State of Maine's Environment 2005
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An Environmental Assessment  

Executive Summary

The State of Maine 2005: The Future of the North Woods is a collection of research papers produced by senior environmental policy majors at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This collaborative final report provides an in-depth and comprehensive look at the issues facing Maine’s northern and western forestlands. After gathering background information on the past and present state of the North Woods, we toured Piscataquis County, from the gateway community of Greenville, through Lilly Bay and Baxter State Park, stopping to talk with local officials, conservation activists, and business owners. In order to gain an understanding of state-wide issues at play in the North Woods, we also visited Acadia National Park and engaged in a discussion of land-use and development pressures in the area surrounding Acadia. Individually, we conducted research on selected issues and outlined policy options.  

The Timber Industry:  Maine has the highest percentage of forested land of any state in the US Forests cover ninety percent of the land base in Maine. The forest products industry is one of the most important sectors of the state economy. Over a third of Maine’s total manufacturing revenue is generated by the forest products industry every year. While it remains a prominent fixture of the economy, the traditional structure of the timber industry has been evolving in the last fifteen years. Industrial competition due to globalization has resulted in mechanization, modernization, and downsizing. In only half a decade industry employment declined by almost a quarter. Emerging trends of rising land values, decreasing parcel size, and fragmentation of timberlands are threatening the industry’s productivity and profitability. To secure the future of the timber industry in the Maine North Woods, forest management should aim to balance conservation and sustainable resource use through strategies similar to those used in current national forest practices, which simultaneously protect the forest land base and sustain the timber industry.  

Demographics:  Maine has the third highest proportion of its residents living in rural areas of all the states in the US. The low population density of Maine’s North Woods presents the local communities with unique challenges and opportunities. These communities must strive to maintain stable populations that can support schools, hospitals, local police, fire stations, and other public services. Currently, parts of rural Maine faces declining populations. Meanwhile, urbanization and sprawling development are increasingly prevalent across the southern and coastal areas of the state. This population trend is out of sync with the “rural rebound” occurring in other parts of the country. In order to attract and retain residents, Maine’s rural areas must evaluate their major attractions, such as access to outdoor recreation, and proactively plan for sustainable, vibrant communities.  

Development Sprawl:  One growing concern that challenges the character of both the national and local landscape is sprawl. Over the last thirty years the fastest growing Maine towns have been “new suburbs” situated 10-25 miles from town centers or commerce areas. The effects of sprawl have created segregated communities, increased demands for infrastructure, produced pollution, diminished productivity, and degraded habitats and ecosystems. The implications for sprawl in the North Woods are uncertain, but trends in other popular recreation areas, such as Sebago and Belgrade have shown fast growth rates. In order to maintain the current character of Maine ’s northern and western landscapes, communities need to utilize “smart growth” alternatives and proactive development planning as a means to prevent sprawl.

Wildlife Conservation:  Maine supports a variety of wildlife, including 61 mammal species, due to its unique variation in habitat types. These species, as an important component of biodiversity within the region and Maine ’s wildlife recreation industry, require habitat protection from human influences to persist into the future. When considering road density, Maine has habitat suitable for the reintroduction of wolves and maintenance of other large mammal populations dependent on large tracts of land. In particular, the North Woods remains the largest tract of undeveloped land east of the Mississippi. The future of this area is uncertain; however, the region is crucial habitat for Maine ’s wildlife. The impacts of development and the need for wildlife conservation must be taken into consideration when planning for the future of the Maine North Woods.  

Outdoor Recreation:  Sportsmen and wildlife-watchers are a larger proportion of the tourist and resident populations in Maine than the regional and national average. As a result, wildlife-related recreation accounts for an estimated five percent of Maine ’s gross state product. Sportsmen have played a vital role in shaping the quality and availability of outdoor recreational opportunities statewide. Fish and wildlife based recreation in generate over two million dollars annually in federal funding and produce tens of millions of dollars for state-level wildlife management. Sporting associations form public-private partnerships that maintain landowner relations benefiting all outdoor recreation participants. However, current state and federal funding is inadequate to support the changing demands of outdoor recreation. Resident sporting populations remain stable within the state. Yet the agencies that manage wildlife-related recreation are increasingly being required to manage for non-traditional recreation. In light of changing land-use patterns and recreational trends, there is growing concern for the availability of recreation land in northern and western Maine. State-based initiatives are already in place to relieve some of this concern and assure the continued viability of traditional forms of recreation in the North Woods. The future of the North Woods depends on continued state-level cooperation with sporting constituencies and landowners.

The State Park Model:  Maine has the policy tools to promote a large state park based conservation effort in the North Woods. Precedent for such a state initiative exists in the Adirondack State Park in New York , which utilizes a mosaic system that integrates both public and private lands for the greater goal of landscape level conservation. Pursuing such a model would allow Maine to protect the working forest values and recreational opportunities that have been and continue to be an important part of Maine ’s economy and culture. An examination of the institutional framework and policy conservation tools in Maine as well as a study of the Adirondack State Park in New York demonstrates how this can be achieved in Maine ’s North Woods.  

Funding Conservation:  Maine has a low percentage of state conservation lands at 5% compared to the rest of the country. While the Land for Maine ’s Future Program has been effective, it lacks the funding necessary for the purchase of large scale conservation lands such as those in the Maine North Woods. In addition Maine already has high funding per capita making it necessary to implement alternative funding mechanisms in order to conserve the Maine North Woods. Some possible options may include the diversion of tax revenue from other sources using Minnesota ’s funding strategies as a guide, encouraging local government action through local bonds as New Jersey has done, and looking to the federal government and the Land and Water Conservation Fund for help. With more funding as well as the proper allocation of this funding, Maine would be capable of purchasing lands for large-scale conservation in the Maine North Woods and beyond.

Comprehensive Planning: The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) is responsible for administrating over ten million acres of land not populated enough to warrant local government. Despite the low population of the area, four regions, The Rangeley Lakes, Carrabassett Valley, Millinocket-Baxter State Park, and Moosehead Lake, have seen some of the highest growth rates in the state. As a result, LURC has designated them high-priority areas where growth and natural resource protection must be balanced. However, only two of these regions have land use plans under way. The Rangeley comprehensive plan, effective as of 2001, was developed by LURC after six years of planning. An analysis of building permits issued by LURC found that growth has remained steady in the area, with an average of 35 new dwellings per year, compared with 33 per year before the plan. Growth has been effectively concentrated in areas designated by the comprehensive plan. In contrast, the proposed Plum Creek plan for the Moosehead Lake region is a landowner-initiated plan known as a Lake Concept Plan. While the Plum Creek proposal has been controversial in part because of the large role of a private landowner and the development it would include, concept plans require fewer public costs than comprehensive plans. To balance the interests of private landowners and development with conservation, Maine residents should consider the amount of resources they are willing to invest in comprehensive planning.

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The State of Maine 2005: The Future of Maine’s North Woods


State of Maine's Environment, Colby College, Environmental Studies Program
Content by Students in ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
5358 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, ME 04901 USA; Email Us