Cover photo: Bois du Maine; photo credit: Denise via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
When Henry David Thoreau wrote “The Maine Woods” a century and a half ago, he called for the preservation of a wilderness area that had given him many insights into the natural world. Since his time, the woods he passed through have been undeniably weathered, but the wild rivers, abundant biodiversity and sprawling forests remain as breathtaking as ever.
The proposed Maine Woods National Park would encompass a staggering 3.2 million acres – larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks combined – and currently remains the largest unprotected wilderness area in the eastern United States. United States. It is hard to imagine that such a large area of undeveloped land could exist east of the Mississippi. It is indeed a rare pearl that has resisted the pressures of expansion and colonization. But time is running out to preserve these beautiful woods and protect the endangered species that reside there. To protect these woods from logging and development, an upgrade to national park status is urgently needed.
Located in the heartland of the state, the park is said to occupy about 15% of Maine’s total area, second only to Death Valley National Park as the largest national park in the contiguous United States. This considerable area would include not only large tracts of forested land, but also the headwaters of five major rivers: the Allagash, Aroostook, St. John, Kennebec, and Penobscot. This variety means there are countless recreational opportunities: hiking, canoeing, fishing, photography, rafting, cross-country skiing – the possibilities are endless and enough to attract perhaps even the most avid city dweller.
Much of the native wildlife that lived in the area in Thoreau’s time still inhabits the woods of northern Maine, but logging, overhunting, and development have taken their toll on many species. Wolves, cougars and other large predators have long since been driven out of the area, while other species such as Canada lynx, Atlantic salmon and American marten are listed as threatened or endangered. disappearance. But the region remains a hotbed of biodiversity. You may spot black bears, beavers or moose, as well as a variety of iconic bird species such as the black-backed woodpecker, willowl tit, common loon and bald eagle.
bull moose; photo credit: Lois Smith via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Due to Maine’s position between the boreal bioregion of Canada and the hardwood forests of the United States, the northern woods are home to a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. Unfortunately, a considerable number of deciduous trees – such as maples, beeches and birches – have been selectively destroyed by logging companies to favor the growth of softwood trees (spruces and firs) because they possess more commercial value. In addition to the ecological repercussions of this loss of diversity, these selective manipulations are harmful because hardwoods can indeed store at least 20% more carbon than softwoods.
Given that 90% of Maine is covered in forest – the highest percentage of any state – it has great potential to counteract climate change as a vital carbon sink. In the midst of our current global warming crisis, we must maintain all the natural solutions to climate change that we have. Establishing Maine Woods National Park would prohibit logging within park boundaries, protecting our trees and our future.
Hardwood and softwood forest in mid-coast Maine; photo credit: Susan Bell via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Talk of a Maine Woods National Park has been circulating for the past two decades, but it wasn’t until 2016 that progress was made toward that goal. That year, Roxanne Quimby, a dedicated environmentalist and founder of natural cosmetics company Burt’s Bees, transferred ownership of the 87,500 acres of land she owned in Maine to the federal government. President Barack Obama then used his executive power under the Antiquities Act to designate the land as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Although Quimby originally hoped her contribution could provide the impetus for the creation of Maine Woods National Park, local and congressional resistance to the idea kept her from getting off the ground. The creation of the monument, however, was considered a great success and is an excellent starting point for an upgrade in status and the creation of a larger national park that would include over 3 million additional acres.
Why is a national park designation important? There is little the state of Maine can do to protect such a large area. A Maine Woods National Park would provide protection for forests, watersheds, and wildlife, provide more backcountry recreation opportunities, and strengthen regional economies. The North Woods is one of the very last undeveloped and unprotected areas in the northeast – time for a change in the second half. We will need the support of people across America to let Congress know that we are ready for Maine Woods National Park.
This blog was co-authored by Environment America intern Holly Eberhard