The Fleecing of Northern New England

Now the enviro groups in Maine want to pile additional debt on Maine taxpayers so that more Maine forest lands get locked up and restricted, too. Are increasing taxes, watering down land values with regulation, and limiting who can have access, among the real legacies of these “forest protection” schemes?

Karen Tilburg of the Natural Resources Council of Maine looked upon the sale of the Champion lands to The Conservation Fund with regret that Maine wasnt in the same position of having ready money for state land acquisition of private lands and easements.

NRCM has been using Plum Creek as a whipping boy in two recent fundraising letters in a shameful and misleading effort to get members to fork over $20,000 so that that the tax-exempt Council can more-heavily lobby the Maine Legislature to put out a $100 million dollar bond issue next year. (This is the same group which claims large membership support, yet had to cancel its “Environmental Congress 98″ scheduled for December 5th because of lack of interest.)

Karen Tilburg is the wife of Rep. David Shiah, sponsor of the infamous “Wildlands” bill in the last session, which would have stolen (no compensation) the development rights on 4.5 million acres of privately-owned Maine woods if it had been enacted by the Maine Legislature. NRCM and virtually all other green groups backed the scheme.

She is quoted in an Associated Press story in the Bangor Daily News (12-10-98): “The Conservation Fund was able to put together this remarkable acquisition package knowing that the states of Vermont, New York and New Hampshire had public funding available”

Tilburg goes on to say that “Maine has essentially no money available for the express purpose of purchasing land and conservation easements.” Further, “We hope that todays announcement is seen by the office of the governor, state legislators and congressional delegation as further motivation for the state to move quickly to plan and fund a long-term strategy to ensure that the publics interest in Maines North Woods is protected.”

The name of the game for all the greens is “lock up and restrict”. And they want the public to finance it and suffer any consequences. A case in point is the Champion land sale announced this week.

Thirty percent of the 297,000 acre deal will be locked up under state and federal ownership and the rest will be sold subject to easement restrictions.

Laundering land through the Green Machine is like going through a car wash and coming out with a lot of the parts missing.

Land laundering is a specialty of The Conservation Fund. Ron Arnold has pointed out in his book “Trashing the Economy” that the Fund is an offshoot of The Nature Conservancy and has “become the National Park Services private acquisition surrogate.”

In the case of Vermont, the largest single piece of private forest land has now come under green control through The Conservation Fund and its “partners”. Voices in the woods business there are not happy about it.

Roberta Borland, Executive Director of the Vermont Forest Products Association points out that “the VFPA has long opposed further acquisition by the State of Vermont, especially of timber land. This latest Champion land deal is exactly the type of land the State claimed it did not need to own.”

Commenting on the contracts offered by the Vermont Land Trust (which will be The Conservation Funds nonprofit partner in Vermont), Borland says “Their new contracts with landowners are not making timber production compatible with their ‘other goals’, so in spite of what they claim, timber production is NOT a goal, and will be diminished over the years.”

“We are saddened by this land transaction and we take a wait and see approach – fully expecting that the deal makers will be deal breakers. They ARE consistent that way!”

Borland says the 133,000 of Vermont land is now off the map as far as the industry is concerned, “because even if the state does buy it all, the development rights will be lost to the rich and elite of the land mis-trusts, and the timber on the balance of the land will rest with a timber company with its hands tied by the whims of a few land trust executives.”

One Vermont logger calculates there will be virtually no timber companies able or willing to buy the land with the conditions imposed on them.

And having hands tied by elite planners is exactly what Maines private landowners, large and small, do NOT want.

Expect a unified statement from the Maine forest industry opposing more debt (a bond) for public land acquisitions. The privately-owned Maine woods provide a giant chunk of the Maine economy, amounting to seven billion dollars annually out of a total twenty-six billion. Its contribution to the tourist industry, by allowing generous use of its lands, has forged a cultural heritage for Maine as well as an economic boon. Already heavily-regulated, however, locking up and restricting large amounts of productive land is not in the best interests of the industry or the Maine economy which it fuels.

Although plans for the 18,000 acres of NH forest havent been finalized, New Hampshire Timberland Owners Associations Eric Kingley has raised questions about taxes.

Hes right. Theres tax-base-loss potential written all over the deal. Will those towns and counties be compensated which lose valuation from easements put on the land or by state acquisition? If so, at what level and for how long?

Kingley has concerns regarding sustainability. “While there is great talk about the environmental side of “sustainability”, I seldom hear about the NGO (non-governmental organization) commitment to social or economic sustainability. While we all want the forest to be there, we also rely upon the timber, jobs, etc. that that forest provides. How will NGOs work with contractors? What kind of mud season rules will apply, and how will somebody be able to make payments on a million dollars of iron when they’re shut down. Of course, these (and many others) are issues we all deal with, but it bothers me deeply when sustainability (buzz work for the 90s) is used without addressing these important issues.”

Although Patrick Noonan, who heads The Conservation Fund (and who was also President of The Nature Conservancy before he created the Fund) says that the Champion land deal represents “the wave of the future” for green groups, Henson Moore, president of the American forest & Paper Association said that he doubted the deal represents “the wave of the future for the whole industry.” (Wall Street Journal December 10, 1998)

Whether the Champion/Greens deal is a future trend or just a one-time aberration greased by the fact that the Vice Chairman of Champion (Kenwood C. Nichols) is on the Corporate Council of The Conservation Fund, only time will tell. In Maine, early response from the woods industry is hoping its the latter.

One thing is clear, making sure theres no money for publicly financing these backroom deals will go a long way in protecting the taxpayers, public access, and the productivity of the forest industry from the harmful effects of the rich and powerful regulation-loving elitists who make up Green Machine.

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