Walling off the Maine Woodlands….

Posted: 03/10/2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I came across a couple of interesting articles while digging in the heap of information we call the “World Wide Web,” and found an interesting connection to Maine’s good buddy, The Nature Conservancy, and the financial meltdown everybody seems to be afraid of. Seems Treasury Secretary Mr. Paulson has more skeletons hanging in his closet than he does pinstripe suits. One of those skeletons is a deal he made while chairman of Goldman Sachs that benefitted TNC and involved some land in Costa Rica, and his appointment to the chair of The Nature Conservancy. I’m beginning to think maybe TNC should change their name to The Nature Conspiracy.

One article from Human Events, (13 July ’06) written by Steven Milloy, director of the Free Enterprise Education Institute, goes into some detail of this deal. The deal concerns some 680,000 forestland acres on Tierra del Fuego, of which Goldman Sachs paid $144,000 to TNC as a consulting fee. Here’s a paragraph from the article;

  • “In January 2004, one month after Goldman’s public announcement that the land — a $35-million asset rightly belonging to Goldman shareholders — would be donated to establish a nature preserve, TNC elevated Paulson to the post of chairman. Additionally, Goldman announced in September 2004 that the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) had been selected as the recipient of the land gift. WCS’s 2004 annual report lists Paulson’s son, Merritt Paulson, under its “advisors and trustees.” WCS also appears on TNC’s website as an “organizational partner.”

The main point here is that Goldman’s investors, (which may include some readers), claimed the land was valued at $35 million, and that it was going to be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is a strong partner of TNC by the way, and one month later, Paulson was made chairman of TNC. Hmm. And don’t forget that Paulson’s son Merritt is/was an advisor to WCS. How did Goldman’s acquire this Chilean forest? Read on;

  • In January 2002, Goldman placed the winning bid on a portfolio of distressed debt that included a $30-million note of Trillium secured by the land. In November 2002, Goldman sued Trillium to collect on the defaulted note. One month later, Goldman took title to the land in settlement of the debt.

Apparently, according to the article, the Chilean government values the land at $100 million, even though Goldman’s claimed a $35 million value for its tax purposes. Of course, the sentence that caught my eye was this one; “…The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which is an environmental group that acquires private lands to place them permanently off-limits to commercial and residential uses.” It’s not just me making the claim, and time will tell what will happen here in Maine now that TNC has a solid foot in the door. Plum Creek is just the beginning.

In our rush to protect the environment we forget that not everything needs protecting, and also that preservation has different connotations that we may not clearly understand. In location after location across the globe, TNC has worked behind the political scene to acquire and control millions of acres of land. Floating around in this morass of definitions related to the environmentalist movement is an issue sometimes referred to as population control. China, as a nation makes it a practice to limit one child per family, unless you can get permission to have more.

I’m not really cognizant of that whole process and the actual regulatory process and implications regarding the Chinese efforts, but another connotation of population control involves controlling where people can go. The TNC is great for that sort of thing. Most of the deals they’ve brokered in other countries have resulted in national preserve type parks where you can go some places, preferably with a certified guide, but not others. And the limit this access in the name of protection of vital habitat. They call it “biodiversity management.”

TNC’s chief scientist Peter Kareiva says on his research in an interview

  • Ultimately, there is no reason to pursue a development project without also including attention to biodiversity concerns,” concluded Kareiva. “Nothing is lost by incorporating environmental objectives into development work, but in contrast we do suffer environmental consequences if biodiversity is not included as part of a development project.”

Let me share a few comments from a 2005 article from the Detroit Free press that examines a situation very similar to what we have here in Maine with these up and coming eco-tourist resorts. The article is titled “UP (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) land sale may put public access in peril” and comes from Property Rights Research. It involves 1.1 million acres of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula land. It starts out with;

  • More than 1.1 million acres of publicly accessible Upper Peninsula forest is for sale — a potential threat to hiking, berry picking, snowmobiling and off-road vehicle use

Sound familiar? Here’s another one;

  • That deal spurred an unprecedented alliance between the state and the Nature Conservancy to buy a $58-million conservation easement that now protects most of that acreage from development and ensures public access.

Same thing happened here in Maine with the TNC, Right? Here’s a couple of statements from the locals;

  • New owners could reverse longstanding informal arrangements that allow snowmobile access, hiking, off-road vehicles, and in some cases camping on the lands. Such changes would erode years of unfettered access to large private land tracts, changing the unique aura of the UP as a place of wide-open freedom to roam and dream.

    “All of this corporate land has kind of been our backyard,” said Charles Eshbach, 62, of Houghton, who has hunted, trapped, snowshoed and fished on the lands up for sale. “There were no rules or signs, and no way to distinguish when you cross from my 40” acres “to corporate land. This is part of chipping away at that.”

The Northwood’s, even though privately owned have enjoyed pretty much unfettered access to the people of Maine for their enjoyment. With the building of all of these resort areas and vacation homes, buyers are certain to be from away, instead of being Mainers who value freedom and access to the forests of Maine. Here’s another quote from the article in favor of the TNC deal in Michigan;

  • Katz said such selective development would help bolster local economies.

Just like the claims of the Plum Creek proponents. It will boost the local economy. How about this one;

  • “They can unload this land to the highest bidder. The buyer sells land along the lakes and rivers for development, and beats the bejesus out of the timber,” said Marvin Roberson, forest policy specialist with the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. “The places where you put your canoe in … you may come up and find that it’s now a 3,000-square-foot vacation home with a Ford Navigator in the driveway.”

Times are changing, and especially so for those that have enjoyed canoeing Lily Bay, or hiking along Moosehead’s shores and in the surrounding mountains. Here’s a final quote from that article I’d like to share;

  • Eshbach said the 2002 sale resulted in gated roads and “No Trespassing” signs on some land not covered by the conservation easement. Other smaller sales have resulted in similar walling off of woodlands.

Anybody up in Augusta think about this aspect of the Lake Concept Plan?

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