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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest on the proposal to turn parts of the Northern Forest in Maine into a big national park?
—Peter Griswold, Jaffrey, NH

Wilderness advocates have been wanting to create a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve for 20 years, but politicians have consistently caved in to opponents, even tabling an offer by Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, who offered to donate land to create a much smaller park alongside Baxter State Park, pictured here.

Photo © Numbphoto, courtesy Flickr

The idea of turning a large chunk of forest in central Maine into a national park dates back at least 150 years when Henry David Thoreau himself called for making the region “a national preserve” in essays about his travels through the area via foot and canoe in the 1850s. To this day most of the areas in central Maine that Thoreau visited are still primarily undeveloped save for intermittent timber extraction.

But recent changes in land ownership there are worrying ecologists. The non-profit RESTORE: The North Woods has been carrying the torch for creating a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve for 20 years and reports that, between 1994 and 2005, the share of forest land in Maine’s 9.3 million acre Unorganized Territory owned by timber companies dropped from 59.2 to 15.5 percent while that owned by investors grew from 3.2 to 32.6 percent. RESTORE is concerned that this dramatic change positions the region for a real estate gold rush. A huge development already planned for the shores of Moosehead Lake in the region is just one example of the kinds of changes afoot that could decimate the region’s wilderness qualities.

RESTORE’s proposal, first aired in 1994, calls for setting aside 3.2-million acres surrounding Baxter State Park (home of Maine’s tallest peak, Mt. Katahdin, and the northern tip of the Appalachian Trail) as a national park. Bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined, the proposed park would safeguard thousands of miles of rivers and streams while providing unfragmented habitat for wildlife.

According to RESTORE, the proposed park would be one of the largest tracts of undeveloped wilderness east of the Rockies, and it is needed “to protect wildlife habitat on a landscape scale to allow for adaptation in the face of unprecedented climate change.” Also, the proposed park would ensure permanent access for outdoor recreation and support a diversified and sustainable economy. Although RESTORE’s campaign has the backing of a majority of Maine residents, it has failed to gain enough traction to make it before Congress. Some blame local opposition, allied as the Maine Woods Coalition, for convincing the state’s Congressional delegation not to push for the proposal.

A new proposal from Burt’s bees founder Roxanne Quimby later rekindled the issue: In May 2011 she offered to donate up to 70,000 acres she owns adjacent to Baxter State Park for a new national park, along with a $40 million endowment for park operations. And to appease those opposed to RESTORE’s proposal, she offered a similar amount of land for multiple-use, including hunting. Quimby’s proposal includes only lands she owns, and would create a much smaller park than what RESTORE envisioned.

A few months after Quimby made her offer known U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis held a public listening session in Millinocket, Maine. But then in February 2012, Maine’s Congressional delegation convinced Secretary Salazar to table the new proposal for the time being. So for now, the fate of millions of trees—the veritable lungs of the Northeastern U.S.—and hundreds of wildlife species may just hang in the balance.

CONTACTS: RESTORE’s Maine Woods National Park: A Vision of What Could Be; Maine Woods Coalition.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: What is currently being done in the U.S. to ensure the wise use and safety of our nation’s groundwater?
—Kevin Orr, Baton Rouge, LA

About half of U.S. drinking water comes from groundwater sources. Regulation and enforcement of industry and agriculture are important for protecting our limited supplies, but consumers must also play a role.

Photo © iStockPhoto/Thinkstock

Keeping fresh water safe and abundant is a challenge for all societies. In the U.S., about half of the country’s drinking water comes from groundwater sources. Many rural areas derive all of their drinking water from groundwater, which also provides 40 percent of the irrigation needs of American farmers. While underground aquifers may at one point have seemed limitless, huge demand for water (especially in arid areas like the Southwest) means that groundwater reserves are precious and need to be carefully managed with conservation in mind. Also, groundwater is easily contaminated by any number of common man-made products like gasoline, oil, road salts, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals.

Management of specific water supplies is decentralized—local and regional water authorities manage supplies for municipalities and counties around the country—but oversight comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as mandated by the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act addresses water pollution in general and requires everyone, but especially large water users including large industrial and agricultural operations, to deal with their water inflows and outflows in a responsible, non-polluting manner. Meanwhile, 1974’s Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to set standards for drinking water quality that the 150,000 public water entities across the country must meet. Third party laboratories provide detailed analyses to ensure that local supplies live up to the EPA’s expectations. These laws work together to keep groundwater supplies safe, but environmentalists would like to see both strengthened substantially in the face of drought-inducing global warming and other threats.

While regulation and enforcement of industry and agriculture are important for protecting our limited groundwater supplies, consumers also must play a role. The Groundwater Foundation, a Nebraska-based non-profit working to educate people and inspire action to ensure sustainable, clean groundwater for future generations, suggests taking short showers, shutting off the faucet while brushing teeth and shaving, running full loads of dishes and laundry, checking for leaky faucets and getting them fixed, and watering plants and the lawn only when necessary. Likewise, the group advocates that consumers recycle used motor oils, limit the amount of fertilizer and pesticides used on plants, lawns and gardens, and generally reduce household chemical use. And leftover chemicals should be disposed of at hazardous waste collection sites (find one near you at earth911.com), not down the drain or into the gutter.

Another way to help is to initiate a Source Water Protection process, which involves locating local groundwater sources and identifying ways to protect and conserve them. Anyone interested in doing so can download the Groundwater Foundation’s free Source Water Assessment and Protection Workshop Guide, which has detailed information about a number of source water protection strategies and additional information on areas where the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act intersect. Funding for the guide was provided by the EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, which considers it a must-read for officials, policymakers and activists deliberating land use and water quality issues.

CONTACTS: Groundwater Foundation; EPA Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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