Maine Woods National Park: Fact vs. Fear (Dec. 20, 2011)

MAINE WOODS NATIONAL PARK FACT VS. FEAR

When debating formation of a national park in Maine’s north woods, it is common to encounter misunderstandings about the proposal, including charges it is a “federal takeover” that will create no jobs, rob the local tax base and curtail commercial timber processing.

FEAR: The park will curtail wood harvesting and access for recreational and motorized uses.

FACT: Approximately 70,000 acres of land donated by Guilford philanthropist Roxanne Quimby through the foundation Elliotsville Plantation Inc. will form the Maine Woods National Park, home to unique, irreplaceable biological resources between Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River.

The National Park Service will manage this parcel as a preserve, and encourage public use for canoeing, rafting, fishing hiking, mountain biking, camping, painting and photography. In the winter, there will be opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

EPI also proposes establishing a traditional multi-use area on property it owns east of the East Branch Penobscot River and in areas west of Brownville Junction near Sebec Lake. This multi-use area will be 43,000 to 70,000 acres, permanently protected for sustainable forestry, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and ATV use.

FEAR: The park will imperil Maine’s commercial forestry.

FACT: Friends of the Maine Woods supports the Maine pulp and paper industry, and realizes its value and importance to the Maine economy.

But new technology and cheap labor globally have produced painful cycles of boom and bust. Maine’s paper production dropped from 3.8 million tons in 2007 to 2.8 million tons in 2009, the lowest level since the late 1970s, forcing mills to lay off workers and idle machines. Energy conversions and innovative new products are a viable way forward for the industry, and a tourism-driven park proposal covering 1% of Maine’s forestland would continue to allow an innovative forest products industry while diversifying the regional economy, adding new opportunities in tourism, hospitality, services, transportation, information technology and other sectors.

Economic diversity is the key. Even if timber harvests are maintained at current levels and improvements in labor productivity occur at rates similar to those since 1952, forest products jobs can be expected to decline by about 30 percent per decade. Foresters do not see commercially harvestable timber coming from the land proposed for the park for at least 50 years.

FEAR: The park will bring air emissions standards that close paper mills.

FACT: The National Park Service clearly states that national parks established after 1977 are designated as Class II areas not subject to stricter air emissions standards. Because air pollution affecting parks originates largely outside parks, it therefore is generally beyond the National Park Service’s management jurisdiction, and falls to state and local authorities.

Bob McIntosh, retired National Park Service official stated, “The establishment of a National Park in the Katahdin Region will not require a change to existing Federal/State Air Quality Standards and will not increase the air quality requirements for existing or future mill operations in the area.”

FEAR: The 70,000-acre donations precede a “federal takeover” for a much larger preserve.

FACT: While proposals exist for a park of up to 3.2 million acres, Friends of the Maine Woods does not endorse them and works solely for the study and creation of a 70,000-acre park with the secondary multi-use area. We believe maximum economic benefit from the park is achievable at this scale, and the pending $40 million gift to site and maintain the park makes the proposal realistic and achievable.

FEAR: The park will force private landowners out.

FACT: Legislation creating the park will contain restrictions on its growth. If additional park land is acquired, it will only come from willing sellers, at fair market value. Owners of land around the park can keep or sell their property as they choose. Property values will increase with the presence of a national park nearby, and the demand for housing and services will increase. There are no towns or year-round homes inside the park, which is proposed solely within Maine’s Unorganized Territory on land that is privately owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc.

FEAR: Tourism jobs are few, low-paying, and go to out-of-state interests.

FACT: Tourism is Maine’s largest industry, supporting 16.6% of all jobs in Maine and making up 28% of Maine’s Gross Domestic Product. By comparison, in 1998, only about 4 percent of all Maine personal income and jobs were directly derived from the lumber and wood products and pulp and paper industries, combined.

A 2009 look at Acadia National Park attributed 2,763 full-time private jobs and over $110 million in annual economic activity to the park in sectors including transportation, hospitality, construction, engineering, information technology, maintenance services and administrative support.

The National Park Service often contracts with private companies to provide services inside the park, spending approximately $300-$400 million annually for goods and services, with 90 percent of contracts awarded to small businesses. Viewed as an important human resource, Registered Maine Guides and other outfitters will be invited and encouraged to conduct business inside the park. In the public sector, the park will employ approximately 25 full-time people. The reconnaissance study requested by Friends of the Maine Woods and more than 1,800 Maine citizens will provide more detailed data on private sector job creation from a national park.

Meanwhile, a 2001 study by an independent University of Montana economist says, “National Parks are usually located in rural areas where the historical natural resource industries that supported those areas in the past are often in long-term decline as sources of employment and income. In that setting, National Parks have often provided a crucial economic bridge to a new, more diverse economic base that combines the down-sized natural resource industries with the economic activity drawn to the area by the same natural amenities that led the National Park to be created. Part of this is associated with Park visitation (tourism) but most of it is associated with the relocation of new permanent residents and non-tourist businesses that are attracted to the high quality environments protected by the National Park.”

FEAR: The park will steal property tax revenue from municipalities.

FACT: Current property taxes on the proposed national park acreage amount to $93,000 per year. The park would offset that loss with annual federal payments that alone are typically higher than property tax payments by local landowners. New income and sales taxes from increased economic activity by private park-related businesses — conservatively projected to grow 1% per year, greater than statewide rates over the last 3 years — will also directly benefit gateway communities.

FEAR: By losing focus on commercial wood harvesting, Maine will lose its heritage.

FACT: Maine once had what the world wants: unlimited lumber, pulp and paper, harvested at top wages. But the forest products industry has sought cheaper labor and material abroad, cutting jobs and closing Maine mills.

Maine is discovering it still has what the world wants: open space, clean water and rare, unspoiled vistas. The park and the accompanying multi-use area will enshrine and preserve the small-scale, family-oriented sustainable logging of its past while diversifying its economy and leveraging Maine’s status as an outdoor tourism destination in a challenging global economy.

FEAR: Supporters are elitist liberals from southern Maine, far from the north woods.

FACT: There is only one Maine. Economic development in one part of the state is the responsibility and benefit of every Mainer. Friends include town officials in Medway, shop owners in Millinocket, outdoor enthusiasts in Portland and Houlton, and ordinary people in every corner of the state. See who supports us at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50099/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6711

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