By David Fogg, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
I have lived in Mattawamkeag my entire life, and for many years I’ve watched the development of the proposal for a national park next to Baxter State Park. It’s past time for action on this idea.
The paper industry is gone. I know this firsthand because I worked in the Lincoln paper mill for 20 years. Now I’m unemployed. The mills in Millinocket, Bucksport, Old Town, Jay are closing, completely gone, sold for scrap or will be soon. Experts say the trend will continue. Yet still the forest products industry tells us it is going strong. Meanwhile, I’m trying to get into a retraining program, and my friends who head off into the woods with chainsaws and skidders wondered how they would afford Christmas. There is no one left to buy the trees they cut.
When I see industry representatives writing that people from the Katahdin region lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own, they’re right. I have worked hard all my life and was prepared to continue into retirement. But distant companies moved in, bought up the mills and land, sucked the region dry and moved on, changing the definition of “investment.” Now the industry and large landowners are keeping us from picking ourselves up.
They tell the vast majority of Mainers who support the park idea that the industry will fail if this national park is created. Are the current conditions how they define success?
These same arguments have been used over and over again in other parts of the country. In the 1960s, the forestry industry in northern California used them to argue against the creation of Redwood National Park, even as the industry was imploding and ruining that rural economy. Now 700,000 people spend $42 million every year in the surrounding towns. There are other parks around America that are right in the middle of big timber operations.
I’m also sick of hearing some of our elected officials and large timber owners insulting my home, the North Woods, by saying there is nothing up here to attract people, that it’s not pretty because it’s been heavily logged.
Clearly, they haven’t been to this property or the region where it sits. First of all, even if that were true, people like our governor should be cheerleaders for all parts of our state, trying to bring people here, not actively trying to discourage tourism or keep it at the coast. But it isn’t true. There are parts of Elliotsville Plantation’s land, particularly the southern part, that were cut heavily years ago, before these same timberland owners sold the land. But the trees are growing back. This is one of the forestry industry’s own arguments: We can cut all the trees because they grow back and the forest will be healthy again. They can’t have it both ways.
Most of the property is already in older growth and is amazing. It has mountains to climb; unbelievable rivers to paddle and fish; waterfalls; views; trails to hike, bike and ski; and quiet. I think about people in New York City who have never experienced quiet and beauty like this, beauty many of us are used to and take for granted.
The paper industry is gone, and the trend in harvesting is toward mechanization, employing fewer and fewer people for the same amount of timber. The industry looks at trees and land as ways to make money.
A national park is another way to make money. As far as I know, every national park in the country has a much higher return per acre than commercially managed timberland. And this is direct return. It says nothing of the money generated when people come here, see how amazing it is and decide to move here and start businesses of all types and sizes, all because we put value on leaving some of the trees to stand.
I’m very disappointed that Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin have put the will of a dying industry and a loud minority above the will of the rest of us who want to look to the future, pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.
David Fogg lives in Mattawamkeag.