What do we do? Protect forests or research toilets?


It will take just $2 million to purchase a 3,688-acre parcel of land for permanent preservation in Grafton Notch. That money, which was a sure thing on Tuesday, was trimmed by the U.S. House on Wednesday from the nation’s Forest Legacy Program.

The parcel is terrific and, among purchases competing for funding through the legacy program, had been at the top of the list.

Anyone who has hiked Old Speck Mountain and climbed atop the observation tower would understand the deep beauty of the area, much of which is already included in Maine’s public reserve lands.

According to the Wilderness Society, the forest there is of great ecological value and economic benefit to Maine and New Hampshire. If purchased through the nation’s legacy program, it would be a permanently protected working and recreational forest. It would also make it possible to complete ongoing work on the 42-mile Grafton Loop Trail, a spur of the Appalachian Trail connecting East Baldpate Mountain to Old Speck.

Just $2 million from the federal budget would be like plucking a grain of sand from the surf at Old Orchard Beach. It’s minuscule.

However small it is, there is only so much money available and lots of competing interests making claim to it.

We have some suggestions.

If we withdrew $1 million from the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative in the defense budget, allowing private enterprises to support this research as they will likely profit from its outcome, we could purchase half the Grafton Notch parcel.

If we withdrew $400,000 for the Carnegie Library building renovation in Missoula, Mont., from the Department of the Interior budget, suggesting instead that patrons and that city follow Auburn’s lead in raising money locally, we could buy nearly another quarter of the parcel. Withdrawing support from foreign operations to support the World Toilet Summit would get us closer to being able to preserve this land, and then perhaps Maine and New Hampshire could kick in a couple of thousand dollars to close the gap in a show of good faith and support.

Sounds easy, but as fine a project as preserving this section of Grafton Notch appears to us, these other projects are viewed as equally fine to their supporters.

It’s a tough choice between innovative toilets and working forests, but that’s the nature of budget building in a political environment.

There’s another expenditure in the budget that could be considered.

Some $4.5 million is allocated to build trails, create access to water and construct backcountry facilities at Katahdin Iron Works, closed since 1890. The Wilderness Society supports the expenditure, believing the project could bring new visitors to the region.

It certainly could, as could the Grafton Notch project.

Although funding for Grafton Notch failed in the House, the Senate has not yet considered it and there’s a chance that Sens. Snowe and Collins could convince their peers to reinstate the funding. We urge them to try, and we believe they can make a convincing argument that preserving forestland is a better use of tax dollars than toilet research in Michigan or spending $450,000 to improve the plantings on the eastern front of the Capitol building.

It will take just $2 million.