Plum Creek plan stirs emotions

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Plum Creek, the Seattle-based timberland owner, has finally submitted its controversial application to Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC). Word has it that it will be six months to a year before we find out whether LURC will approve Plum Creek’s landmark proposal for zoning its 426,000 acres of Maine timberland, much of which is in the Moosehead Lake area.

That Plum Creek’s sweeping plan has generated a wide spectrum of public response, ranging from praise to condemnation, should not be surprising. The Moosehead Lake area has always been the crown jewel of Maine’s wilderness treasures, and the sheer scope of Plum Creek’s plan from a zoning standpoint is unprecedented in Maine history.

As Mainers await the verdict from LURC, there may be some value in taking stock of our conduct during the months that preceded Plum Creek’s submission of its plan. All too often during the Plum Creek debate, Maine’s political fringe element did little to distinguish itself. The repeated acts of lawlessness and vandalism against Plum Creek property by “eco-terrorists” did nothing to elevate the debate. But the plundering of Plum Creek Timber Co. wasn’t limited to breaking and defacing property. There was also plundering of a rhetorical nature by environmental extremists who apparently would oppose Plum Creek’s plan no matter what changes or accommodations were made to appease critics.

For example, in responding to Plum Creek’s near-historic offer to conserve most of its acreage from future development, Natural Resource Council (NRC) spokesman Diano Circo said, according to the Bangor Daily News, “The conservation is tied to Plum Creek getting what they want right now.” In other words, NRC is unhappy because the “conservation gift” is contingent upon LURC’s approval of the Plum Creek plan. Well…duh?

In their news releases and op-ed articles, these anti-development absolutists dressed up their oppositional arguments to make them look presentable and fair-minded. But, boiled down, they see Plum Creek as persona non grata for two well-worn reasons that spring from standard liberal dogma: 1) Plum Creek is big, and 2) Plum Creek is motivated by profit.

Some of these environmental organizations seem oblivious to basic economics, as well as to Maine’s desperate need to save itself from the welfare abyss by attracting job-producing investment by free enterprise.

Plum Creek, on the other hand, is to be commended, not only for its patience with Maine’s diverse, vocal – and sometimes strident – population, but with its willingness to listen to reason. The company’s significantly revised plan goes out of its way to accommodate citizen concerns and strike a balance between economic opportunity and wilderness conservation. Plum Creek’s new plan relocates proposed resort complexes, as well as some planned house lots, closer to existing developments. Most remarkable of all, Plum Creek has agreed to a plan that will insure that 99 percent of its timberland acreage will remain forever protected from future development. This encompasses a tract of land twice the size of Baxter State Park!

No wonder the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) has given its unqualified endorsement of the Plum Creek plan. For those of us who enjoy traditional use – hunting, fishing, hiking and snowsledding – in the North Woods, Plum Creek’s conservation proposal is a gift.

Finally, Plum Creek’s plunderers seem to have ignored the most compelling component of the Plum Creek plan: its predictability. Plum Creek’s vision for the future, as outlined in its comprehensive plan, if approved, will allow Greenville and the state itself to guide growth and manage change in a way that can generate economic and recreational opportunity. This is in keeping with Gov. Baldacci’s Maine Woods Legacy Initiative that calls for “strengthening the connection between economic health and conservation in the Maine woods.” By definition, that “connection” must include another aspect that has almost been lost in the frantic rush by Maine’s urban elite to demonize Plum Creek and save the whole North Woods for themselves: the working forest.

Contrary to some reports, Plum Creek is first and foremost a timberland corporation, not a developer. It is also a member of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Their goal is to harvest timber in a responsible way that will generate profits and reward company shareholders. The plunderers would have us believe that profit is a dirty word.

Critics notwithstanding, the Plum Creek plan, especially the revised version, can be a resurrecting economic force for Greenville, once a thriving recreational mecca. As Greenville resident Tony Barlett put it, “We want business back here in Greenville; we want jobs for our children and grandchildren. Our ties to the land are real, and they go back generations. If any landowner tried to spoil this area, we would be the first up in arms.”

It was Bartlett who helped bring historical perspective to the Plum Creek debate. A 100 years ago, says Bartlett, there were 92 steamboats on Moosehead, and the lake’s shoreline was dotted with places to stay, and a number of grand resorts like the famed Mt. Kineo Hotel.

Maybe Plum Creek’s vision will bring economic vitality back to Greenville and maybe it won’t. So far, Plum Creek has shown itself to be thoughtful, responsive, and far-sighted. If you ask me, during the application preparatory period, Plum Creek treated Maine better than Maine treated Plum Creek.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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