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Maine Is Not Alone in Experiencing Rural Cleansing

At the November 16th Property Rights Foundation of America Conference in Albany, New York, a thought-provoking presentation, entitled "Rural Cleansing in Maine," was given by Jon Reisman, Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy with the University of Maine at Machias.

The Professor recalled the beginning of the Maine property rights movement in the 1980's in reaction to the efforts by the infamous National Park Service, the once-honorable Nature Conservancy, and other liberal environmental groups to purchase and/or control large areas of rural Maine. He stated that today the movement lies in tatters, with the enemies of private property ascendant; in control of the media, political culture, and an ever-increasing percentage of rural Maine. The rights movement had held back the tide during the early 1990's with determined leadership, a sympathetic governor, and success in defeating referenda to provide additional funding for state land purchase and regulation of timber operations, such as a ban on clearcutting.

Now, according to Reisman, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and private land trust money are being targeted on private property in rural Maine, while the media and political leaders applaud and enable these efforts. Obviously the rights movement and other concerned citizens were confronted with a very slick consortium. It would be interesting to know the enemies' game plan and its execution in the Maine case; and for that matter in every other state of the Union whether being the oppression of private landowners in the Adirondacks of New York, the flooding out of property owners in the Everglades of Florida, the suppression of the timber industry in the Rockies of Idaho and Montana, or the abuse of communities in southeastern Utah who relied on the sale of low-sulfide coal to fund their schools; but it would make one quite ill. Indeed, Maine is definitely not alone.

Reisman attributes much of the success to the RINO'S and the watermelons. The former being those politicians, such as Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who are Republican in name only. He refers to these people as duplicitous and craven political leaders who are very sympathetic and supportive of ultra-liberal environmental causes. The author of this review recalls meeting Susan Collins, in 1996 when she was running for the Senate, at a Multiple Use Conference in South Portland. The Senator-to-be dropped in to say a few words, and was certainly impressive and appeared believable. She assured the group, which included members of the timber industry, that she was on their side. But look at her now. It is amazing what some will do to get votes.

The watermelons, of course, are those who are deep green on the outside and blood red on the inside. The Professor describes their caucus as an interlocking network of foundations, non-governmental organizations and influential fellow travelers who have been remarkably successful in pushing American public opinion towards a romantic environmentalism that is contemptuous of science, technology, capitalism, individual rights and, freedom. Very well put. Sure sounds like a bunch of effete elites. Reisman refers to the Nature Conservancy and numerous land trusts as the visible public face of the caucus, which puts a friendly patina on the anti-private property effort. He then named the Northern Forest Alliance as the lead coordinating group for the Wildlands Project and identifies forty-five Alliance members, including noble-sounding organizations such as: Adirondack Council, American Hiking Society, Certified Forest Products Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Garden Club of America, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, New England Forestry Foundation, Rural Vermont, Trout Unlimited and World Wildlife Fund. Certainly the individual property owner is no match for this horde. Why is not big brother coming to their rescue? Could it possible be that they are accomplices? The Professor put it quite bluntly, "Calling them socialist, while true, is less effective than simply questioning their commitment to capitalism." Of course, in his discussion, he also gives due credit to the obnoxious Endangered Species Act for its gross abuse of property rights.

Reisman identifies the Wildlands Project as the guiding light for these oppressive efforts. A review of history will show that this group was a creation of the notorious Cenozoic Society, one of the most ultra-radical environmental groups. Some members have been very supportive of eco-terrorism. The goal of these self-appointed saviors of Planet Earth is the rewilding of the North American continent. Man obviously does not have a place in their scheme of things. They can also take credit for the presumptuous core-buffer-corridor scenario that is sweeping this country. They undoubtedly do not have faith in the traditional American way of doing things.

The presentation brought to mind the changes in land use and ownership throughout the Northeast and elsewhere that have resulted from the globalization of the economy, technological advances in production and harvest of products of the land, human population increases, higher levels of affluence of the populace, and the increase in their leisure time used for a variety of activities. There is no question that drastic changes have occurred. For example, from the mid-1800's there has been a tremendous decrease in the acreage of land devoted to agriculture. In the Northeast much land is thus reverting to conditions that existed before the American Revolution. And, timber operations in many states have become marginal, to say the least, due to competition from foreign countries and also more productive sections of the United States.

As to be expected, there has been a major increase in the availability of land for purchase. But often it is a matter of who might desire it . For example, who would want a seasonal camp in the middle of a spruce-fir-northern hardwood forest? The only properties that appear to have significant demand in spruce fir country are those that possess frontage on bodies of water. The only people that use most of the remainder for recreational purposes are the hunters and to some extent the fisherman. Of course, if someone puts in a groomed trail, the hikers are attracted.

Many rural lands will die a natural death, in respect to human utilization. Why not afford them a decent burial? Instead the environmental vultures insist on gobbling them up before they die. At least real vultures allow their victims to die before they consume them. When such lands are near death, landowners will be anxious to divest them. If willing buyers are not to be found, they will probably give up ownership by tax default. Why then are the many environmental groups and governmental agencies so anxious to acquire such real estate? The only plausible explanation is to increase their already massive power and control. They have the insatiable appetite to add to their kingdom and further oppress the people and have a fanatic need to exert their influence over everything that moves or does not, or whether or not a problem exists. They will. however, manage to create many problems in the process. And, it must be borne in mind that history has shown big brother to very often be a lousy steward of the land. The populace must wake up and recognize the monster for what it is.

Professor Reisman ended his presentation with a number of recommendations including: do not elect RINO'S, elect a governor who will defend property rights, and fix the Endangered Species Act.

Nate Dickinson
November, 2002

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