Over the last few days I’ve been comparing the state of Maine and the Northwood’s as a bit of a puzzle. I did that to show how even though we do not realize it, many things are connected as pieces in a puzzle to complete a picture. We often forget there is more to life than the crisis of the moment we are dealing with. Just because we are looking at one piece of that puzzle, holding it in our hands and trying to decipher the exact location of its resting place, it doesn’t mean that it is any more important than all the rest of the pieces. Neither is it any less important. Each piece is necessary, and if even just one piece is missing, we are left with an incomplete picture.
One of my biggest fears over this issue of the Moosehead and their proposed concept plan is the fact that there are so many un answered questions that haven’t seemed to have been asked yet. Questions revolving around infrastructure and other taxpayer supported expenditures. Many pieces of this puzzle cause me to have this concern. Some of the pieces don’t even seem like they belong to the same puzzle. At least that’s what I thought at first. Researching through all of the thousands of items floating around the net, I found that two pieces of the puzzle kept coming up attached to each other.
Two of this puzzles pieces are Plum Creek Timber, and The Nature Conservancy. Both pieces are integral in this proposed plan. The sale of easements and property to The Nature Conservancy are contingent upon Plum Creek’s ability to gain approval of this plan. As I read through the voluminous files of the LURC, NRCM, and newspaper and web articles, as well as various DEP (Dept. of Environmental Protection) and DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) documents from many states, the two names became synonymous with one another. Why was that?
There was a pattern in place where Plum Creek Timber would place huge tracts of land up for sale, or would propose a development for the parcel(s) in question. Ems as though almost all of them had very little actual marketable value to Plum Creek on their own merits. Much of the land bordered waterways or other land not suited for building on. some of the land contained habitat areas for threatened or endangered species. Other properties contained areas of habitat delicately balanced upon the precipice of destruction. Few, if any of these areas would likely see construction of any large scale housing or industrial development, based on the proximity of these areas.
But logging was still a viable use for many parcels being put up for sale. Deals were entered into by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Plum Creek (PC). Just like here in the Maine Northwoods. Maine, Georgia, Florida, Montana, Washington, Oregon and other states all saw the transactions between TNC and PC. Public outcry gave impetus to the trend for TNC to obtain control over these lands. Sometimes the property would be purchased outright. Other instances resulted in a tool called an easement to be applied. Either way, TNC obtained control over the land.
The control involved placing restrictions on activities allowed on the property. All building and recreational activity had to conform to TNC requirements. In most of these property deals, the land was further transferred to local, state and federal entities, all at taxpayer expense. Lands that were transferred into private hands was strictly regulated with control of the property still resting with TNC at the helm.
In 2003, Plum Creek sold almost 41,000 acres to TNC for 30 million dollars. The deal contained an option for TNC to purchase an additional 47,900 acres for an additional 38 million. That’s 68 million dollars in PC’s pocket. The contract allowed PC to continue to harvest logs on the land. According to a HelenaIR article, Kathy Budnik was quoted as saying “the company recognized that the Blackfoot River Valley is a special place, which is why the company sold 11,700 acres to the Nature Conservancy of Montana in 1996.” The article went on to say…..
The Nature Conservancy has a “no-net-profit” policy when selling land to public agencies, so the cost to any state or federal agency will reflect the Conservancy’s purchase price and direct costs associated with each transaction. Potential agencies include the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management…
A New York Times article of 20 Oct ’06 reported the following….A three-way land deal among the Federal Government, a timber company and an environmental group has protected a 10-mile scenic corridor along one of Montana’s most celebrated rivers. The Nature Conservancy of Montana announced on Wednesday that it had acquired 11,730 acres of land along the Blackfoot River from the Plum Creek Timber Company for $18 million. The land will in turn be sold to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which will eventually pay for the purchase by selling parcels of public land elsewhere.
Here is another article from December of ’06……….The Nature Conservancy of Montana purchased 13,970 acres from Plum Creek Timber Company, bringing the total number of acres purchased as part of the project to 68,076. Also, the Conservancy sold 2,480 acres of previously purchased land in the Ovando Mountain and Lincoln areas to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. With this transaction, the Conservancy has re-sold a total of 26,480 acres of former Plum Creek lands to public agencies, in accordance with a community-developed plan led by the local landowner group, the Blackfoot Challenge.
A Business Wire article from 12 Jan ’99….WEST MONROE, La.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 12, 1999—-Valuable red-cockaded woodpecker habitat to become part of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge– The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana (TNC) announced today the purchase of approximately 4,750 acres from Plum Creek Timber Company, L.P. (NYSE:PCL). The Nature Conservancy plans to transfer the tract to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) over a five-year period to add to the existing Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge for migratory bird conservation.
A 12 Feb ’03 AP article….
Ellensburg, Washington (ENS) – The Nature Conservancy has launched a project to save more than 10,000 acres in the Tieton River canyon west of Yakima, Washington. The group has already purchased almost 700 acres from Elk Haven Timber Co., LLC, and has signed an option to buy 9,700 acres in phases from Plum Creek Timber Company….. As public funds become available, the national forest and the state wildlife area are expected to take ownership of much of the acreage the Conservancy plans to purchase from Plum Creek.
An undated article from the Georgia Telegraph …..A partnership between the state, Plum Creek Timber Co. and The Nature Conservancy helped create Flat Tub Wildlife Management Area, a 3,597-acre tract of sandy pine forests and rolling hills dotted with cypress-fringed wetlands. The WMA already is open for turkey season and also is open to hikers and bikers, said Allen Mills, area manager. The uplands were purchased from Plum Creek for $2.5 million as part of the state’s new land conservation program.
A 14, March ’07 press release from the Georgia DNR…..
Mr. Snow’s work played a key role in the State’s acquisition of 1,935 acres of land in the Broxton Rocks region in December 2005. DNR purchased this property from The Nature Conservancy, which had previously acquired it from Plum Creek Timber Company. This acquisition was part of a larger innovative public and private partnership between DNR, The Nature Conservancy and Plum Creek that resulted in the establishment of the 3,597-acre Flat Tub Wildlife Management Area.
I could go on for several pages with articles and memos, all describing Plum Creek selling land to The Nature Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy then selling it to various agencies, paid for with tax dollars. While this might seem to be a perfectly acceptable business pattern, and perhaps it is, there is more to this little piece of the Northwood’s puzzle. It’s a decade long pattern.
In investigating the relationship between TNC and Plum Creek, I found out a couple of interesting things. One of the charges that have been leveled at Plum Creek is the way it harvests timber. Plum Creek counters by saying that it adheres to the strict guidelines required by the SFI, or Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The claim is that the guidelines promoted by SFI are sound and lead to preservation and conservation practices. They also say that TNC supports SFI and the practices they promote. Rick Holley, President and CEO of Plum Creek Timber is on the board of directors of SFI. Need I say more?
There is a second interesting fact that disturbs me even more, and maybe a lawyer or Attorney General can say whether I have reason to be concerned. I have no legal training, so this is just an observation on my part. In investigating these two entities, and some of their operations, I discovered another connection between the two.
Many people operate under the presumption that TNC is a struggling eco-supporter group. Underfunded and in need of your precious dollars to support its goals. TNC is actually a global nonprofit organization with billions of dollars of assets at its disposal. The money individuals send in by way of donations is miniscule in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars it collects every year from corporate sponsors.
TNC sells its name and images to be used in advertising in return for a cut from the corporations renting the name. In addition, many major corporations make huge gifts to TNC. MBNA, whom we are all acquainted with contributed more than five million with their credit card program. Tom’s of Maine gave them half a million in 1998.
TNC also offers what they call seats on their “International Leadership Council” for contributions of a minimum of 25 thousand dollars for a seat. Some members of the council contribute more. In one year, 2002, Exxon contributed 5 million, Georgia Pacific 3 million, General Motors 22 million. What does this have to do with the Northwood’s? Why do these pieces connect in the puzzle?
Plum Creek, as of Oct ’07, held a seat on The Nature Conservancy’s International Leadership Council. So here we have these three pieces in the puzzle. Plum Creek, who holds a seat on a TNC committee, sells land to The Nature Conservancy, who then turns around and sells it to you, the taxpayer, while allowing Plum Creek to harvest lumber from the land, as long as they adhere to SFI standards, an organization of which Plum Creek’s president and CEO sits on the board of directors, and which TNC is an advisory member of.
Maybe it’s just me, but this just seems wrong in so many ways. Sigh. That’s my Maine view.
Ps. Perhaps opponents of the proposal should share some of my research. The truth needs to be spread. All this stuff can be found on the web. How come these issues haven’t surfaced yet?