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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Great Maine Forest Initiative (II)

The report from Keeping Maine's Forest has a number of recommendations, which I summarize (and editorialize for what is NOT said) as follows:

1.Mix private and public funding to protect large tracts of forest. In effect this is a dig at the advocates of a Maine Great Woods National Park or even a National Forest. Apparently it's no longer necessary to argue about it, since the "menu of options is so much broader than it was 20 years ago." Also, the committee assumes that considerable industrial use of the land will continue.
2.Encourage transfer of development rights. TDRs allow further development of already built-up areas in exchange for preservation of open space near that same area. This is aimed mostly at southern Maine where pressure is heaviest.
3.Develop community forests. Towns themselves take ownership, perhaps as recompense when land changes hands.
4.Certify forest products as "green" as much as possible. There is some subtext here about brand management, where it is clear that Maine wood products can compete with the aggressive foresters of Siberia, Indonesia and South America only on terms of quality, rather like the lobster industry is doing.
5.Find new products and markets, while preserving current output. Good suggestions for the New, like biomass energy (wood pellets, cellulosic ethanol) and wind turbine farms, but uncritical reliance on the future strength of the economy and Maine's ability to compete.
6.Make the forest part of the emerging carbon cap-and-trade systems. Great idea to make carbon sequestration as important as pollution control, but many, many years off.
7.Form a Maine Forest Advisory Council. Naturally, committees seek to extend their own lives, but this recommendation in effect acknowledges how difficult actual results will be to obtain and how long it will take.

The Initiative has recorded a goodly number of excellent points, and the multi-disciplinary nature of its cooperation and its positive spirit are admirable. I wonder, though, how much time there really is before the new financial beasts that now own much of the North Woods, the real estate investment trusts and the timber investment management organizations, reach their objectives (short-term of course), max out their tax advantages, and start to sell to anyone and everyone. The essence of the Initiative is compromise and that may be a good strategy for now; but it seems to me that ultimately only the federal government has the money and the ability to overcome local interests. This may be the chance to replicate the 70s and the tremendous wave of legislation (the EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act) that changed American life. Until federal funding is fully explored, I'd hate to see Maine compromise away its treasures, like it seems to be doing with Plum Creek's development of Moosehead.

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