MAINE VS. THE MULTI-TENTACLED PLUM CREEK ALIEN
Many people across Turtle Island (North America) are not aware that a relatively small but respectably-sized chunk of wild and nearly-wild forest ecosystem struggles for survival in northern Maine. The Maine North Woods essentially represents part of the southeastern edge of the Great North Woods, which stretch in an arc (mostly in Canada) across the North American continent from the Atlantic Seaboard to the prairies of the Great Plans. In Maine, this region encompasses most of the northern half of the state, is the largest undeveloped region in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River, and is home to, among many other species, loons, bald eagles, deer, moose, black bear, the threatened Canada lynx, wolves, and the extirpated caribou. A satellite photo of the eastern United States will show a significant dark region where no artificial light is visible in northern Maine. It is the largest wild, undeveloped area in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.
Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co. is one of the nation’s largest private landowners. It is the largest landholder in Wisconsin, Montana, Washington-& Maine. These 4 states hold some of the last, best, healthiest remaining wild or nearly-wild lands left in the Lower 48. These 4 states also hold some of the most self-sufficient, fiercely- independent human populations anywhere in “American society.” Many people in the forest defense movement around the world are depressingly familiar with Plum Creek’s dismal forest management practices as well as their propensity toward “developing” forested wildlands into extravagant, exclusive playgrounds for those humans rich, white, and callous (or clueless) enough to afford them. Such “developments” as the Yellowstone Club in Montana and the Suncadia development in Cle Elum, Washington, are already in place-doing nothing but damage to local ecosystems, wildlife, and economiesand now Plum Creek has set its sights on northern Maine’s Moosehead Lake Region for another such resort complex that also will do nothing but damage to ecosystems, wildlife, and local/regional economies in Maine. Fortunately for the Moosehead Lake Region (and the rest of the Maine North Woods)-and contrary to what Plum Creek’s decision-makers want to believe-Mainers are far from stupid, and have been tracking these plans carefully. Plum Creek’s first proposal, submitted in 2005 to the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC), was rejectes after a vociferous outcry from concerned citizens. Their second, revised proposal, submitted in April of 2006, was also rescinded by Plum Creek because they knew the public would not accept it. Finally, in April of 2007, Plum Creek submitted their latest proposal, claiming-“You spoke, we listened.” Had they really listened they would be out of Maine altogether by now. While there are some people in Maine who welcome the development project-many, many others across the state, from all walks of life, want absolutely nothing to do with Plum Creek and its plans for commodifying the Maine North Woods for its own personal profit.
Plum Creek purchased the land it seeks to develop from Sappi Paper Co. in 1998. The site for the proposed “concept plan” constitutes about 408,000 acres of forestland, bounded by the small, rural Maine communities of Jackman to the west, Greenville to the south, and Kokadjo to the east. At the time of the purchase the land was zoned for timber harvesting and was accordingly purchased at roughly $200/acre-a mere pittance for an outfit like Plum Creek Timber Co. Plum Creek also made promises to at the time of the land purchase that they were not a development company and would not rezone the purchased land. One short year later they restructured themselves as a “real estate investment trust.” Now Plum Creek seeks to rezone the land in order to exponentially increase the land’s value now that the logging industry is declining. Plum Creek’s aspirations for the Moosehead Lake Region include converting 20,500 acres of currently forested or otherwise undeveloped land into housing subdivisions and commercial development. Plum Creek plans to subsidize nearly 1,000 house lots in the area, including 236 shore-front lots. Inn addition to house lots, Plum Creek has plans to develop two massive resorts: one at Moose Mountain, and the other along Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake. The Moose Mountain Resort is proposed to be 4,446 acres with 800 “accommodation units.” The Lily Bay resort is proposed to be 777 acres with 250 “accommodation units.” These “accommodation units” are in addition to the 1,000 house lots and can take the form of of more house lots, condominiums, gated communities, hotel, or motel rooms, etc. Both of these proposed resorts can include a sprawl of atrocious commercial developments such as golf courses, fuel stations, beauty shops, restaurants, cell-phone towers, and club houses up to 5,000 square feet in size. To put this into some perspective, the town of Greenville, located just to the south of Moosehead Lake, consists of about 1,200 existing structures; the town of Rockwood, 28 miles northwest of Greenville, consists of about 380 existing structures.
When Plum Creek submitted its original rezoning petition to the state’s Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) 2005, the agency had to secure extra funding from the legislature, hire two new staff people and a handful of consultants, and increase its fee schedule just to process this one proposal (so Maine’s taxpayers have already been subsidizing this debacle while it is still on paper. The area proposed for rezoning is equivalent in area to the city of Boston, representing the largest development in Maine’s history. Skiing-itself a dying industry in the face of anthropogenic global warming-is a significant factor in Plum Creek’s plan for Moosehead Lake, as well as golf, motorized recreation, and other environmentally-insensitive, bourgeois activities and luxuries.
LURC requires land to be conserved to balance new development proposals. Plum Creek’s Concept Plan for the Moosehead Lake Region puts into easement only 90,000 acres-all of which surround the proposed development sites. The standards for these easements are much weaker than those suggested by LURC-for instance, Plum Creek can charge for or restrict public access to the land, erect cell phone towers and other telecommunications facilities/infrastructure, build roads and develop boat launches, subdivide the land-creating “kingdom lots,” give or sell up to 50 acres of land to a government or quasi-government entity which would then be exempt from easement restrictions, and spread sewage sludge over up to 100 acres at a time (as well as construct associated facilities), and extract water for forestry and residential purposes. It very much appears that the location and development allowances of the “balance easement” will only serve magnify the impact of Plum Creek’s plans for “second homes” and luxury resorts. These plan also allow for the use of toxics such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.-and allows them to sell vegetation removed from “noncommercial vegetation management” without any monitoring management plan. Also, Plum Creek would be protected from monetary damages in the event of any violations, with no provisions whatsoever for any stewardship fund or model for effective monitoring. Plum Creek can also move or change the boundaries of the protected land as long as the total acreage remains static-effectively swapping land in and out of easement protection at their whim. The forest management plan, meanwhile, need only be consistent with the guidelines of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. SFI-along with having a very poor, untrustworthy history in “sustainable” forestry-is strongly influenced by the timber industry and their interests.
The Moosehead Legacy Conservation Easement is often associated with Plum Creek’s Concept Plan in the minds of the public. This easement would sell 266,000 acres in the Moosehead Region to the Nature Conservancy and Appalachian Mountain Club. The other part of the conservation deal is the “balance easement,” in which Plum Creek would donate the development rights of the other 90,000 acres to the Forest Society of Maine. The entire conservation easement deal would cost these NGOs. $35 million. Plum Creek does not hide the fact that this deal depends upon LURC’s approval of the Concept Plan-while trumpeting the agreement as part of the plan’s conservation component, even though it is not part of the LURC application. There are no assurances these NGOs will be able to raise the money to execute the purchase, and public money may be necessary (read: more taxpayer subsidy-this time to enrich even further Plum Creek’s shareholders). In the Moosehead Legacy Conservation Easement, Plum Creek reserves the right to build wind turbines (and associated facilities/infrastructure) and remove water for commercial water bottling (curiously, Phillip Ahrens, board member and attorney for the Nature Conservancy, is also the attorney for Nestle SSA-parent corporation for the world’s largest bottled water company, Poland Spring).
Plum Creek is mounting an obtrusive pr effort to tout this debacle that is as misleading as it is obnoxious. There is much talk of “green construction” and “green technology,” and considerable dog-and-pony efforts that are to serve as “inviting public input.” Some locals here in Maine are fooled-but most are not. And to complement the high-profile disinformation campaign, the plan reeks of crony-ism and corruption. SFI has certified Plum Creek’s logging operations as “sustainable,” even though Maine fined the company $57,000 for illegal logging in 2006. Plum Creek has illegally destroyed a bald eagle’s nest, has destroyed critical deer wintering habitat, and blatantly disregarded state permitting laws by building a 7500 ft. power line. But that is just the tip of that iceberg here.
Maine boasts the only breeding population of Canada lynx-listed federally-as a threatened species-in the eastern U.S. Most of Maine’s North Woods contains prime lynx habitat. In November of 2005, the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that 10,633 square miles of northern Maine-about one third of the entire state-be designated as critical habitat for this elusive wildcat (about 8,000 square miles in the western U.S. are also included in that proposal). Conservation groups had sued the agency to force the action, saying this move would provide long overdue protection for the lynx. Plum Creek’s holdings in Maine include 545,000 acres (about 851 square miles) of the proposed habitat area-and this includes all the lands it holds around Moosehead Lake. Between April and October of 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald met 3 times with Plum Creek executives. One of these meetings was arranged by and included Maine’s 2 Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, after Maine Governor John Baldacci (Democrat) petitioned to them for help (Maine’s Democratic reps, Congressmen Tom Allen and Michael Michaud, have not taken action on the lynx issue). Another such meeting also included the executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, Patrick Strauch, who outlined a logging and conservation strategy the landowners say would protect Canada lynx habitat over time. Governor Baldacci’s administration is opposed to lynx habitat protection-and his office is telling the public that staff members from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “are available to brief you on this issue and ask for your support against this (lynx habitat protection) proposal.” In November of 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Dept. announced a final critical habitat map that completely excludes all the land in Maine. Wildlife officials stated flatly that Maine was excluded from the habitat protection area because of the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdesire’ to work in cooperation with landowners rather than impose another layer of regulation. Plum Creek’s lead council, one Severin Beliveau, is a major donor to Maine’s Democratic Party. He meets weekly with Governor Baldacci, and the two men have been known to golf together on Beliveau’s camp in Rangely, ME (one can only guess the topics of conversation between those holes, so to speak). In March of 2007, an investigation by the Office of Inspector General concluded that MacDonald had been bullying scientists into reshaping scientific conclusions to suit industry, and that she violated federal rules by disclosing confidential information about endangered species to industry sources. MacDonald resigned in May. In July the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will review and possibly change the final rule on lynx habitat, as well as that of seven other endangered species decisions, because MacDonald’s political interference appeared to influence the final outcome. In late August, 2007 a federal judge in D.C. ordered that the Dept. of the Interior inform her by October 15 what-if any-action it will take on the issue of critical habitat. In late September of 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game, as well as other agencies, submitted statements criticizing the proposed Moosehead Lake Region development, raising concerns ranging from habitat loss for loons and bald eagles to a decrease in the quality of fishing and reducing recreational access to the woods, and that the plans for “conservation easements” are very vague and grossly inadequate.
Resistance to this scam is adamant and very vocal. Since the first proposal was announced in 2005, Plum Creek has sustained vandalisms to its offices as well as to the homes of its officials, One office was broken into, and logging and other equipment has been sabotaged (while Rising Tide North America does not engage in or otherwise condone such actions-they provide testimony to the groundswell of local resistance to this callous and destructive capitalist venture). When LURC conducted “scoping sessions” to solicit public input regarding the first proposal, Maine residents turned out en masse to register their outrage and rejection. One individual threw mud and dirty water to symbolize the impact on watersheds. According to the local paper, James Lehner-Plum Creek’s regional general manager, had his tires slashed while he was inside at one of the meetings. As of Autumn 2007, resisters are gearing up for the public hearing process in which LURC will either reject or accept Plum Creek’s zoning request. If LURC approves the rezoning, one can expect that resistance will only escalate, and there are many angry rural folk that Plum Creek will have to maneuver past. Maine Earth First! and Native Forest Network-Gulf of Maine are organizing many people to participate in the hearings, which may begin in early December, 2007. NFN-Gulf of Maine is participating in the hearing process as “interveners”-which basically allows them to bring in expert witnesses to testify against this proposal and cross-examine other witnesses. In addition, there are about 30 other groups intervening as well.
Rising Tide North America is allying itself with local resisters against Plum Creek, bringing into the debate the (largely-overlooked) fact that ecosystem destruction and so-called “development” imparts direct, immediate, and decidedly detrimental impacts upon local and regional weather as well as regional and global climate stability. Such arguments have yet to be tested in court-but are (and should be) a critical issue in land-use debates the world over. At least one RTNA activist-a meteorologist-will testify as an expert witness regarding the climate change-ecosystem integrity issue. Plum Creek’s response to the references to climate change made by a number of members of the public has been to relegate them to the status of “irrelevance”-claiming that such inferences were an opportunistic maneuver on the part of environmentalists to capitalize on the “global warming fervor” that now seems to grip the public.this is interesting, in light of the fact that Plum Creek in Maine has recently been carrying out its replanting programs with tree species from places like Massachusetts and Connecticut. One of the greatest contributions to the global fight to both mitigate and survive anthropogenic climate change and its many varied impacts that the people of Maine can take is to leave intact-and then work to restore as best possible-the Maine North Woods ecosystem complex.
Issues such as climate change, water quality, and testimonies from people outside Maine regarding Plum Creek’s equally egregious land-use policies in other states-along with the possible precedents set when rulings are handed down-make of this an issue that extends far beyond the borders of the state of Maine.
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