Plum Creek News & Updates
Statement of Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director of RESTORE: The North Woods, Concerning Plum Creek's Revised Moosehead Lake Region Plan
April 27, 2007
PLUM CREEK’S PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT IS STILL OVERWHELMING
- 22,000 acres of development zones
What is wrong with this? Plum Creek’s plan still includes hundreds of misplaced subdivision lots scattered across the landscape. While there is a need for more tourist facilities in the GreenvilleRockwood area, the proposed resort and subdivision lots at Lilly Bay, across from a popular state park, is the wrong place for development. A resort at Big Moose Mountain could be a valuable tourist destination. However, the details about the development there are extremely vague and sacrificing pristine Burnham Pond is just plain wrong.
Plum Creek is proposing two conservation ideas. The first is comprised of a package including a 90,000-acre working forest easement, similar working forest easements on 60 ponds and undeveloped shore areas on 6 other lakes that will be subdivided, and deed restrictions on undeveloped lots. The second conservation component is a “conservation framework” covering 340,500 acres. Only the 90,000-acre easement can be considered by LURC as part of the offset.
The so-called conservation lands in the first component are actually working forests where commercial logging, road construction, and gravel mining would continue and where, in many areas, large, new energy facilities would be allowed.
I question whether that represents a meaningful conservation improvement compared to what is already happening on those lands. First, virtually all the lake and pond shorelands in the areas that would be covered by the easement are already protected or undevelopable anyway. Second, the 90,000-acre easement encompasses commercial forestlands where the ecosystems will never recover as long as the cycle of industrial logging continues, which will be perpetuated under the “working forest” easements. Third, the 500-foot wide working forest easements interspersed among the subdivision developments would mostly benefit house owners, not wildlife or the public.
I served on the LURC staff for 11 years. Based on my experience, I believe that the conservation component of Plum Creek’s proposal fails to meet LURC's legal test of striking a reasonable publicly beneficial balance with the proposed development. Thousands of acres of wildlands would be developed in the near term (22,000 acres are in proposed development zones). Moreover, the “shadow’” effect of development means that large additional areas could be indirectly adversely affected by Plum Creek’s sprawling development.
The second conservation piece is a so-called “conservation framework.” Plum Creek says, if its proposed development rezoning is approved by the Land Use Regulation Commission, the company will allow conservation groups to purchase two parcels outright (totaling 74,500 acres) and development rights on another 266,000 acres. The fee properties that might be bought outright are significant, but I question buying easements on the other lands. How is paying millions of dollars in scarce public and private conservation funds to a landowner to continue to do what it can already do (industrial logging, roading, gravel mining and energy development) meaningful conservation? If the idea of protecting the lands in the “framework” has value, then Plum Creek should complete such a deal apart from the plan before LURC.
The “framework” should not be part of Plum Creek’s proposal before LURC. It cannot be considered as part of the legal balancing act LURC must undertake. Nor should it not be held hostage. Plum Creek is saying the “framework” represents additional conservation that will happen only if LURC gives Plum Creek everything it wants. That sounds like blackmail.
PLUM CREEK HAS A RECORD OF BREAKING THE RULES
Under a court order, in 2005 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designation of critical habitat for Canada lynx, which is listed under the national Endangered Species Act. Maine has the only breeding populations of lynx in the entire eastern United States. The USFWS habitat proposal included lands in northwestern Maine that are essential to the survival of lynx in this part of our country.
Plum Creek lobbied senior officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior for an exemption from the critical habitat designation for its lands in Maine. That is no way to demonstrate a commitment to protecting wildlife and the environment.
Shockingly, Plum Creek got its way when the Bush Administration granted an exemption from the critical habitat designation for lynx on private lands in Maine. We believe the decision was a serious error. A lawsuit is expected to challenge the exemption.
Blocking habitat protection for threatened lynx is not the only wildlife problem Plum Creek has caused in Maine. Plum Creek has paid the largest fine in state history for forestry violations, illegally cut down an eagle-nesting tree, damaged important deer wintering areas, and installed utility lines without a permit. Plum Creek has a habit of breaking the law. How can the company be trusted on its Moosehead plan?
WE STILL NEED MEANINGFUL CONSERVATION OF THE MOOSEHEAD REGION
Despite gains in recent years, Maine is still near the bottom of the list of states with one of the smallest proportions of publicly protected land. We cannot rely on private groups to do the job our public agencies should be doing. Even at their best their scale will always be too small. Nor does the State alone have the financial or technical ability to protect and restore big wilderness. We have seen that demonstrated with the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
It is time to seriously evaluate our options, including the proposed Maine Woods National Park and Preserve, and to act on a grand scale befitting the grandeur of our wildlands. The Moosehead region is unquestionably of national significance. The threats it faces are of national concern. It will take national action to preserve the pubic interest at risk. But it must start here.
Plum Creek’s revised concept plan is being pitched in a way that downplays the damaging development aspects and inflates the weak conservation aspects. We still need meaningful, large-scale conservation in the Moosehead region. But Plum Creek’s Moosehead plan is about development. It is not a plan to provide permanently protected wildlands.
RESTORE: The North Woods