by David Butler
Mainers have a wonderful opportunity to lead the nation and the world regarding land use, corporate relations, nature-based tourism and local economics.
Nearly a half-million acres of Maine’s North Woods are controlled by the largest real estate investment firm in the country.
With Plum Creek currently proposing the largest development ever considered for Maine’s few remaining pristine woodlands, we have a responsibility to do the right thing.
Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Corp., the owner of nearly one out of every 280 acres of the United States, has the resources, money and power to do what it wants. It is Maine’s job, LURC’s job and the job of every citizen to provide guidance and direction.
One would believe that Plum Creek has the resources to develop a world-class model development that comprehends the most current thinking on land use and conservation. Will it insist that its consultants analyze, investigate and implement development that will minimize the impact on Maine’s unique natural resources?
The company possesses the resources to maximize the sustained economic growth of the local, state and regional economies that will benefit from that type of progressive land management approach. Will it use them?
Why hasn’t this major real estate investment company opted for this approach?
Perhaps a “world-class eco-tourism development plan” won’t maximize its profits?
Still, maybe there’s more to consider here than corporate profits. The land was purchased for tree growth to sustain the forest products industry. It seems reasonable that these corporations expect and desire revenues and profits that meet or even exceed their initial intent.
But, possibly the maximization of profits as high-end resorts and lake-front lots is out of line with expectations. I suggest that a compromise, with a goal of exceeding the current tree growth rate of return, would create a win-win situation for Plum Creek and the state of Maine.
Unfortunately, at this time Plum Creek is not required to adhere to or adopt world-class eco-tourism development guidelines. There is no clear management plan for the Moosehead region regarding development of the North Woods or unorganized territories.
With unambiguous rules, zoning ordinances and laws, real estate investors would have clearer boundaries. Without them, they speculate, which invokes images of unbridled, high-risk, boom-and-bust investment practices, which are antithetical to most prudent Mainers.
This company is also speculating that it can maximize profits by establishing and shaping land-use precedents to its advantage before state agencies can set policy.
Historically, forest management companies have endeavored to maximize profits by maximizing tree growth. Mistakes have been made, yet public reaction to forest mismanagement rarely makes the news. After all, the land is still there, and the trees will always grow back.
Real estate development and management is concerned with selling and developing land for consumers. This change from managing for trees to managing for people is significant and important, in that there is a built-in antagonistic concept.
It is in finding how to lure hundreds of people with the promise of a little slice of heaven in the Maine woods without diminishing the wilderness experience.
But once land is divided and ownership changes hands, any attempt to initiate a better approach to land-use management is destined for failure.
Does anyone think that North Woods land values are going to decrease? Historical land-sale figures attest to the unlikelihood of such an event.
With that in mind, isn’t it reasonable and prudent to take it slow? Do the research. Ask the critical questions. Why not develop a model for excellence in eco-tourism development, one that is balanced, fair and profitable to all concerned?
Why not the best for Maine?
David Butler of Windham is a registered Maine Guide and a board member of the Maine Wilderness Guides Association.
– Special to the Press Herald