ROCKPORT — The clear-cutting referendum, if passed in November, would destroy the Robbins Lumber Co., according to James Robbins.
Scion of the four-generation Searsmont family business started in 1881, Robbins, speaking at the Friday meeting of the Rotary Club at the Samoset Resort, said the restrictions in the referendum are “totally unrealistic and would shut us down.”
Doom and gloom forest forecasts are nothing new, Robbins said. A 1919 report said loggers were cutting trees faster than the forest could produce them. A 1933 report doubted forests “could continue to play a major part” in the state economy unless practices changed. A 1983 Ellsworth American report quoted one critic as saying “the forests will be gone in 10 years” unless changes were made.
Referring to a U.S. Forestry Department inventory conducted last year, Robbins said Maine forests have 36 percent more trees than they did in 1959. Other studies show 90 percent of the state is forested, compared to 65 percent in the 1800s.
Robbins said the forest industry is one of the two biggest in the state, provides 25 percent of all jobs and provides 37 percent of the state’s payroll, an indication of higher than average paying jobs.
In the 1800s, Robbins said his family’s mill sawed 10,000 boardfeet of pine per day. In 1968, the business built a new mill that sawed 30,000 feet a day and Robbin’s father wondered where the firm would ever get enough trees to keep the mill going. Now the firm cuts 110,000 feet a day “and it’s easier to get the wood now than it ever was,” Robbins said.
The firm employs 139 people on its 5,000-acre forest and in its mill, shipping wood from Newfoundland to Tijuana, Mexico.
Critics of the wood products industry love to point out that spruce trees in the forests have decreased by 40 percent, Robbins said, but that is true only because the 1975 spruce budworm infestation ruined 7.7 million acres of the trees and the industry harvested the dead trees, rather than leave them to provide fuel for forest fires.
The referendum would ban many healthy management practices utilized today, Robbins said. If the spruce budworm again infested the forests, he claimed the industry would be forced to leave the destroyed trees where they stood, creating a profound forest fire danger.
For generations, the Searsmont firm has employed clear-cutting, which the referendum would ban. “One parcel was clear cut 25 years ago and hasn’t been touched since,” Robbins said. “It won’t be harvested for another 25 to 50 years. I hope we will be allowed to harvest it then, after paying taxes on the land for 75 years.”
“We don’t think of clear-cutting as destruction, but making way for new forests,” Robbins said. He said a ban on clear-cutting would be like forcing a gardener to grow crops for 10 or 20 years without weeding the garden.