Ban clear-cutting? This was thought to be an impossible task by mainstream environmental groups in Maine. Yet it has been brought to the public arena for the elections in November by the Maine Green Party and a coalition of citizens.
During the l995 Maine legislative session, forest activists and the Natural Resources Council of Maine (MNRC) attempted to stop the terrible slaughter going on in the Maine woods.
A bill was introduced addressing clear-cutting standards and other forest practices responsible for destroying many thousands of acres of Maine's forest yearly to feed the insatiable appetite of the many paper mills that have always been a part of Maine. The bill was thought to be a compromise that could get passed. It was effectively defeated by the dominant companies using standard corporate practice to influence legislators.
We all know how it goes. The corporation reminds the legislator that they are responsible for funding research at the University for the agriculture product that provides jobs in that legislator's district. The legislator, trying to represent his/her constituents, realizes the loss of jobs, and votes the way the corporation wants. They are then rewarded with a sweet campaign contribution for the next election. Just another day in the politics of power.
The problem with the defeat of the bill, for forest activists, was that now nothing was going to stop the hemorrhaging of Maine's woods. With the new emphasis on globalization of the economy, aided and abetted by Maine's "independent" governor, Maine is seeing its traditional wood resource, responsible for many jobs in the value-added forest products industry, primed to be shipped overseas in the form of raw logs and chips.
The forest is in deep trouble. Anyone familiar with the woods sees the destruction everywhere. Huge clear-cuts are visible from nearly every high spot, buffered by the classic "beauty strip", along the roads and waterways. The Allagash Waterway bisects Maine with a nice stand of trees on either side. But if you walk perpendicularly to the water you come across a devastation that will literally take your breath away.
Viewing a massive clearcut is a psychological blow to the human spirit. When I saw a big one, I thought immediately of the horrors of war. It is not a pretty sight. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing—no trees, no birds, no wildlife—an ecosystem obviously stressed to the max. I wondered about soil erosion, and, without trees, too fast melting of snow cover causing floods in the spring. With no canopy of trees to protect the small growing vegetation, and the use of herbicides everywhere, odd poorly adapted species that provide no sustainable long term benefits start a new growth cycle. The paper companies are leaving Maine right now. And leaving it dead.
In 1994, the Maine Green Party decided that in order to begin the long process of gaining ballot status as an officially recognized party in Maine, we would have to run a state-wide candidate for governor. We had already got our political feet wet with a second district race for Congress in 1992, where our candidate garnered l0 percent of the vote. That candidate, Jonathan Carter, of North New Portland, was a University of Maine biology professor whose passion for forest preservation stemmed from childhood experiences in the woods. The now highly visible deterioration literally drove him to action. Jonathan was passionately dedicated to reversing the destruction. He used the Green Party's l994 gubernatorial campaign, as our candidate, to address the forest issue in relation to the power of paper company "corporatism" to use tax dollars for the welfare of the industry while systematically undermining the sustainability of the forest.
The Green Party built name recognition and a base of activists that was in place when the NRCM bill against clear-cutting went down. In the summer of l995, Jonathan, the Green Party and others, angry at the Legislature's defeat of the bill, worked a referendum through the secretary of state's office, and the Attorney General of Maine declared it legally viable.
In November of l995, 500 activists collected over 50,000 signatures at the polls in one day.
Its recent experiences meant the Maine Green Party was able to use a strategy of mobilizing hundreds of supporters from a brief effort at signature-gathering. In November of l995, 500 activists collected over 50,000 signatures at the polls in one day. Maine people declared themselves mad.
This triumph in organizing was due to many factors. Political stagnation, due to the one-party system in government, was one. Jonathan's name recognition and clear knowledge of the issue were essential. He traveled the state with a riveting slide show that left some people in tears unable to stay and watch. Mainers, especially those who live near the destruction, have been horrified for years at what was happening, and tapping into that frustration allowed the word to spread like wildfire. Loggers, mill workers, hunters, fishermen and women, snow-mobilers, town officials, hikers, all joined with the activists in a heroic attempt to preserve Maine's last remaining great resource-a forest for future generations that everyone can have stake in, for jobs and recreation.
The issue is timely, popular, and in a nice display of democracy in action, allows voters to actively take part in governing for the future. (Not your familiar deadbeat, two-party-that-is-really-one, no choice, ho-hum, televised, corporate cheerleader campaign.)
...the politics of timber and transportation welfare subsidies will be brought, kicking and screaming, into the public debate.
The reaction of the Forest Liquidation Lobby has been as expected. Feel good ads are already blanketing the airwaves with pretty pictures of colorful forests and baby wildlife. Sweet gentle music and sexy female voices soften us up for the media kill in the fall. Corporate PR (they've hired a Los Angeles firm) is expected to run in the millions of dollars.
Even Maine Public Broadcasting, getting into the act with public funds, recently presented a fluffy special on clear-cutting. A clever public relations piece gave clearcut opponents three tiny sentences while giving 99 percent of the show over to paper company propaganda, bolstered by the company-supported Maine Forest Products Council and the forestry department of the University of Maine. (Does anyone really question who owns Maine?) Beautiful flyovers of a hardwood forest in full fall splendor lulled the viewers into a reassuring discussion by the "experts" of how clear-cutting benefits the forest.
The newly formed Ban Clear-cutting Citizen's Coalition, strongly and publicly, with a harshly worded press conference, objected to the spending of Maine taxpayers' money for such a biased report.
In an important parallel campaign, the Maine Green Party has become a legal intervenor in the state's permitting process for a massive cargo port on Sears Island off the coast of Maine—the largest uninhabited island in New England. The island, a pristine beauty, is in danger of becoming the corporate vehicle to ship hardwoods(as opposed to softwoods for pulp and paper) in the form of wood chips to Asia. (The greedy creeps want everything.) The plan is to ship l,000,000 tons of wood chips yearly from the port, devastating 38,000 acres of forest each year. Obviously the issues are completely linked, so the case can, and will, be made that corporate resource rape comes in many forms.
The Green Party also plans a tree planting campaign.
Anyone traveling the north roads, of which l,000 miles are added each year at a cost of $25,000 per mile, according to Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission, sees trees of smaller and smaller diameter headed for the mills. Trucks that used to take 20 trees a load now take 80 to 100, according to the TV special.
As the paper companies, and their PR hoods, square off against the citizens of Maine, in what is already being called "the battle of the century," the politics of timber and transportation welfare subsidies will be brought, kicking and screaming, into the public debate. The Green Party plans to run a candidate for the US Senate, and a possible Ralph Nader campaign for President (Maine Greens need 5 percent in a presidential race to maintain our ballot status—a real fair third party hurdle, right?—a presidential candidate in order to form a state third party?).
The November elections in Maine look like a fight for the soul of our state, our country, and our planet. We're ready.