A group representing wood-related industries on Tuesday joined prominent hunting and snowmobiling groups in opposition to a proposal to create a 70,000-acre national park east of Baxter State Park.
The Maine Forest Products Council, which represents landowners, loggers, paper mills and others involved in wood products, is also joining the 14,000-member Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and 26,000-member Maine Snowmobile Association in opposition to a feasibility study on the plan proposed by Roxanne Quimby.
Quimby, a wealthy landowner and founder of skin care company Burt's Bees, has offered to donate a 70,000-acre parcel she owns adjacent to the state's Baxter park as a national park. The idea has drawn the attention of U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who held a meeting in Maine in August to hear what the public had to say. People attending the meeting in a town near the proposed park were split on whether to even have a feasibility study.
But the three groups represented at the state House on Tuesday showed unity in their opposition, saying they prefer a "working forest" where logging can coexist with outdoor recreationists to a park with restricted uses.
"We're concerned about planting the seed of a federal park and promoting land preservation rather than land conservation," said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the forest products council.
"This threatens our long-term wood supply and investor confidence at a time when we have a lot of investors getting ready for a recovery in sawmills that are making tremendous capital investments in their properties, pulp mills that are doing the same, and we want to encourage that kind of investment," said Strauch.
James Robbins, president of a Searsmont company that owns and manages some forests but also buys logs from more than 150 independent loggers, said the proposed park would take enough wood out of production to deprive mills of millions of dollars in income. He also fears restrictions on logging in a buffer around the park would limit raw materials even more.
"I see my business and other mills as being directly affected" by the plan, said Robbins.
The sporting and snowmobiling groups have already taken formal stands against the park idea. The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution earlier this year asking Congress to reject the idea.
Quimby has purchased more than 11,000 acres of forest that she wants to open up to hunters and snowmobilers. She also wants to buy several more parcels where those activities would be allowed, to offset restrictions on the proposed national park.
But the snowmobile association was unmoved Tuesday, as Executive Director Bob Meyers said Quimby's offer has resulted in "uncertainty and bitter feuds between towns, businesses and residents surrounding her land holdings."
The sportsman's alliance's executive director, David Trahan, was even more pointed, decrying what he characterized as "arm-twisting tactics" to win support for her plan. Trahan also took issue with a plan that would keep hunters and snowmobilers from using lands they've used for generations.
"A comprehensive jobs and development plan is what is needed for the region, not a national park," said Trahan, who is also a state Republican senator and logger from Waldoboro.
Messages left by phone and email for Quimby were not immediately returned.