Timber Companies, Environmentalists Tussle over Future of Northern Forest Disparate Interests in US 'Northern Forest Lands' Seek Ways to Reconcile Use of the Forest to Provide Wood Products and Recreation While Maintaining Rural Character Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. Part 34 of a Series

By Catherine Foster, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 1991 | Go to article overview

Timber Companies, Environmentalists Tussle over Future of Northern Forest Disparate Interests in US 'Northern Forest Lands' Seek Ways to Reconcile Use of the Forest to Provide Wood Products and Recreation While Maintaining Rural Character Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. Part 34 of a Series


Catherine Foster, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


HEWN out of the wilderness 100 years ago by Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation, Millinocket is the quintessential mill town. Nearly everybody works at the big mill or businesses that support it. Horns still blast at 8 a.m. and yellow ribbons flutter from muddy American-made trucks.

It's quiet enough that moose have been seen crossing the airstrip. But that quiet is deceptive. Consider this town center stage for a drama being played out in the 26 million acres of the Northern Forest area of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The players are millworkers and sports lovers, environmentalists, family-owned timber concerns, state and federal legislators, and far-flung corporate accountants.

The title of the drama is "The Future of the Northern Forest." Some observers are concerned that it may turn out to be as acrimonious as the spotted-owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest. The issue is not protection of old growth, but questions about property rights and land use. Environmentalists and the forest-products industry are gearing up to protect their interests.

For more than 200 years logging and the forest-products industry have been virtually the only ways to make a living in this isolated area. Most of the land in Maine is privately owned, much of it by a few thousand family-owned timber companies that have allowed Mainers access to their land to fish, hunt, snowmobile, and canoe. But in the 1970s and '80s, when a land boom hit and frenzied development occurred around lakes, life started changing.

More mills were automated or shut down. Mechanical timber harvesters required fewer workers. And "keep off" signs appeared on once-open land.

Alarm bells went off when international investors bought Diamond International Corporation, a timber concern, and then put 1 million acres up for sale in New Hampshire. While conservation groups and states sought to buy key tracts, 90 percent of the land was sold to a developer. Suddenly it looked as if the special character and qualities of the rural northern region could be altered forever.

In response, Congress in 1988 authorized a study of the Northern Forest Lands by the United States Forest Service. Their report, issued in 1990, identified threats facing the forest. A Governors' Task Force, made up of members appointed by the governors of the four states, was set up at the same time and issued a report that recommended buying more land and adopting tax incentives to preserve the forest and the forest-products industry. Congress funded the Northern Forest Lands Council last fall to recom mend conservation policies for the region.

In October, Congress passed the Forest Legacy program, which provides rules by which public and private partnerships can create conservation easements. These enable landowners to continue logging while selling development or other rights to public agencies or conservation groups. Lobbyists want Congress to appropriate $25 million to purchase lands in each of the four states.

While the Northern Forest Lands Council sees development as the major threat to the area, national environmental groups say that more private land must be converted to public ownership. Only 15 percent of the land in the four states is publicly held, a much smaller percentage than in the rest of the United States. The Wilderness Society, which opened an office in Augusta, Maine, two years ago to work on the issue, has proposed a 2.7 million-acre reserve around one state park in Maine.

"It's a land of our country's myths and legends," says Brock Evans, vice president of national issues for the Audubon Society. "It shouldn't be logged all the time; it shouldn't be another 'disposable asset,' as companies put it. …

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Timber Companies, Environmentalists Tussle over Future of Northern Forest Disparate Interests in US 'Northern Forest Lands' Seek Ways to Reconcile Use of the Forest to Provide Wood Products and Recreation While Maintaining Rural Character Series: POINTS OF THE COMPASS. Part 34 of a Series
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