Tied to the past--bound to the future: ceremonial encapsulation in a Maine Woods land use policy.

Author:Welcomer, Stephanie A.

The theory of institutional change (Veblen, Commons, Dewey, Ayres) provides a framework with which to analyze public policy. In particular, neoinstitutional value theory (Tool 1977) suggests that institutions need to provide an ongoing viable basis for the continuity of human life. When problems arise and policy is contested, communities need to problem solve and assess the extent to which institutions are functioning, in order to enact instrumental institutional adjustment. Intrinsic to this adjustment are ceremonial and instrumental aspects that bind and facilitate change. In an analysis highlighted by representative excerpts from a data set containing several hundred public records from newspapers and journal articles we examine several themes, demonstrating ceremonial and instrumental dimensions that impact the process of institutional adjustment. These themes surfaced in response to a proposal for a national park in Maine.

This proposal for a "Maine Woods National Park" is a potential solution to two issues. The first issue is long-term land. and species preservation. Because the Maine North Woods is one of the largest unbroken spaces in a dwindling land mass east of the Mississippi, preserving this space for perpetuity presents an opportunity that may never come again for this part of the continent. By broadly defining community, including humans on the national scale and including members of the biological and ecological categories, preservation effects a wide definition of human and nonhuman forms. The second solution is in answer to the perceived decline of the Maine forest products industry and accompanying loss of economic prosperity and viability of some of Maine's northern communities.

Maine's Context

Maine presents an interesting case study due to the dominance of forests (which comprise 89.6 percent of its 19,753,000 acres (American Forest and Paper Association 2003, 2)), its historical commitment to mills and timber resource extraction, and its tradition of public citizen access to private industrial land. The forest products industry has been a traditional dominant industry in northern Maine's forests, dating back to colonial America. Throughout this time, citizens of northern Maine have established customary pursuits directly tied to open access to the land, such as hunting and fishing.

These patterns of use, however, have recently changed. Maine has experienced two structural shifts in the latter part of the twentieth century: landownership changes and decreases in forest products employment. Maine's forest products industry began in the late 1700s and forest products activity intensified, growing to play a dominant position in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Strong forest industry performance came largely from the 10.4 million acres in northern Maine held by 12-15 large landowners, the majority of which were industrial or old-family "timber barons" (Dobbs and Ober 1995). Until the 1980s, land ownership remained relatively stable, with private companies using the wood for paper-making and timber. However, land ownership patterns began to change in the 1980s, as some land was sold for development value, not timber potential, and with this change came perceived threats to established economic, land-use, and social patterns. In a study of changing land ownership patterns, Hagan, Irland, and Whitman (2005) report that between 1980 and 2005, 20,091,000 timberland acres were sold in 150 transactions. This shifted the ownership of 88.7 percent of the entire state (2005, 4) and shifted landowner type away from industrial to financial investor (2005, 9), having implications for potential fragmentation, development, and diminished biodiversity.

The forest products industry has been an important source of revenue and jobs for the state of Maine, yet is diminishing in its relative impact. Employment in Maine's forest products sector and pulp and paper industries decreased beginning in the 1980s, with the use of more mechanized harvesting and processing techniques. The 2005 report, "Maine Future Forest Economy Project," commissioned for the Department of Conservation of the Maine Forest Service states that "between 1997 and 2002, Maine's forest industry employment declined, from 23,430 employees to 18,130. This loss of over 5,000 jobs in the forest products industry represented a 23% reduction in the labor force" (Innovative Natural Solutions 2005, 29). This report also notes that while the number of employees decreased, average wage rates climbed as a result of cutting operating costs through increased mechanization in response to increased competition in global markets. It should also be noted that these employment decreases are projected to continue, at least until 2010. (1)

In sum, there have been notable structural economic and cultural changes in Maine's forests and those connected to them. Land ownership in both type of owner and frequency of sale has changed, leading to concerns about forest management and diversity, access to the forest for non-owners, and development of previously undeveloped tracts. The forest products industry has declined in terms of its relative impact on the state's economy, leading to concerns about employment and economic vitality. These factors provided the impetus for policy responses.

One alternative forwarded to address these concerns is to consider the feasibility of a Maine Woods National Park and...

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