I have spent the last several weeks roaming the forests of Oregon. In spite of the widespread deforestation being carried out by the timber industry goliaths like Champion and Boise, there are still pristine forests left in Oregon -- protected in large part by the federal Wilderness Protection Act of 1988. During one hike through miles of Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar old growth, I tried to imagine the pre-European settlement forests of Maine. With less than one tenth of one percent of Maine's original forest remaining -- the largest block a mere five thousand acres in Big Reed Preserve -- it is hard to imagine the North Woods filled with towering ancient White Pines and massive age old Red Spruce. I wish that I could walk through the lost grandeur of Maine's all but extinct ancient forests. It is the sadness of the loss which propels many of us as forest activists to fight for a long term restorative vision for the forests of the future.
After the legislature's failure to pass the 4-point plan (in spite of polls showing 80% public support and state wide editorial support), it seems obvious that another referendum must be hatched. Indeed, there is already a working group drafting the language. What industry needs to know in no uncertain terms is that we will not be deterred. Indeed, due to Maine's national leadership on forest referenda, similar efforts are popping up like wildfire in numerous other states. Oregon citizen activists recently collected 85,000 signatures to place a ban clearcutting measure on the ballot. We will be sharing our experiences and offering assistance to our friends in Oregon as they take on the timber industry.
In spite of the timber corporations' efforts to isolate and put out the fire of public dissent against their destructive practices, containment is no longer possible. The expansion and increasing force of opposition is ultimately going to demand that industry come to terms with the weight of scientific evidence and public opposition.
Like the tobacco industry, the timber corporations will find that the cost of fighting off the challenges is having an impact on their bottom line. Supply side market instability has a major impact on bond ratings, borrowing rates, and Wall Street confidence. The only way to win this fight is to hit the timber barons where it hurts -- in their check books. A recent case in point: citing the pressure of forest activists MacMillan Bloedel, the company which has clearcut millions of acres of British Columbia's forests, announced that it would no longer use clearcutting as a harvesting method.
While the efforts to implement forest policy reform have been going on for years, the fight to restore wilderness in Maine has only just begun. The 911,000 acres Sappi has put up for sale underscores the need to act swiftly to purchase lands as they come up for sale. In recent years RESTORE: the North Woods has single handedly been pushing for large scale land acquisition in order to create a wilderness Maine Woods National Park (MWNP).
RESTORE's leadership in pushing for the return of wilderness has finally captured the imagination of the conservation community. Close to half of the Sappi lands, the heart and soul of the Maine Woods around Moosehead lake, fall within the proposed Park boundary.
If we are serious about the long term vision of recovering wilderness, we need to put pressure on our public officials and encourage private financial sources to come up with the funds to acquire the Sappi lands so that -- in the spirit of Percival Baxter -- these lands can once again become "forever wild."
Conservation easements or small parcel protection are not acceptable. Conservation biologists have demonstrated that large contiguous tracts of forest ecosystems need protection. Full fee acquisition is the only way to completely protect the forests for the future. If each Maine citizen was willing to give as little as eight dollars a year for the next 20 years, the Sappi land could become part of the public domain. It is time that Maine, with one of the lowest percentages of public land in the country (less than 5%), move decisively to protect its natural heritage by reasserting the importance of wilderness.
The reestablishment of wilderness will not only bring economic benefits (estimated MWNP would bring in over four hundred million dollars per year), but it would allow the North Woods to heal the wounds of abuse so that one day in the distant future our heirs will be able to thank us for our foresight and walk once again through forests like the forests of the past.