In his Dec. 12 letter to the editor, “Park not the answer,” blaming “environmental zealots” for the demise of Great Northern Paper Co., Stu Kallgren forgot to mention a few important facts.
First, it was mismanagement by a succession of corporate owners that brought down GNP, not concern over the Big A Dam, as much as that project would have been environmentally devastating.
Second, most of the conservation organizations Kallgren listed were not even involved in the Big A Dam issue. RESTORE: The North Woods, for example, was not founded until nearly a decade after the Big A Dam question was settled.
Third, the forest industry has been and will be an important part of Maine’s economy, but it is shrinking because of global competition and the explosion of electronic communication. For example, the Maine Department of Labor reports Maine paper manufacturing employment has plummeted from 18,000 workers in 1947 to barely 6,000 jobs in 2013. With the mill closings this year, it has dropped by hundreds more. Annual paper manufacturing wages in Maine contracted by more than $40 million, or 27 percent, from 2001 to 2013, and the freefall continues.
Fourth, tourism already has a larger impact on the Maine economy than forest products. According to a report, “The Economic Impact of Privately-Owned Forests in the United States,” prepared for the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the total economic contribution of private forestlands to Maine’s gross domestic product is $1.5 billion. Tourism in Maine, by contrast, generates upwards of $10 billion in sales plus $3 billion in earnings and at least 88,000 jobs — over 15 times more jobs than the paper industry.
Fifth, national parks are economic engines. Across the U.S., national parks support nearly $27 billion per year in local private-sector economic activity and a quarter million private sector jobs. Every dollar invested in national parks generates at least $10 in economic value to the public. Acadia National Park generates more than $200 million in spending each year and anchors over 3,000 private-sector jobs.
Finally, Kallgren did not reveal he is president of the Katahdin-area United Steelworkers union as well as the Maine Leaseholders Association and a longtime opponent of conservation efforts in the region. He also has fought GNP and its successors for years, even when he worked for the company. He is entitled to his opinion but not his own facts.
Since 1980, more than half of Maine’s paper mills and countless hardwood mills have been shuttered, and thousands of mill and woods workers have lost their jobs. Mill towns have been economically devastated. Every economic assessment for Maine I have seen has documented and projected fewer jobs in the forest industry and growth in other sectors such as recreation.
Bitterness and blame about the past will not solve northern Maine’s economic challenges for the future. Neither will throwing more money at shriveling industries.
Our state needs a coherent strategy to take advantage of global economic opportunities in the 21st century that taps into our special brand of quality of place. That includes positive action to protect the extraordinary natural values of the Maine woods and to build a more diverse economy that welcomes visitors to enjoy the beauty of this unique region.
Jym St. Pierre is Maine Director of RESTORE: The North Woods based in Hallowell.