
So when Quimby, who sold most of her stake in Burt’s Bees in 2003, was appointed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar last month to the National Park Foundation board of directors, there were mixed reactions across the state. While some saw her high-level appointment as a victory in the name of land conservation, others said they feared Quimby’s involvement with the National Parks Foundation would advance talk of a controversial proposal to create a national park in northern Maine.
“We’re always interested in what Roxanne Quimby is thinking,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, a lobbying firm that represents 400 companies and more than 50,000 Mainers who work in or are supported by the forest products industry.
“It’s hard not to draw some conclusions about why she would want to be in that position,” said Strauch. “We watch very carefully what land we lose to preservation, and it’s starting to add up. We can have all the recreational benefits of a forest while making sure it’s still productive for forest products.”
Quimby could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday through Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the National Park Foundation or Burt’s Bees.
The National Park Foundation, which calls itself “the official charity of America’s national parks” on its website, was chartered by Congress in 1967. The foundation’s major function is raising private-sector funds to support national parks. Those funds support everything from conservation and restoration efforts to programs that promote visitation at the parks. The foundation’s board includes 23 people ranging from high-level government officials to a mix of corporate CEOs and presidents of major philanthropic organizations.
Quimby is one of two Mainers on the board. David E. Shaw of Prouts Neck in Scarborough also was named to the board last month. Shaw is the founder and retired CEO of IDEXX Laboratories, founding CEO of Ikaria Holdings and former chairman of the Jackson Laboratories’ board of directors, among various other posts. Shaw also is director of Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership.
Shaw’s appointment didn’t cause nearly the stir in Maine as Quimby’s did; none of the sources for this story realized Shaw had a connection to Maine.
Stephen Lumbra, co-owner of Lumbra Hardwoods, a sawmill in Milo, said the news of Quimby’s appointment came through his brother, Benny, who is co-owner of the sawmill and a member of the Maine Woods Coalition. Stephen Lumbra said he and many others in the forest products industry see Quimby’s efforts as a threat to their future.
“It bothered me,” said Lumbra of Quimby’s appointment. “To have someone who has a national park in mind for the state of Maine, to put someone like that in this position, I think it’s detrimental to our industry. It sets a precedent of leaning toward a park.”
In addition to putting more and more land off-limits to loggers, Lumbra said the federal parks and preserves take private land off the tax rolls.
“The federal agencies already control enough land in this country,” he said.
The process of creating a national park in northern Maine does not appear to be advancing at present. According to Jym St. Pierre, director of a Hallowell-based organization called RESTORE: The North Woods, who is a key supporter of the national park idea, Congress would have to first conduct a feasibility study about creating a new national park. If the study showed the project to be feasible, Congress could then allocate funding for the gradual creation of the park. Private donations are typically an important part of the process.
St. Pierre said despite efforts by himself and others over the years, the proposal has yet to be the subject of a congressional feasibility study, though RESTORE has commissioned its own economic impact analysis. He said Quimby has always been a strong ally.
“She’s been quite straightforward that her interest is in collecting lands for their wilderness character,” said St. Pierre. “In my opinion, she deserves a lot more credit and appreciation than she receives for both her business acumen and conservation work. She’s using her hard-earned money from her businesses to serve the public interest. It’s extraordinary.”
Jonathan Carter, director of the Forest Ecology Network — another passionate supporter of the national park idea — said Quimby’s appointment “could be a very positive thing for Maine” whether it brings a national park or not.
“She can be a voice for using the influence of the foundation to get at a very minimum a feasibility study done by Congress,” said Carter.
Rep. Herbert Clark, D-Millinocket, said the influence of Quimby’s new post remains to be seen and called her appointment a “double-edged sword.” He said he and others have lobbied Quimby for years to allow snowmobile and ATV access to her land, which in recent years has met with some success — though nothing close to the kind of access Clark and others seek. Still, Clark said many are worried about the future, not the past.
“There’s a lot of us having some heartburn over this,” said Clark. “A lot of people had a lot of talks at the coffee shops when this announcement came out. I’m not saying what she’s doing is all bad. What I’m saying is that we ought to just keep our eye on this storm as it’s brewing.”
Marjorie Hall, a spokeswoman for the National Park Foundation, said it was Quimby’s support of national parks in general — not her land holdings — that qualified her for the board.
“Though the board is composed of diverse individuals with varying interests and backgrounds, the common denominator among them is shared passion and commitment to the national parks,” Hall said in an e-mail. “To that end, Ms. Quimby was an exemplary fit for the National Park Foundation board of directors.”
Carter said he saw some attacks of Quimby’s activities as unjust.
“People have lashed out at her and I think that’s unfortunate,” said Carter. “She’s really trying to do what she thinks is in the best long-term interest of the state of Maine.”
Clark disagreed and said caution seems prudent.
“People ought to be proactive about knowing what’s going on,” he said. “If you sit back on your heels, there’s no telling what will happen.”