Photo by: Steve Horne

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Going, Going, Gone!

R.O. Voight

April 19, 1999

The wood and paper industry has been the economic basis for the Maine economy since Maine was created as a state. And even before, the King's men found the best and largest trees for ship masts and bowsprits here in the Maine woods, and thus began the initial logging industry. The paper mills came along in the 1850s, creating good paying jobs and providing increased opportunity for all of Maine, and have been here ever since, getting more diverse and bigger until the 1980s. Since then there has been a stalled condition, a condition of doubt, a condition of outside pressure, a growing set of regulations and laws, brought about by the environmental movement, that control or affect tree harvesting.

Today the paper industry finds itself under two extreme situations that are seriously affecting its future in Maine. The first situation is the age and condition of the manufacturing equipment in its mills; and the second, is the increasing threat of federal and state land acquisition along with strangling regulations and laws on forest practices. These two harsh realities are forcing the shutdown of the paper industry in Maine.

Sappi Ltd., the South African company that bought land and the old S.D.Warren mill in Westbrook has just announced the mill's closure. The mill simply cannot compete economically with modern mills in Asia and South America. So Sappi makes the valid business decision not to spend 50 million dollars on a loser. They also have to consider the future of tree harvesting under the stranglehold of laws and regulations as a result of enviro pressure, which also comes up a loser.

International Paper Inc., recently sold 185,000 acres to the Nature Conservancy, and they have another 240,000 acres for sale in northern Maine. Again, a simple business decision considering the bottom line and the future of tree harvesting.

Georgia-Pacific Corporation has just sold 390,000 acres of land in New Brunswick to the province of New Brunswick. Its remaining 500,000 acres in Maine is currently under final negotiation. That will leave its mills in Woodland as its only asset in Maine, and the word on the street has it, that since the mill is antiquated and not considered competitive with modern foreign mills, that it will be closed or sold in the near future.

One Millinocket mill has a doubtful future. If you have been an observer of the industry over the past decade you see these firm and final actions as the guideposts for the future. Economic and environmental pressures are just too much to operate a successful competitive wood product industry here in Maine.

The current federal and state funding legislation to purchase the forests of Maine is the lynchpin that signals the death knell of Maine's wood product businesses. HR 701 authorizes $1billion dollars to be available every year for land purchases, and Maine forests are number one priority. Its companion bill in the Senate is S-25. And then there is the Land Legacy Initiative of the Clinton Administration for $1billion dollars for land acquisition. All this, oriented to creating parks and wilderness here in Maine.

State legislators are considering a $120 million bond issue, a $100 million bond issue, and the Governor is demanding a $50 million bond issue for the Land for Maine's Future Board. Add all these up and all you can see for the next decade, beginning in the year 2000, is jobs disappearing like ghosts of antiquity. Look at your own future, your own prospects for a job.

Maine state taxes are rated fifth in the nation. As every piece of land goes into the public domain your taxes will go up, and up, and up. The entire culture of old Maine, especially of northern Maine is evaporating like a wisp of fog under the bright sun. There will be no use for the deep water port at Eastport. If there is no paper or other wood products, what will there be to ship?

Northern Maine will be a vast wasteland of wilderness. And the term wasteland is used advisedly. Remember your history, when Benedict Arnold and his men were escaping to Canada through the Maine forests, and they were starving to death? They only survived by the help of some early settlers. But the forest, virgin forest, true wilderness, was barren of wildlife and plants, so there was no food. And that is the fact of a wilderness forest, there is no wildlife, for it is not good animal habitat. It is barren under the forever canopy, and fallen giants clutter the floor. The environmental vision of wilderness is a myth, a picture created by them to justify their agenda.

Your future in Maine, your job in Maine, either as a direct, or indirect, participant in the forest industry is dim at best, and growing dimmer every day. The vast machine of environmentalism is gradually smothering and suffocating the job market in Maine, moving like a huge and devouring avalanche, that day by day, month by month, year by year wipes out jobs and markets. Capitalism cannot exist except in a free and competitive atmosphere. Maine is becoming a top down, controlled society.

The catch phrase of "saving the forests" is just exactly that, saving the forests. But not the people. The people are at risk; they will soon be refugees escaping the northern forests. They will be forced to leave by regulations, laws and the land owner, the government.

Just as the stream of refugees is seen leaving Kosovo, so will Mainers be forced to seek refuge in some other state or country.

Southern Maine does not escape the onslaught. Jobs will be affected there also, just as those people in Westbrook have lost their jobs. Northern Maine directly and indirectly affects the job market in southern Maine. Much public land will be created in southern Maine at the expense of local landowners and lost property taxes. So this is not an issue that affects just Northern Maine --- the entire State of Maine is in jeopardy!

Go figure!

R.O. "Bob" Voight is a founding member of the Maine Conservation Rights Institute.

"Courtesy of Scott Fish, AsMaineGoes.com."