Who Owns the Forests?

This November, voters in Maine will make a historic decision on the management of their vast old-growth forests. National attention is focused on a referendum to ban clear-cutting, the severe logging technique that scrapes clear huge tracts of land. The clearcutting ban would affect the forests that cover roughly half of the state, most of which are held by a handful of large international paper companies.

Maine Law allows the general voters, once 50,000 signatures have been garnered, to reconsider a measure that the Legislature has voted down. The State is then permitted to offer an alternative to the referendum, and in this case they have done so: a "compromise" proposal offered by a coalition of landowners called "The Compact for Maine's Forests." The first initiative would ban clearcutting entirely, mandating sustainable forestry practices by carefully stipulating the levels of forest diversity that must be maintained after trees are harvested. The Compact, on the other hand, reduces the maximum allowable size of clear-cut areas (to 75 acres from 250) and limits the overall percentage of forest that can be harvested.

Clearcutting in Maine began as a prophylactic measure in the early 70s, to contain the spread of an infestation of parasitic budworm. But it has continued ever since, and now industrialists and greens alike agree that the practice has been thoroughly (and unsustainably) abused. In the last fifteen years an area the size of Delaware has been clearcut in Maine.

The problem, though - as ever - is jobs. Many industries have left Maine; its two remaining large employers are tourism and paper, and the latter seems to depend on a continual, cheap supply of pulp and timber. Maine's Governor, Angus King, estimates that some 15,000 jobs will be lost in the short term if the clearcut ban is passed; he calls the ban "a gun to the head of Maine's economy."

However, between five and ten thousand jobs have already been lost in the last ten years due to mechanized clearcutting, which can harvest trees ten times as fast as chainsaw-and-skidder crews. Advocates of the ban say that they don't want the paper companies to leave; they simply want sustainable forestry - which, they add, is a labor-intensive practice that will create jobs.

Property rights advocates chime in to the debate because unlike other debated forest areas, these lands are privately owned. But supporters of the referendum claim that the community has a legitimate interest in the long-term health and viability of Maine's forests and habitats. Clearly, they say, international timber concerns, holding millions of acres of timber land, will not behave responsibly in their exploitation of this vital resource unless they are compelled to by law.

Will the clearcutting ban cost Maine too many jobs - or in other words, must Maine sacrifice its longterm environmental health to keep the current generation at work? High-yield mechanized logging has already cost jobs in Maine, and greater use of sustainable methods would create them. What is truly at issue in Maine's clearcutting referendum is whether private landowners have any responsibility to the community that will inherit the mess their rent-grabbing rush leaves behind. One need not be an enemy of industry and progress to ask the question that is now before the voters of Maine: who truly owns the forests?

Lindy Davies - September 25, 1996

Here's what You All had to say:

sounds like land value taxation would protect everyone from natural and personal disasters
- Thursday, September 12, 1996 at 16:37:18 (EDT)

Not at all, ej. But then, personal or natural disasters don't cause chronic poverty, either.
Lindy <[email protected]>
- Sunday, September 15, 1996 at 18:42:24 (EDT)
lindy, i didn't understand that at all.
lisa cooley <[email protected]>
nyc, ny usa - Tuesday, September 17, 1996 at 10:19:09 (EDT)
Well...my point was that chronic poverty is a social maladjustment. We claim that the remedy that Henry George proposes could eliminate it. Then, society would be fairly well prepared to deal with such things as personal and natural disasters. They are relatively rare things - while widespread unemployment and poverty is, alas, the norm in our society.
Lindy again
- Wednesday, September 18, 1996 at 15:32:36 (EDT)
In a natural society such as land value taxation disasters would be rare?
- Thursday, September 19, 1996 at 16:14:00 (EDT)
i want to be able to argue that prop 13 is killing california and that some improved method of taxing property must be emplemented. Will the writings of henry george give me some direction
mike bush <bushmagic>
chico, ca USA - Saturday, September 21, 1996 at 03:24:31 (EDT)
I would say (but let me not SHOUT TOO LOUD in saying so) that had the voters of California consulted Henry George's writings, they would not be in the mess they're in. Prop 13 has been an unmitigated disaster, and the state no longer has near-unlimited military largesse to ease the blow.
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
New Yawwk, - Monday, September 23, 1996 at 10:47:08 (EDT)
Would Henry George's remedy have prevented the evils of the 20th Century?
- Monday, September 23, 1996 at 18:50:01 (EDT)
Your prejudices against human beings are appalling. Your "rant" states that "it is the hoarding of land by private profiteers at the expense of the rights of all [that creates hunger and poverty]". History and current reality show that, in fact, private property is the only way a society can provide for all its citizens. It is **governments** that cause famine and destitution, almost without exception. People who own property are **people**, who have as much right to dispose of what they own as anyone else. The fact that "what they own" includes their land, as well as their bodies, labor, and other personal effects, is immaterial. as
Russell L. Morrison <[email protected]>
Fontana, CA U. S. A. - Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 14:39:09 (EDT)
I am not against private property in anything but land, Russell.
Lindy Davies
- Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 16:18:45 (EDT)
I think Russell, above, is showing a classic misunderstanding of George's concept, without really bothering to learn more about it. I'd add to what Lindy said by saying that George didn't even want to abolish private property so much as to make sure the VALUE of the land, in land "rent," was returned to the community. The fact that property owners are allowed to gain wealth from mere ownership of land, the dirt underneath whatever man-made structures exist, is what has created poverty. I suggest he take the course in this website before giving himself an aneurism over the whole thing.
Lisa J. Cooley <[email protected]>
NYC, NY USA - Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 16:37:57 (EDT)
Governments are people, some are human, others divine.
- Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 16:44:08 (EDT)
Governments are people, some human, some divine. Isn't nature a form of government? What is the nature of God? Some say Eternal Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss (Joy).
Feel free to edit. Hope this isn't too offensive.
- Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 16:55:46 (EDT)
clock correct?
- Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 18:51:51 (EDT)
1) Statistics of lost jobs as presented from the logging industry are historically questionable and should not be accepted at face value. 2) If a ban on clearcutting is unacceptable because of lost jobs then schouldn't clear cutting and modern technology be banned for the same reason? After all the point of clear cutting and capital investment in newer logging technologies is to harvest more trees at less cost. 3) Selective harvesting has been practiced in Europe for years and has contributed to a sustainable industry. 4) The timber industry is playing states and countries against each other to maxiumise their profits. Which is the fiduicary duty of the Corp. officers. 5) The more the clear cutting the sooner the Timber industry in maine will close down and the jobs will move on.
Ken Filak <[email protected]>
Olympia, Wa U.S.A. - Wednesday, September 25, 1996 at 23:33:33 (EDT)
Hemp. On far less than the land which has already been clearcut, enough hemp could be grown to more than supply Maine's paper industry. They would never need to cut another Maine tree to make paper, and in addition to keeping the current paper manufacturing jobs, more jobs would be created because it takes more people to grow hemp than it does to drive a bulldozer through a stand of trees.
Scott Kroyer <[email protected]>
Minneapolis, MN US - Thursday, September 26, 1996 at 10:13:04 (EDT)
We face a similar problem in Northern California where Pacific Lumber (which was acquired by Maxxam Corporation, Charles Hurwitz CEO in a junk-bond financed hostile take-over in the 80's) is preparing to cut down the last privately held old growth redwood forest known as Headwaters Forest. There are many issues involved, not the least of which is the loss of such a precious forest. In an effort to save the forest, one proposal has been a land swap; give Maxxam some other piece of property in exchange for the forest. Treasure Island, formerly a Navy base in San Francisco Bay has been suggested. An additional point that is often raised is that Charles Hurwitz was involved in a failed savings and loan in Texas which cost the American taxpayers millions of dollars to bail-out; therefore, a "land for debt" swap is another proposal. At the moment, it would seem Charles Hurwitz is holding out for the "best deal." This case graphically demonstrates the amorality of capitalism. It is very frustrating to see a beautiful state chipped at bit by bit as speculators and developers cut down the forests, carve up the hillsides and pave over the land all in the name of more and greater profits. The greed is beyond understanding!
Karen <[email protected]>
San Francisco, CA USA - Friday, September 27, 1996 at 16:08:24 (EDT)
The indigenous people and the long-term citizen families own the forests in countries like the USA and Australia. I urge the Main electors to vote against clearfelling--it is an abomination against the living creatures of the forests, as well as against the human beings. Jobs are being abolished by technology, so people need the Citizens' Dividend from the unearned increment that monopolists are taking. Best wishes!
John Massam,Georgists of W.Australia <[email protected]>
S.Perth, WA Australia - Tuesday, October 01, 1996 at 05:14:22 (EDT)
Howdy from Northern California where the last large stand of privately held redwoods (the sort that are 1,500 plus years of age) are in the balance to lard MAXXAM corporation's coffers. MAXXAM claims the value of these trees belongs to it even though no energy were exerted to create that value. It is entirely unearned value and for that reason alone MAXXAM is willing to engage in stripping the earth of these gentle giants. Were this unearned value, created by community demand, returned to the community, MAXXAM would have significantly less interest in cutting and milling the trees, and the public would be in the way of securing their continued life as not the unearned value, but only the earned value would have to be paid over to MAXXAM to stay the cutting! This same program --of removing unearned income as an incentive in cutting trees-- would serve the purpose just as well in Maine, eh?
David Giesen <2460 Union Street>
San Francisco, CA no E-Mail yet - Tuesday, October 08, 1996 at 17:46:01 (EDT)
I will be running for State Assembly in California in '98 on a land value tax platform. Anybody care to get involved? Out of San Francisco. Contact me at David Giesen 2460 Union Street San Francisco CA 94123 415.346-5949
David Giesen <2460 Union Street>
San Francisco, CA 94123 - Tuesday, October 08, 1996 at 17:57:54 (EDT)
We live in Del Norte County which is in the heart ofthe redwood forests of the Pacific Coast. My wife and I visited Maine for the first time this summer to see how life in Maine compares with life in our Pacific Coast community. We discovered that the people and lifestyle of our region have much in common with the people and lifestyle of Maine. Concurrently, problems regarding the economy and forest management are similar if not identical. For example, a most recent protest in our region focuses on protecting the "Headwaters" old growth, redwood forest in Humboldt County as well as challenging clearcutting practices in forests throughout California. The question here as in Maine is how to manage the forests so that harvesting does not destroy the future for the next generation. I believe forests are a renewable resource, and I believe it is appropriate to harvest trees in such a manner that the beauty and integrity of a forest are not sacrificed for a fast buck in an impulse of transitory greed. After visiting Maine this summer, I have concluded this state is one of the most beautiful we have seen. Protecting that beauty through sensible, forest management makes plenty of sense. The exploitation of a resource for momentary gain without consideration of the past or the future causes loss for everyone.
Daniel Langford <[email protected]>
Crescent City, CA USA - Wednesday, October 09, 1996 at 23:41:37 (EDT)
Jerry, Good job. You might want to see the latest issue of the Northern Forest Forum. There are several articles that point out what a sham the Forest Compact is. If anything, it actually allows larger clearcuts than the average size in Maine right now. Glad you are doing this page.
Rudy Engholm <[email protected]>
Brunswick, ME USA - Thursday, October 10, 1996 at 08:50:44 (EDT)
Success at last! I've reached Lindy Davies, I believe. (The above is the 1996 variation on Stanley's famous remark to the Good Doctor) I got on the internet this am trying to find out all I could about Dr. Vickrey. It seemed such a damned shame that his moment in the sun was roughly equivalent to the Andy Warhol-defined 15 minutes. My search for information led me eventually to your article. "The Closing of the Virtual Frontier." I would like to respond to that article. But this is not the proper conduit. Nor have I organized my thoughts enough. Regarding the Maine forests, or the West Coast forests for that matter, it seems obvious that a preserving handful of jobs is not an objective to justify slaughtering trees and their natural occupants (spotted owls, raccoons, and the like). We don't, after all, own the earth. We just act as if we did. I find the "lost jobs" cry to be largely spurious. Shoe factories closed all over New England in the last forty years. No one ever cited a manufacturer for moving on to greener pastures despite "lost jobs." There are all kinds of jobs cutting down trees in Georgia. Those trees are "ranched." I am willing to pay more taxes, if necessary, to send anyone from Maine to Georgia whose life would be incomplete if he didn't hack trees down all day. And I would be willing to pay for retraining the rest. My feeling (environmentally) is that we are rapidly turning the world into a large parking lot. Not that I really care on behalf of the next century's citizens. After all, who (in the last several centuries) worried about what kind of world they were leaving for me? But it offends common sense to turn the world into a garbage pit when it is pretty evident that you are doing it and just as obvious that it doesn't have to happen! As a lifelong socialist, I don't trust private enterprise any farther than I could throw Bill Gates. As an owner of stocks and bonds, I know that corporations will act responsibly IF GOVERNMENT forces them. And the government will FORCE them if the media get on its tail. And the media will act, if God is watching out for us all and catching their attention with modest little natural disasters. (You may have wondered why we have those little disasters.) I'm a little cynical about issues like this. If Ralph Nader and the Sierra Club can't get through to people on matters such as corporate America and the environment, I'm sure I can't. My most strongly-held and carefully thought-out opinions don't seem to matter much anymore. Perhaps it's a natural function of (old) age. If you send an email address, I will write my response to the internet article and send it that way. Meanwhile, I'll take a tour of the lessons offered. Thanks.
Sally Ann Zegarelli <[email protected]>
Long Branch, NJ USA - Saturday, October 12, 1996 at 15:15:49 (EDT)
Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful comments. Let none say that dialogue on the WWW is glib & trivial! This discussion will now move to the archive to make way for consideration of a new issue. But let's keep it going!
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
New Yawwk, - Monday, October 14, 1996 at 12:26:37 (EDT)