“Maine: The Pulp and Paper Colony”
Earth First! Journal, September/October 1996
by James Barnes
Beginning with a quotation from Henry Thoreau’s novel The Maine Woods, Doug Hawes-Davis’ latest documentary film, THE PAPER COLONY, opens with an aerial view of a clearcut stretching into the horizon. The Maine Woods are falling fast to the paper companies, and the surreal shots of borderless devastation are made more creepy by Ned Mudd and the Eco-Sonic Band’s eerie music. The film’s score was recorded in a session where Doug’s film, SOUTHBOUND, was played for the musicians with the sound off. SOUTHBOUND is about hardwood chipping in the southeast US. The impression of ruin, lies and the betrayed confusion of the people carries over into the music, setting the tone for THE PAPER COLONY.
Maine’s forests are different from those in the western US in an important respect; they are almost all in the hands of “private” corporations. Thus with seemingly untouchable arrogance, the people who run these industries have nearly stripped the state of its trees with little regard for the pusillanimous state regulations that wrap deforestation in a thin tissue of legality. The great forest has fallen in a time of a generation, a generation that has wiped its collective ass on it. And as usual, now the people are desperate for anything, no matter how awful, to make a living.
Folks interviewed in the film know who is responsible - and it isn’t their people. Even the employees, weak men filmed in mill town diners, look away cringing as they mutter their support for the industry. Most folks offer disapproval in the insightful speech of the unpoliticezed. “They aren’t neighbors,” says one woman of the people who devastated the land around her home. Maybe they’re not even human, just corporate Borg units - their hearts and brains replaced with legal machinery and financial databases.
A related species that Doug’s documentaries illuminate in pallid detail are the bureaucratic undead, who clasp their damp and pulpy fingers together and utter shocking lies. Students of Goebbels, they know their job is to repeat their whoppers like a mantra until you believe them, for lack of ever hearing anything else. In THE PAPER COLONY, the Spokesmen for Evil are one Chuck Gadzik, director of the Maine Forest Service, and Ray “Bucky” Owen, director of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “There’s not that much clearcutting happening in Maine today,” says Chuck as the aerial camera swoops over the barren ground to the forest edge where machines chew at the trees like so many big blue oxen in an overgrazed pasture. He tells us that most guys don’t eve like being in the icky outdoors; they’d rather mow the spruce down from a “climate-controlled cab where you can listen to the stereo and have a phone there and go home feeling clean and refreshed.”
Ray has a more geographical approach: “Clearcutting’s part of the landscape,” he says, one hundred percent correct. But he’s trying to get you to think that clearcuts are fundamental, like the bedrock, and not something that can be altered. In the vision he shares with you, they reach out forever in time as well as space.
The bureaucrats and the company people speak the jargon of scientific management - “studies have been done,” “clearcutting is an appropriate tool,” “we don’t have the data to support that.” They trot out their regulations and point to the sleek machinery that can pinch off a whole bouquet of trees at a time - “newer equipment that’s much more sensitive to environmental issues,” if not to the forest. The result is a landscape that looks like a stencil, deforestation punched out in giant block letters.
Doug interviews Mitch Lansky, author of Beyond the Beauty Strip. “There’s a confusion of high technology with science,” he explains. “Highly mechanized equipment produces cuts that are more brutal than anything ever dreamed of in the days of axes and oxen. What they’re doing isn’t scientific forestry because scientific forestry has to take into account ecology.”
THE PAPER COLONY is an appropriate title for a documentary on forestry in Maine. It turns out that many members of the state legislature are paid employees of the transnationals, which own most of the land. Rarely does one see such overt corporate control in the US. They’re usually more sneaky. “Maine is not unique, but is extreme in the degree to which there is industrial domination of the political process,” says Lansky. “They’re the government and they’re right out of industry.”
“Sometimes we have to clearcut in order to protect the forest,” states Bob Cameron, a Boise-Cascade employee and state representative.
Currently on the ballot for the November election in Maine is an initiative that would ban clearcutting and stringently limit harvest volumes and the area of canopy openings. The initiative is being opposed in an all-out effort by the timber industry, which is saturating the airwaves with relentless propaganda. If you live in Maine, vote for it. No matter where you are, write letters to the editor, op-ed pieces or anything else you can think of to get folks to support this legislation. The Maine Woods, Thoreau’s inspiration, deserves no less.