What is the Maine Woods Coalition?
We are a group of concerned citizens from the region of the State of Maine which is most affected by any major changes to the current use of the 3.2 million acres known as the Maine North Woods. We incorporated on January 4, 2001 as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation. We seek to be the voice of the stakeholders in the Maine Woods.
Who makes up the Maine Woods Coalition?
To be a voting member of the organization, you must reside in, own property in, or operate a substantial part of your business in one of four counties: Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, or Aroostook. Interested parties who do not meet these criteria may opt to become supporting members of the coalition.
Why did the Maine Woods Coalition Form?:
For several years, a group of dedicated environmentalists from outside the State of Maine and from outside of this four-county region have sought to convince the Federal Government to create a National Park on the 3.2 million acres of land known as the North Maine Woods. In recent meetings with major proponents of this proposal, it appears that those working for the creation of this Park (1) do not understand what would happen to the lives and livelihoods of the residents and property owners of the region, (2) do not want to consider these concerns in their on-going efforts, and (3) do not appear to feel that the residents here should have a say about the future of this large tract of land. The residents of this four-county region believe strongly that we have a right to have a say in what happens to the Maine Woods. To make sure that right is exercised – and not denied – the Maine Woods Coalition was formed.
What does the Maine Woods Coalition do?:
We are a public interest group who is concerned with the prospect of sudden and substantial changes to the current use patterns of the North Maine Woods. We promote the current relationship between private owners of large tracts of land and the access allowed to the general public. We are concerned that decisions regarding the Maine Woods would be made without the input of the stakeholders of the region. We seek to promote the value of the current relationship between the public and the landowners, and to ensure the best interests of the stakeholders for the region are met. We do this through public discussions, newspaper articles, brochures, and other media. We seek to be the common ground all the stakeholders of the region share, expressed as one voice to ensure the health and well being of our region.
What is the MWC's position on the Creation of a National Park in Northern Maine?
The MWC has contemplated carefully the social, economic, and environmental impacts which would arise from a Maine Woods National Park as proposed by several special interest groups. Our contemplation has been through the auspices of the diverse perspectives and technical expertise brought to the dialogue by our members, who are foresters, business owners, municipal managers, county commissioners, legislators, chamber of commerce directors, snowmobilers, hunters, trappers, mountain climbers, and above all, residents and property tax payers. In our analysis, a Maine Woods National Park would be detrimental to the region it assumes. The detrimental impact can be summed up into several categories:
Lost Economic Productivity from the Woods
Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Ron Lovaglio stated at the Maine Woods Conservation Easement Forum that the wood products extracted from the 3.2 million acres of forestland in the Maine North Woods adds approximately $986,000,000 to the Maine economy each year through wages and sales of products and services. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, the typical overnight visitor to our region spends $85/day. To make up for the loss of productivity of locking up 3.2 million acres of forestland, a National Park would have to bring 11.6 million ADDITIONAL tourists to the region. Nothing the woods industry has ever done would have a greater impact to the rural character of Piscataquis County (population roughly 17,000) than such an increase in tourism. Commissioner Lovaglio wondered aloud how big the tollbooth would have to be in Kittery. In Greenville, we wonder how big the mound of trash will be each day at the rest area just outside of Town).
Bringing overuse to an area which does not have it now.
In the August 6, 2001 edition of the Bangor Daily News, a letter to the editor by Ted Eliot of Augusta says that Maine needs a Maine Woods National Park because Baxter State Park is too restrictive and too overused. He uses the example of being turned away at the gate from day-hiking Katahdin due to the number of people already on the trails. Yet, four peaks in the Moosehead Lake Region (and certainly within the boundaries of the proposed Maine Woods National Park) – Big Moose, Mt. Kineo, Big Spencer and Little Spencer – are all open to the public year-round, cost nothing to climb, and never have lines at their trailheads. Would not a National Park create lines and restrictions in these beautiful places which currently do not have them? We believe that a National Park would cause overuse of certain popular outdoor destinations, which would be harmful to the environment and would change the rural nature of the area.
Erosion of Property Tax Value
A national park would remove millions of acres of land from the tax rolls. Currently Piscataquis County is in majority unorganized territories which are used for productive forestland. The current total value of this unorganized territories exceeds $496,350,000, well over half of the total value of all of the organized municipalities in the County ($756,700,000). If the majority of this land is taken from the tax rolls, the county budget will be balanced squarely on the shoulders of the organized municipalities. Businesses and residents are leaving our service center communities now due to mill rates approaching or exceeding 20 mills. This would encourage sprawl to underdeveloped towns with currently lower taxes, and will also encourage outmigration of residents due to high taxes and fewer opportunities for work and education.
Although some would say that federal land will return money to the tax rolls through the Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) program, the 1994 Balanced Budget Act (as well as current budget realities) keep this program from being funded at more than 50% its necessary level. Therefore, Maine should expect no more than 50% of the reduced land value payment we should receive, should 3.2 million acres become federally owned. Consider Maine's track record with the Tree Growth program and reimbursement to municipalities.
Traditional, Multiple Uses of the Maine Woods would be Restricted or Eliminated
The traditional uses of the Maine Woods needs to be preserved in order to meet the needs of the public. The National Park Service has set policies in place which restrict many of our traditional uses, including motorized recreation. Last year, the snowmobile industry added over $300 million in sales tax revenues in the State of Maine. This would be lost in great part if the Department of Interior continued its current policy of eliminating motorized recreation in National Parks.
Erosion of Job Base
The loss of so many wood-products jobs would come at a time when lower-wage service jobs are growing. Families that currently depend on higher-paying technical jobs in the wood-products industries will relocate rather than take lower-paying service-related jobs. This outmigration will result in declining school-age populations, leading to school closings and strained economies. The erosion of the family-class of workers will be the demise of our local communities.
How does the MWC feel is the best way to sustain and/or improve the economy of Northern Maine?
The members of the Maine Woods Coalition have a vested interest in a part of the state which boosts the sparsest population and the most depressed economy as measured by various standards. It is clear that the region must change in many ways to adapt to the ever-evolving world economy. However, we do not believe that the loss of large tracts of private land ownership to the public domain is the best answer to improving the economy. Rather, a diversification of the economy, seeking a balance between manufacturing and "high-tech" industry and the service jobs related to tourism will best strengthen the region. Reliance on one avenue alone will lead to the demise of the region’s economy. Research and development of new technologies, especially those which make use of wood products in new ways which might be more compatible with multiple uses of the Maine Woods, will help our economy. Decreasing the State’s reliance on the local property tax will help the local economies by lowering local mill rates and reversing the outmigration of growth from service centers, saving millions of dollars in duplicated infrastructure. Finally, any means of stabilizing the traditional forest products industry will encourage investment in this industry, and lessen the likelihood of large-scale land sales or mill closings. We believe the steps described and ones like them will result in a more stable and a stronger economy in the four counties we serve.
Does the MWC feel that enough is being done to conserve our natural resources in the Maine Woods?
We understand that recent studies by the Maine Forest Service show that there are more trees in Northern Maine today than there were 100 years ago. We recognize that this region will change and evolve in coming years, but we do not feel that the rules and regulations which are in effect today to protect the natural resources of the Maine Woods are insufficient to do so.
What is the MWC's position on conservation easements?
Conservation easements can be a valuable and practical tool to meet multiple goals without sacrificing many of the benefits of private land ownership. However, each and every conservation easement is a specific written contract between at least two parties: the landowner and the holder of the easements. The MWC believes that not all conservation easements are equal in their value to the public and to their impact on industry and the regional economy. Therefore, each easement must be evaluated to ensure that it meets certain standards. The MWC is currently drafting a detailed list of standards to be met by a conservation easement in order for it to be deemed valuable and beneficial by our organization. In general, the components of any conservation easement which the MWC would endorse should include:
1.Restrictions or prohibitions on building development.
2.Access to the public for non-destructive multiple use recreation, including both motorized and non-motorized recreation.
3.Provision for continued timber harvesting as per current Maine statutes.
4.Continued taxable private land ownership.
In addition to these provisions, the MWC feels strongly that all conservation easements, especially those dealing with very large tracts of land, should include some form of public representation during the creation of the easements, or public review of the easements prior to implementation. Large conservation easements are often held by the State of Maine or non-profit organizations whose mission it is to serve public interests. Moreover, the funding for the purchase of conservation rights on private property is often through state or federal taxdollars. The public deserves to have some say in how its funds are used, and what rights are being protected and how.
For more information, write to the Maine Woods Coalition at the address above, visit our web site at MaineWoodsCoalition.org, or call President Gene Conlogue at (207) 723-7000. All donations are tax deductible.