The Amazing Forests of Maine

R.O. Voight

November 07, 1998

There are 16 million acres of timberland forest in Maine. The largest privately owned acreage of pure forest in the United States. Historically there are now more forest acres than there were in the 1880's, for then millions of acres in the western and middle portion of the state had been cleared for agriculture. Since the early 1900's that land has returned to forest growth.

The growth rate of timber in Maine forests is rated at 26 cubic feet per acre per year. As a reference there are 85 cubic feet in a single cord of wood. An unusual characteristic of the Maine forests is their natural regeneration. This characteristic is typical of most northeastern states. Because of this regeneration forest owners do not have to replant after harvesting. A few do, perhaps some 7000 acres per year, but this is insignificant considering the total acreage harvested each year. This is one of the factors that makes ownership and harvesting of Maine forest an economical activity.

The forests of Maine are the economic foundation to the total economic health of Maine. It is the wood and wood products generated by Maine forests that are the lifeblood of Maine. Those wood and wood products businesses provide tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs for Maine citizens. In the 1600's the King's ships came to the Maine woods for their masts, considered the straightest and strongest masts anywhere. In the 1850's Bangor was called the lumber capital of the world. In the late 1800's Lubec had numerous ship building yards. They built some of the three and four-masted ships for the whaling industry. Today the privately owned forests of Maine are highly prized as profitable money and product generating sources. There are few places in the world that can match them point by point. Witness the quick turnaround sale of the Sappi Land, the two sales for Bowater land. These were not fluke sales. These were opportunities pounced on by sharp entrepreneurs in the timber and the wood product industry.

The major negative factor of the Maine forests as viewed by the CEO's of the industry, is the constant pressure and activity by the radical enviros to put the Maine forests in public ownership and to shut down the industry. We have been successful for the past decade to shunt aside, to prevent, to slow the progress of these dedicated, nature driven, pagan worshiping radicals. But they are not quitting nor going away. The war goes on.

The radicals' basic strategy is built around incrementalism. Each year they try to gain more control by a regulation here, a simple appearing legislation there, attacking woods industry methods, and using apocalyptic terms about the condition of the woods. There is no question that their ultimate goal is to shut down all wood industry and return the forests to primeval wilderness. It is all covered in the four inch thick United Nations protocol to the Biodiversity Treaty.

The grassroots activists here in Maine prevented passage of the 1991 federal Northern Forest Lands Act. The grassroots activists weakened and watered down the results of the Northern Forest Lands Council and their final report, "Finding Common Ground". They prevented passage for four years in a row of the Senator Leahy Northern Forest Stewardship Act, most recently last month, for the fourth time. The governor and the enviros attempted to take control of the forests by Compact I and Compact II, two years in a row. Both bills in referendum form were defeated by the grassroots activists, protecting the integrity of the privately owned forests.

Two years ago the enviros tried to pass state legislation to halt development in 4.2 million acres of forest. The purpose of this legislation was to initiate the first step in the creation of the "Wilderness Project" here in Maine. Again this is in conformance with the Global Biodiversity Assessment protocol. Grassroots testimony defeated that effort. One of the current proposed mechanisms is to create the 3.2 million acre national park. This too is simply a part of the overall scheme to take control of the Maine forest and place it in public ownership and control. And to halt all industry!

A good and valid question at this point is - Why must ordinary citizens band together to preserve their constitutional rights and fight not only the radical enviros, but also their own government? For in every case cited above either the federal or state government was involved in the scheme to take over private land and stop private enterprise.

State and national environmental groups have banded together in the Northern Forest Alliance - some 34 groups - with a budget of tens of millions of dollars with the objective of taking control, through a piecemeal basis, of the16 million acres of forest in Maine, and then shutting down industry. They are well aware of the fact that their constant pressure, their constant badgering, their constant initiation of threatening legislation is a drag on the industry. Industry on the other hand, has come to consider that that constant threat by the enviros is part of the cost of "doing business" in Maine.

One of these days the enviros must realize that the amazing Maine forests teamed up with industry, teamed up with the wonderful indomitably spirited people who live here and earn their living here (the grassroots), are absolutely unbeatable! Right? Right!

R.O. "Bob" Voight is a founding member of the Maine Conservation Rights Institute.

"Courtesy of Scott Fish,"