By Bill Beardsley
The Downeast woods are where jobs and global warming are wed. For starters, Hancock and Washington are among the most forested and privately owned counties in the nation. Back 300 years ago when the King claimed that all the privately owned pine was his and fined our ancestors for their cutting, we fought back in our White Pine Revolt, which we won only with the American Revolution. Never again will we tolerate such “takings” of private property by a “21st century” king. True, we love and cherish our public lands, from Knowlton to West Quoddy to Acadia, yet, 95 percent of Downeast forestland is private and there is a responsibility to tackle such Downeast challenges as jobs and the excessive CO2.
Consider CO2. Our school curriculum teaches us CO2 is a food and fertilizer for our forests, affirmed by the Maine Forest Service with its forecasts of high annual growth rates in our young Downeast working forests. Forest science also notes that young working forests sequester CO2 while decaying, over-mature forests also give off CO2. If we really want to tackle global warming, Downeast working forests could easily do the heavy lifting. Compare this working forest strategy with global carbon tax advocacy that often seems more focused on income redistribution than on reducing global warming.
While most forest-related Downeast CO2 reductions are carried out privately, there is a small role for public lands. Lest we forget, the origin of Maine’s million acres of public lands was 1,000 acres per Maine township, set aside as “school lots” by our Massachusetts colonial landlords, to be used as a working forest to build and heat the school and pay the teacher. In short, our public lands could lower school cost, lower CO2 and build our Downeast economy.
Globally, Maine’s forest economy also has reason for hope. The newly expanded Panama Canal, for example, allows super containerships to carry Downeast forest products from Eastport to Shanghai in a third less time and a third less distance, and China has no trees. One would also think that, along Maine’s 3,500-mile deepwater coastline, we could find places for a couple of privately funded ports, such as Searsport or Bucksport. As for the U.S. East Coast markets, if our congressional delegation put the same effort into repealing the 100-year-old Jones Act (which basically bans our Downeast seaports from marine cargo transportation to any U.S. port), we could put meaning back into the “port” part of Downeast coastal town names. It might mean developing one-tenth of 1 percent of our coastline as “portals” rather than “barriers to the sea,” reducing CO2.
Finally, forest economists correctly observe that the forest industry sector has one of the highest job and economic multiplier effects of any industrial sector in the world, far above service and recreation sectors. The Pleasant River pine saw mill at Washington Junction in Hancock exemplifies these multipliers. Pleasant River generates multipliers “upstream” in Downeast forests, in stumpage to landowners, jobs for foresters, loggers, skidders, truckers and support services, and “downstream” to bio-energy, pulp and paper, fuel, mulch, chemicals, transportation, housing contractors, composite wood, on and on. One only has to drive by an EBS or Viking outlet and one sees Pleasant River markings on lumber packets. In just such ways our working forests, clean air and jobs go hand in hand.
Bill Beardsley of Ellsworth is a former president of Husson University and former Maine commissioner of conservation.