Sunday, March 18, 2012
What would you say if I told you that nearly 400,000 acres of undeveloped Maine north woods are going to be conserved permanently, much of which at the ridiculously low price of $37 an acre? That the Nature Conservancy, along with several other groups, was leading the charge and the fund-raising? That recreation and timber would be forever guaranteed? That the land nearly surrounds Moosehead Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world?
Fantastic, of course.
What would you say if I told you in addition that this Moosehead Forest Conservation Project, one of the largest conservation easements in the entire country, was opposed by many other conservation groups? That the total price is not just $35 million, but intense development nearby? That some 800 houses and two resorts are now allowed to be built on 17,000 acres scattered on the shores of that most beautiful lake?
Gulp. What a dilemma.
The reality is that after 7 years of hearings and proposals and counter-proposals and litigation, the Maine Superior Court has ruled in favor of the developer Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Corporation, the largest private landowner in the US, which can start to plan for the building of those houses and resorts. In the end the project was approved because Plum Creek cut back its proposal, agreed to donate some of its land, and sell a lot more at below-market rates.
Whatever you think of the outcome, at least it shows the great value of protests, demands for mitigation, recompense. Thousands of people worked together and got something big out of nothing. Worse than nothing, actually: the government would have approved the original deal, which included more houses, a marina, a golf course, three RV parks, etc. etc., had not the people risen up.
To me the thought of even more development on Moosehead is difficult to support. (I set aside for now Plum Creek's terrible and cavalier environmental record.) A future in which the southern half of the lake looks like the Jersey shore is upsetting. Plum Creek's forest land might have been preserved anyway, in other ways, especially if the company commits to sustainable forestry. I can only hope now that the economy will supply few mortgages for those second homes, that Moosehead's great distance from population centers will protect it, that Maine's famous bugs will scare away the softies, that it will take decades to justify yet more resorts. In the mean time, we need to work feverishly to protect all the other plums in northern Maine - the pristine ponds, the iconic wildlife, the clean rivers, the majestic mountaintops. Unless, of course, your definition of "plum" is vastly different from mine.