Plum Creek & The Price Of Trees, Dirt & People

Posted: 17/01/2008 in Uncategorized
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Like I’ve said many times before, the future of Maine lies in its past. Our heritage is rapidly disappearing from our lives. We were once a state world renowned for our lumbering industry. Our fisheries surpassed many nations, and textile and shoe manufacturing around the world depended on our drive to produce excellence. But what have we become over the last few decades?

As government regulation increased, wages climbed and resources diminished, and with a few exceptions, Maine became a beggar state, intent on table scrapings of companies from away. Where we once could look with pride upon our many mill and industrial centers in cities and towns across the state, we now look with disgust upon empty decaying shells. Empty souls looking back at us in shame for what we have become. The decision to be made by the LURC regarding the proposed Plum Creek development of the Moosehead region may well become a turning point for the future of Maine.

We have an opportunity to regain control of our future. To take back the reins of this out of control sled heading into economic ruin, if you will. For too long, we have relied on out of state interests to provide relief from our declining economy. Many communities have relied on the ‘Call Center’ industry to provide jobs. Unfortunately, these centers employment opportunities are based upon sales, and in the face of a coming period of National recession, possibly a worldwide depression following on its heels, their long term future hangs upon those sales. When the economy climbs, sales climb, and the centers offer employment. When the economy fails, sales plummet, and layoffs and unemployment are the result.

The same holds true for the dream of some to become a ‘tourist destination’. Employment depends upon the ability and desire of people to come here and vacation. Again, when the economy fails, people adjust travel and tourism declines. Hotels and restaurants provide notoriously low wages, with little or no benefits. Part time employment is the rule, with many people working less than thirty hours per week. Retail fueled by the tourist trade is even more vulnerable to the whims of the market. One only needs to look at the Old Orchard Beach community to see the validity of this argument. A bustling vibrant community in the summer months becomes a graveyard in the winter. The same hold true along the Maine coast. Kennebunk, York, Wells Beach, all the way to Bar Harbor provide no true, lasting employment opportunities. The exceptions have become Freeport and Kittery with their transformation into ‘retail destinations’.

Are we going to allow the same to occur with the Moosehead region? Think back in your memories and history lessons of the Kineo House in Greenville. Moosehead Lake was once a tourist destination. People from around the world would travel by train to take in the summer months at what some claimed to be “Maine’s inland sea”. But society and the economy changed. Grenville became just another village on a back country lake. The same thing may happen again if we rely on Plum Creek, a company notorious from its ability to keep the bottom line as goal one. Will these promised resorts ever be built? Will they become an eternal tourist destination? Or will they fade into the same history as the Kineo house did, victim to the fickle fate the tourism marketing industry and a declining economy?

Many have touted the advantages of marketing this area outside of the state. But what will be our benefit to do so? How will we feel about becoming waiters and housekeepers to people from away. Rich people who come for a few weeks during the summer, and maybe weekends in the winter? How will these people affect our enjoyment of the Moosehead area? Going by the history of other developments across the country, I believe our enjoyment will ultimately be greatly reduced. From Florida to Washington to Michigan, and soon to Maine, our ability to enjoy these woods and waters will disappear. Private interests purchasing these homes and properties have been systematically posting their properties against trespassing to hunters, fishermen and hikers.

An article in the New York Times relates the following about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula…..

By KEITH SCHNEIDER

Published: January 16, 2008

 

Since 2005, more than a million acres of timberland have changed hands, most of it bought by just two owners. The investment firm GMO, based in Boston, purchased 440,000 acres from International Paper, and a Seattle real estate investment trust, the Plum Creek Timber Company, spent $345 million to buy 650,000 acres, the largest sale of timberland ever in the Midwest…..

Growing numbers of wealthy professionals and baby boomers from Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Traverse City are seeking land for second homes or for relocation, according to an analysis of census and land records by Eric Anderson, a senior Marquette County planner……

“It’s a beautiful business model,” said Kathy Budinick, director for communications at Plum Creek, which owns 8.2 million acres nationwide, more than any other timberland company…….

In the first three quarters of 2007, it sold more than 92,000 acres. “We recognize when we buy timberland that the trees and the land are growing in value,” she said. “How many other industries have inventory that appreciates in value?”…..

the day is approaching when a portion — probably 10 to 20 percent of the 2.1 million acres of commercial forest land owned by corporations — could be developed for housing or recreational use….

……..Those lands lie along the thousands of wild streams and untouched lakes in the Upper Peninsula, close to existing communities, or near the shore of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

In other words, those are the places that people want to buy for camps and cabins.

Another article has this to say about Montana……

By KIRK JOHNSON

Published: October 13, 2007

William P. Foley II pointed to the mountain. Owns it, mostly. A timber company began logging in view of his front yard a few years back. He thought they were cutting too much, so he bought the land…..

Mr. Foley, 62, standing by his private pond, his horses grazing in the distance, proudly calls himself a conservationist who wants Montana to stay as wild as possible. That does not mean no development and no profit. Mr. Foley, the chairman of a major title insurance company, Fidelity National Financial, based in Florida, also owns a chain of Montana restaurants, a ski resort and a huge cattle ranch on which he is building homes….

But arriving here already rich and in love with the landscape, he said, also means his profit motive is different….

The rise of a new landed gentry in the West is partly another expression of gilded age economics in America; the super-wealthy elite wades ashore where it will….

Some old-line logging companies, including Plum Creek Timber, the country’s largest private landowner, are cashing in, putting tens of thousands of wooded acres on the market from Montana to Oregon. Plum Creek, which owns about 1.2 million acres here in Montana alone, is getting up to $29,000 an acre for land that was worth perhaps $500 an acre for timber cutting….

As a result, population is surging in areas surrounding national forests and national parks, with open spaces being carved up into sprawling wooded plots, enough for a house and no nosy neighbors….

In parts of Colorado where communities have committed tax money to preserve open space, conflicts have erupted on the borders of the public lands over whether the programs — which in many cases buy out an owner’s right to develop property, but not the property itself — are simply enriching landowners who keep the land and the public off, too….

Most private timber tracts in the West, including those owned by Plum Creek, have traditionally been open to recreational use, treated as public entry ways into the vast national forests, grasslands and wilderness areas that in Montana alone add up to nearly 46,000 square miles, about the size of New York State. But in many places, the new owners are throwing up no trespassing signs and fences, blocking what generations of residents across the West have taken for granted — open and beckoning access into the woods to fish, hunt and camp…..

A lot of promises are being made. Maine is being teased with the prospect of an improved economy. Looking around at developments across the Nation similar to the Plum Creek proposal, I see none of these promises being fulfilled. Plum Creek is a REIT. A corporation exempt from taxes and liability, who makes millions in profits by marketing land. Maine once had a profitable lumber industry. The price of a tree once held great value. Now, dirt has become more valuable that the trees that grow in that dirt. But even more important, Companies like Plum Creek have made that dirt more valuable than the people who need the trees and the dirt to survive. Is this really what we want Maine to become? Somebody’s weekend cottage?

If you agree with me, I urge you to contact the LURC at lurc@maine.gov and demand they deny this proposal from Plum Creek. Take back the reins of this out of control sled, and regain control of Maine’s future. Say NO to Plum Creek.

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