Maine residents share with Canada bonds of history, family and economics. This particularly pertains to the province of Quebec, since we share a border of hundreds of miles that forms not only the northern boundary of our state but also of our legendary North Maine Woods. Mainers consider this 10 million-acre jewel one of our state’s most precious natural legacies. Quebec likewise has its own treasured north — the boreal forest — that stretches pristine over hundreds of millions of acres and is one of the world’s last remaining large, virgin forests.
But Maine and Quebec are both at a crossroads. Unsustainable economic pressures that in other parts of the world have gobbled up and degraded natural resources are now at our doorstep. Mainers are already being forced to address pressures that could change the nature of our North Maine Woods forever. How do we maintain healthy fish, wildlife, air, water and forests and effectively plan for development in ways that minimize the degradation of those values? The people of Quebec are grappling today with this same question on a much larger scale.
And here is where Maine and Quebec diverge in a critically important way. The head of the Quebec government, Premier Jean Charest, following the best available scientific advice, pledged last year to permanently protect at least half of that province’s northern boreal forest in a series of parks and protected areas. This is a commitment so big and visionary that if carried out, it would place Charest in league with historic U.S. conservation giant Teddy Roosevelt. Last week, a letter signed by 500 scientists from 30 countries (including some from Maine and many from Quebec) was delivered to Premier Charest. The letter reiterated the scientific principles behind his commitment, urged him to move quickly toward its implementation and pledged the help and support of the scientific community.
This week, Maine’s Gov. John Baldacci will be meeting with Premier Charest at the annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Premiers. The governor should take the opportunity to praise Charest’s vision for maintaining the values and future of Quebec’s boreal forest and discuss with him how these same scientific principles can be applied to articulate a world-class vision for ensuring that Maine’s Great North Woods remain so.
Maine and Quebec have a long shared history that has woven their people together in many ways. Gov. Baldacci and Premier Charest now have the opportunity for a shared future vision as well that ensures the values the people of Maine and Quebec hold most dear — a healthy environment, healthy families, traditional values, and long-term sustainable economies — are not lost forever.
Jeffrey Wells of Gardiner is a biologist and author and visiting fellow with Cornell University. He is a graduate of Bangor High School.