The campaign to create a national park in northern Maine has changed course a bit in the past few months. There is now an effort underway by Elliotsville Plantation Inc. to bypass Congress and convince President Barack Obama to designate this land a national monument instead of as a national park. After careful consideration, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine has decided it is time to voice its opposition.
The PLC is a trade association that represents logging contractors in Maine. Our membership employs nearly 2,500 people and is responsible for about 75 percent of Maine’s annual timber harvest. As such, we must weigh all the ramifications of a national monument designation on the logging industry, an industry with a long and proud tradition throughout Maine as well as the Katahdin region. We are extremely concerned that unilateral action to designate a national monument would seriously harm our industry.
Maine loggers working in the region depend on private landowners, access to existing roads and right-of-ways, and stable regulations to operate effectively. This enables our members to supply the raw material for not only pulp and paper mills but biomass electric facilities, sawmills, wood pellet plants and producers of plywood and fiberboard, not only here in Maine but across our region. We believe all these things will be jeopardized should the land in question become federally owned.
While it is true Maine’s paper industry has suffered, its troubles have not negatively impacted logging and the greater forest products industry to the extent that park supporters have led the public to believe. In fact, total wood harvested in Maine actually increased from 13.5 million green tons in 2011 to 14.6 million green tons in 2014. Additionally, forest products companies such as Ecoshel, Huber Corp., Irving, Louisiana Pacific and ReEnergy have invested millions of dollars in new infrastructure in the region. This shows the industry is actually growing, not disappearing.
While the PLC has a deep respect for the rights of private landowners, we also believe it is their responsibility to act in ways that do not harm their neighbors’ livelihoods. The designation of a national monument on the EPI land through executive order would only serve to further divide communities already split over the issue and discourage future markets. This, along with the fact that three of Maine’s four congressional members have serious concerns and do not endorse such a move, clearly demonstrates now is not the time for a national monument or a park. Their resistance also may be the driver behind this new attempt to circumvent Congress and lead with a monument instead of a park.
The PLC also is disappointed that EPI and its president, Lucas St. Clair, have so far made little effort to embrace the importance of timber harvesting to the region or to ensure it will remain a viable industry alongside whatever their land ultimately becomes.
The PLC has attempted to work with EPI on several occasions to educate its leadership on the value of timber harvesting and sustainable forest management. We also have provided suggestions for how any type of federal declaration must incorporate sustainable timber management and act as an educational showpiece to the world. EPI has been willing to listen but has never fully understood how a federal declaration could not only co-exist with forest management but champion its ethos. This is a shortsighted decision and not one that fully embraces the history of timber harvesting in the region and its future.
Supporters of a national monument designation may be under the illusion that the parcel EPI wishes to donate, as well as the surrounding land, is a pristine, undisturbed wilderness of old-growth trees. In fact, the land and most of the region have been working forests for generations. The beauty people see there today is a result of responsible forest management and logging. Far from destroying the forests, loggers are part of this responsible management. Preserving Maine’s forests as “working forests” is the best way to ensure their protection and health for future generations.
St. Clair, EPI and the people of Maine should carefully consider what they want the future of the Katahdin region to be. Is it to be only a forest, with 150 years of proud industry history consigned to the pages of guidebooks for tourists? Or should it remain a showcase to the world of how well the interests of industry, outdoors enthusiasts and seasonal visitors can be accommodated in a working forest for years to come?
Dana Doran is the executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.