12 comments on “Tipping the Balance in Our Public Lands

  1. Ryan,

    You left out one important reason for logging in Maine, the local economy. Small towns in

    Maine are dying, there are no jobs.

    Granted we need balance in managing our public lands. The green canopy quickly regrows in

    that state. Logging roads also provide recreation access to the general public.

    Out west we protect are forests from logging so they burn down; and nobody wins.


    • The local wood products economy has been on the decline since the 70s, but cutting more timber on public lands isn’t a reasonable answer to this– first of all, the vast majority of Maine’s forests are privately owned (95%, as stated by a group that includes the Maine Forest Service). About 2.6% is managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The vast majority of that privately owned land is owned by private companies (61% according to the same group), which essentially means logging companies. There is no shortage of logging in Maine. Our economy has still not been booming because forestry all over the US is generally less of an economic driver than in the 70s and earlier. Look to the town of Millinocket, which has been a poster child in the past few years for everything that has gone wrong with our economy: relying entirely on paper companies to drive the local economy, while practically ignoring the recreational opportunities of Baxter State Park and a plethora of lakes and rivers nearby, has led the town to near disaster. Two of the businesses in the area that have grown the most in the past decade are those that cater to hikers and paddlers (AT Lodge & Cafe, and New England Outdoor Center).

      And, sure, you can access logging roads for recreation, but few tourists come to Maine or anywhere else thinking “I’m going to go explore some logging roads!”

      As for the forests burning down out west, the word I get from wildlands firefighters is that the overzealous quenching of forest fires in the past few centuries is one of the primary factors in why forest fires are so bad in recent years. Some of that could be alleviated with selective cutting in the forests, but claiming that the entire problem is a lack of logging is ignoring lots of other important reasons.

      • Ryan,

        I think your statement “I’m going to go explore some logging roads” was rather flippant.

        Even the AT uses old logging skid trails. Not to mention that hunters, snow machines,

        skiers, fishermen, the old, the young, and the infirmed use logging roads and trails for

        access, even in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

        Even you have to agree that logging would support some kind of local economy or

        they wouldn’t do it.

        The only logging I did notice was on private land, and in Maine it doesn’t take take long

        to reforest itself.

        In the West, let’s say California we do protect our forests so they can burn down. It is

        not just fire suppression it is also no logging, no logging roads that can stop catastrophic

        fires that pollute our skies and foul our streams.

        Hey I’m all for conservation, clean air, and water but there has to be a local economy;

        everyone can’t have a government job, pension, or be on a program.

        • Dan, I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve read what I wrote in the post or in my response to your comment, or the other comments here. Was there a point where I said I was against all logging? Or that there should be less logging on private land? Let me reiterate what I said in my first response to you: there is no shortage of logging in Maine already. Read the linked articles if something I said previously isn’t clear.

          • Ryan,

            I missed your reply to Cliff that explained your position better.

            On my last trip to Maine it hurt my heart to see a beautiful state with the decaying towns,

            restaurants , and Mom and Pop stores on the highways closed down. People hustling with two

            and three part time jobs to make a living. I just want our citizens to have the American

            Opportunity that I enjoyed. I know that piker backpackers (I fit that mold) do not really support

            local towns other than trail towns and that to a limited degree. Maybe tourism on a larger scale

            would help.

            I just thought that logging on public lands would give Maine’s economy a shot in the arm.

            Temporary yes, it might add 50 to 100 million dollars to the economy.

            Hey thanks for the sounding board. In California we have the problem of trails on Forest

            Service lands going unmaintained for decades. We are losing our trails to blow downs and

            reseeding as the forest reclaims it’s own.

        • Dan,

          A lot of what you write seems to be based on concerns that could be outcomes, or could be involved in the decision Guthook is pointing out is not favored by a majority of the ME population.

          Your two big concerns mentioned are jobs in relation to the ME forestry sector (logging and such), and the health of the forest itself.

          I’d like to address these two concerns. First, the logging sector and it’s relationship to jobs in the state. If you read through this report by the Maine Woods Coalition,
          you’ll find a few interesting pieces of information. First, on page 16, you will see a chart describing the Net Growth to Removal ratio, described as the ratio of new growth to logged timber. The graph starts around 1950, so neglects the state of the ME forest prior, however it is well documented that much of the forest in New England was tilled in the early generations of colonization through to the mid 1800’s where it is felt 60-80% of the forrest in New England was tilled for farms. When these farms were eventually abandoned as California’s farming economy boomed and began to move from Wheat to specialty crops in the late 1800’s, the opportunity for forest regrowth began. With the founding of the US Forest Service in the early 1900’s, the effort for forest regrowth was moved forward in earnest, requiring a high growth to removal ratio that persisted into the time frame of the chart.

          What is import to note at this point is that this high regrowth rate occurred during the logging boom in Maine that sustained all the small logging towns and much of the ME economy. Partly this was due to the sheer acreage of land available for growth, and as that land became forest the potential for growth rates declined. This is, of course, what we all want: vast, healthy, forest land.

          Page 18 shows the next table of interest, Timberland acreage over time, which shows that during the logging boom years and subsequent decline, the timberland available has maintained a fairly steady size.

          Finally, page 11, shows harvested cords of wood had a steady and significant growth over 60 years, from 1950 to 2011. Page 13 similarly shows the output in the paper industry, the second large part of the forestry related industry in ME, increased between 1960 and 1980, after which it maintained a fairly flat output level.

          The reason I point these things out is that the decline in jobs related to the forestry industry has nothing to do with forest land available, timber felled, or demand of the paper industry. The lost economy of the small towns you, and all of us, are concerned with is not an outcome of decreased logging or paper use, but in the modern industrialization of the logging industry and the increases in efficiency of the two sectors. Page 13 shows that the output of paper almost tripled per worker (or same amount of paper output, almost a 1/3 loss of jobs). None of what is at discussion in ME about the management of the land and its use will affect the economy in ME in any significant way as to replenish the lost economies of these towns. A valid concern definitely, but not one that is in any way related to the discussion at hand going on in ME, nor that warrants the mention of the “government job” trope.

          As for your concern to the health of the forest itself, the articles Guthook links to discuss the spectrum of thought in this regard. On one end we have the head of the agency responsible for maximizing the profit produced by the timberland, and who’s career interest is tied to the growth of this profit, arguing that increasing logging will also make the forest more healthy. On the other end of the spectrum are forestry professors and other forest health professionals, with no career tie to the profit from the forests, arguing that the increased logging will not result in the benefit to forest health being argued, and could potentially decrease the health level of the affected forest land.

          In this regard, you mention forest fires as a concern in CA, my home state for 18 years, in defense of logging in ME, as a method of reducing the impact thereof. While a concern in general for any forest area, weather and land in New England do not attribute forest fires the level of concern as they do in CA where the land is 10-yr drought drier than an area that is yearly covered by multiple feet of snowfall and one of the highest rainfall areas in the nation. On a yearly average, somewhere between 15-20 thousand acres are affected by forest fires in New England, and generally none of them are majorly newsworthy. More interestingly enough, it is actually an increase in logging, and the dead timber left out, that increases the likelyhood of forest fires in this area, an issue that led to the New England fire tower network that have slowly come down as the logging industry has been tasked with better management of their timberland. Finally in this regard, your comment that the protection of the CA forests from logging is why they burn down is poorly informed, as shown at,
          where they point out that many major fires occured during the heavy logging period of CA’s past.

          All that said, it would be disingenuous of me not to make the following comments…

          While an increase in logging may not drive a large growth in jobs, it will do at least two things, increase the revenue to the state from logging activities based on the logging fees accessed, and increase the profit of the logging companies, money not necessarily entering the ME economy as the increase in profit means wages were not increased, nor was hiring increased “enough”.

          A fair amount of the concern seems to be not so much the details of the plan offered, though those are in dispute, but as to how they were developed, announced, and the recent history in the handling of the agencies involved and their personel, by the Governor. Guthook’s comments are not that such shifts in the organizations managing Maine’s land could not be properly performed, but that the plan as they stand currently raises many questions as to ethics for the impetus of the proposal, as well as questions as to the details, or lack there of, of the plan to ensure the stewardship of Maine’s forests are held to at least the level achieved currently. Especially in regards to the seperation of land use currently enjoyed by the two agencies tasked with managing Maine’s land.

          In the end, it is very possible that the increase in logging desired, given the vast amount of land currently available to it, would have minimal effect, in either direction, to the health of ME forest as a whole. However, no plan as to how that could be achieved has been presented or argued for, while a Governor who has already shown his predilection for modern Republican ideals even without the support of a majority of ME Republicans towards those ends, pushes them forward with what appear to be ulterior motives.

          • Steve,

            Thank you for bringing the ignorant into the 21 century. However I have some questions for


            1. What is your plan for revitalizing Maine’s rural economy?

            2. What are modern Republican ideals?

            3. How did Guthook and you determine that Maine’s residents do not want increases in

            Maine’s logging industry?

            Now to California where I have been a resident for over 60 years, call me old school. I was

            a professional firefighter for over 27 years where I was sent all over the state fighting fires.

            I used logging roads to extinguish small fires, as fire breaks to set back fires on larger fires,

            and routes to safety ares when things got out of control. I saw where modern logging

            techniques made entry into the forest easier and reduced fuel hazards. On very large

            fires we had to wait until the local weather changed to control these fires.

            As a bonus I got to recreate in these logging ares where I got to ski, ride my mountain bike,

            access trail heads, hunt and fish. I also saw more wildlife when it had been logged and even

            prescribed burned.

            So what is your plan for California forests? Should we save them so they will burn?


  2. To dan:
    What are those small towns going to do once the forest is cut & there’s no more trees to log? & if there’s no more trees then there is no more beautiful land, and with out the beautiful land there’s no more tourism… I would look at towns around the smoky mountains (where i live) and look at how much they have benefited from protecting the trees & the land. They are a good examples of how protecting the land & trees is good for local economies.

    • Hey Cliff,
      I don’t think there’s any realistic danger in the foreseeable future of Maine being totally clear-cut, and Dan does have a point that logging is an integral part of the Maine economy.

      However, I absolutely agree with your point that more protection (like National Parks and other recreational areas) is a huge benefit for the state. In the link I posted in my previous reply (here!), two other pieces of information that I found very interesting were that logging adds about $1.8 billion to the state’s economy per year, while outdoor recreation is estimated at $1 billion. So logging is a larger driver of the economy at this point, but recreation is a huge part of that, too. And considering how little Maine does to promote that recreation compared to some other states, it’s not hard to imagine that number growing quite a bit with the right marketing campaigns and legislative priorities.

  3. Guthook,
    Thanks for the reply & i agree with what youve said. Logging is vital not just to the Maine economy but the entire United States economy. The part i have a hard time believing is to say logging is going to save a small town. Most of those people in said small town are going to make very little off logging a new forest. The guy cutting the trees isnt making much, its the guy who owns the timber company that will reap most of the rewards. I think this debate is a microcosm of our country as whole & the never ending struggle between business & conservation. Whether its logging in Maine on public lands or fracking in west Texas on public lands its a never ending debate. Personally im always going to side with the land, against more industry, & for living within our means. Thanks for the article & keep up the good fight!

    • Oh yeah, definitely. No one industry will save any town. Relying too heavily on logging and paper mills has clearly led many towns in Maine down the toilet. Search around in the Bangor Daily News for articles about Millinocket, and you’ll find years of articles about just that. I am thinking of writing a post about this eventually. The basics are that the town was created by paper companies, lived large up until the 70s, then steadily declined and declined and declined until it’s at the point where it is today, which is practically a ghost town struggling to get back on its feet. Happily, it seems like that downward slide may be near the end, but only after the paper mills have all left town and taken nearly the entire economy with them. I see that over-reliance on one industry as the primary problem. Like you said– a microcosm of our country as a whole.

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