Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods project director
Good afternoon, Senator Nutting, Representative Piotti and members of the Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am a resident of Alna. I am here today to testify on behalf of 8000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine Neither For Nor Against LD 1089, LD 1395 and LD 1406.
We are in times of great change in Maine’s North Woods.
For over 100 years, starting in the late 1890’s, the 10.5 million acres in the area now described as the unorganized townships of Maine, or Maine’s North Woods, were primarily owned by two types of land owners. One type was paper companies who managed the lands in order to harvest wood for their paper and lumber mills. The other was consolidated large family ownerships that were managed by land management companies such as the Seven Islands Land Company or Prentice and Carlisle to produce wood which they sold, primarily, to the paper mills.
For all of this time, the vast majority of these lands were open for public use for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing and other outdoor recreational activities.
In mid 1998, all of this began to change. Lands in blocks of hundreds of thousands of acres began changing hands. As of today, 6 1/2 years later, 6.8 million acres – well over half of the North Woods – have been sold to new owners; some of this land has been sold twice in the last six years.
Today, instead of millions of acres of the North Woods being owned by companies who run mills, only about 1.5 million acres are managed by companies that operate mills.
Instead we have whole new categories of landowners in the North Woods – landowners whose goals are very different from the goals of the paper companies and families who owned the North Woods for most of the 20th century. We have investment companies whose goal is to maximize their return on investment in the next 8 – 10 years and sell out. We have companies, both large and small, whose primary goal is to achieve the highest financial return for their stockholders through real estate development in the North Woods. We have logging contractors who simply want to cut wood from the land as fast as they can with no thought of long term sustainable management. We have conservation owners, both public and private, who do not plan to do any cutting at all. And, perhaps most notable, we have landowners whose identity is unknown, private limited partnerships whose names change frequently and whose goals for the land are unknown.
All of these changes in ownership have caused tremendous anxiety among those who care about the North Woods. Some worry about the decline of jobs in the woods and in the mills. Some worry about loss of public access to favorite hunting, fishing and camping spots. Some worry about protecting wildlife habitat for the deer, the moose, the lynx, the pine marten and other creatures. Some worry about development sprawling along the shorelines of beautiful lakes, ponds and rivers. Some worry about protecting jobs in the forest based recreation economy that depend on beautiful landscapes. Some worry about losing the character of the North Woods that has been an integral part of our identity as a state since Maine was created.
Each of the three bills presented here today embodies one or more of these fears and proposes one or more solutions. The Natural Resources Council of Maine shares all the fears. Regarding the proposed solutions, we thinking some are intriguing and we have questions about others. For instance, would it be a good idea for the Department of Conservation to work with DECD on the proposed state park study? What would be the impact of the national forest bill on potential acquisition of trail heads within the existing proclamation boundary of the White Mountain National Forest? What would be the impact of this bill on the willingness of the U.S. Forest Service to work with the state in a variety of ways, as they have recently in funding the Future Forest Economy Project and the Forest Inventory and Analysis, and in the past in funding the acquisition of many of our state parks? How would management of lands acquired through the Maine Woods Fund proposed in LD 1406 relate to lands currently managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Rather than hastily support or oppose any of these bills, we would encourage you to carry each of these bills over until next session, to allow more opportunity to track and analyze the changes in land ownership and the implications of these changes. To jump start this process, attached to my testimony you will find a list available on NRCM’s web site of large parcel land ownership changes since 1998. We do not suggest that this list is complete, and welcome any additions which we have missed. But it may be a starting point for tracking changes in the land.