A satellite photo of the United States blinds us with the lights of sprawl all across our land. Maine’s North Woods stands out in stark contrast as the largest wild area east of the Mississippi River, like a dilated cat’s pupil seen by campfire-light. Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co. will usher in a storm surge of development that would wipe it all out, leaving only an Alice in Wonderland fat-cat smirk to taunt us from away, after destroying yet another wild area to satisfy insatiable corporate greed.
Some of the best times I’ve ever had were in, on and around Moosehead Lake. I remember glorious black winter nights, the darkest I’ve ever known, lying on my back on Moosehead after checking my lines for cusk. I would watch the sea of stars showering across the infinite night ocean, and hear coyotes yowling in the night, their eyes illuminated by the occasional wandering snowmobile.
I remember getting caught in blinding snow squalls, and finding our way home by dead reckoning with compasses and luck – before the days of GPS. I remember cooking red hot dogs and rib-eyes, even an occasional fish, at high noon, sheltered by cliffs from a “blue norther” bellowing down below zero. I remember heading out from Sugar Island toward the Allagash, and feeling like I was heading into the Arctic as we pulled our canoes across the sandbar at Kineo.
These experiences will not exist for our children if the Land Use Regulation Commission lets Plum Creek have its way with Moosehead, thereby setting a precedent for unlimited development that every other supposed “timber company” and corporate landowner will follow.
Only one-third of traditional jobs in the woods are left because of relentless automation and outsourcing of secondary production, even as the forest is strip-mined in giant clear-cuts. We need to recognize the importance of jobs that cash in on the long-term potential of the land to supply permanent work in the recreation industry. Plum Creek may bring a brief spasm of home construction jobs, but the majority will most likely be filled, in the predictable crunch, by “guest workers” from away.
It is high time all Maine people unite in a shared vision for the future of our common outdoor cultural heritage. We must preserve access for all Maine people to all traditional uses of the land – hunting, fishing and camping by car, ATV and snowmobile. We must protect wildlife and wilderness, fragile ecological communities on the small scale, and scenic beauty on the landscape scale. We must protect the dignity of traditional hard work in the woods with a whole new line of outdoor jobs that build on the values espoused above, as Americans from all walks of life seek solace and spiritual rebirth in the wilderness. If we do not draw a line in the sand at the present gateway communities, a wave of cookie-cutter development will march relentlessly across the woods, as every other landowner seeks to cash in on windfall profits. The North Woods will be sliced and diced out of existence.
Residents of northern Maine, who saw a national park as anathema to their traditional way of life, might well be looking back fondly on the concept as a Garden of Eden, in the coming years. The cute little gated communities of almost 1,000 trophy homes, exclusive golf course resorts, shopping centers, three RV trailer parks, and a 1,000-acre “industrial park” will accompanied by the usual nasty “Private Property,” “No Hunting,” “No Fishing,” “No Trespassing” signs plastered everywhere, as in southern Maine.
The shores of some of our most treasured waters will be dotted with porch lights, manicured lawns with show-off gardens – every one with a little aluminum dock and an over-sized boat or two. At some of Plum Creek’s other sprawling developments, they won’t even talk to a prospective buyer with less than $3 million in the bank.
Plum Creek’s real future plans for the region lurk behind the smiling masks of the PR reps they send repeatedly to “reassure” northern communities. The so-called “no future development zones” expire in a future of only 30 years. Most of the areas set aside for “preservation” are surrounded by swamps or wetlands, or otherwise already off limits. And Greenville itself is bypassed by many of these purported economic opportunities.
If there ever was a pig in a poke, this is it. Let’s all be sure LURC, the Board of Environmental Protection and the Legislature don’t buy it for us. If we all do not act now we will all be just Plum out of Luck!
Paul Liebow is an emergency room physician in Bangor.