CONTRIBUTORS

North Woods park unhealthy for Maine’s forests and economy

Posted Oct. 06, 2011, at 5:18 p.m.

Since 1881 my family has owned and operated a white pine sawmill in Searsmont employing 110 men and women. Much of our log supply comes from Northern Maine, so naturally we are concerned about future supply. There has been a lot of talk about wood supply regarding the proposed national park and that it won’t be needed because the paper mills and forest products industry are in decline.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Maine is producing more timber, paper and wood products than ever, not to mention the Millinocket mills coming back online. The threat of permanently losing any wood supply negatively affects mills in Maine, including our own, that depend on a steady wood supply from that area.

The global population is constantly growing and with it, the increased demand for paper and wood products. Tying up land for single uses such as a national park does not make sense. There is no reason that we can’t have both recreation and timber harvest from the same tracts of land as has been the tradition in Maine.

In the United States there are already 266 million acres of woodland tied up in parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and other preserves. That is 13.3 times the size of the entire state of Maine. How much more do we need? Maine is one of the best areas in the world to grow wood and we should utilize its capability.

By far the poorest managed land in the country is that owned by the federal government. The reason much of the forest land in the West burns out of control each year is because those lands are no longer being harvested due to lawsuits from various environmental groups. Consequently the trees get old, become infested with insects and disease, then die and become tinder for fires.

While fires are necessary to the forest ecosystem, they are unpredictable and can easily spread and burn out of control. The park service has a policy that calls for letting naturally occurring fires continue to burn within park boundaries so long as property is not endangered. There are many examples of this policy having disastrous consequences such as the Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988 that burned 800,000 acres and the Baxter Park fire of 1977 that escaped the park boundaries and burned over a lot of land owned by Great Northern Paper Co.

This proposed park has the potential to become a breeding ground for fire, insect and disease infestations that will spread onto surrounding working forests. Do we really want that type of management here in Maine? There are better uses for our most precious natural resources than to hand over control of productive forest land to the federal government.

I keep reading that if the park is created it won’t affect the surrounding 10 million acres. This is not true. In addition to the hazards stated above, the park will restrict access to surrounding lands. Many land owners that abut national parks in other parts of the country have been limited in their timber harvests and land use because of buffer zones that were set up around the parks.

I find it ironic that Roxanne Quimby says she wants to create a national park to give people access to the Maine woods. She is the first large landowner in Maine to ever shut off public access to the land. Some large landowners charge gate fees to help maintain the roads, but at least we have reliable access to the land.

She says that if the park is created that she will make another 30,000 acres available for snowmobiling, hunting and fishing which is access that Maine’s people have traditionally always had to that land — until she bought it!

Roxanne Quimby owns the land and has a right to do with it whatever she wants. If she wants to truly help us out, she should consider a conservation easement on the area. That way the land wouldn’t be removed from the tax base, timber and mill jobs would be preserved and the land could always be available to the public for recreation. Everyone would be a winner.

Jim Robbins is the fourth generation owner of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont. Gov. LePage recently awarded him the Austin Wilkins Award for Forest Stewardship.

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