Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lousy, Lazy Journalism: Mine

In fact, what I'm about to commit here can hardly be called journalism at all. I cannot tell this story properly because I do not have the witness's permission to use his name and I have not taken the time to do the necessary investigative reporting to make the story interesting or informative. Nevertheless, the story wants telling. Maine's forests depend on it.

Here is what I know.

A lifelong Maine logger has become so dejected and demoralized by the recent degradation of woodcutting practices in the state that he is moving to upstate New York to work in a more sustainable industry. This logger, about 50, had been living north of Orono for nearly 30 years. I met him this fall, a few weeks after he had sold his home and just before he and his wife set out for New York.

This Grizzly Adams of a man loomed over us. Even Stan, who at six foot three inches is a bit of a loomer himself, had to lift his chin a hair to meet the man's gaze. The logger's long blond curls hung in tendrils past his clean plaid flannel shirt collars. He told us his story in poignant tones. Though he did not appear to be a man accustomed to sharing emotion with strangers, more than once his voice caught and his hands opened as if invoking cosmic help for the sad state of Maine's north woods.

He told us that even before the state's fiscal situation deteriorated to its current abyss, standards and practices in Maine's woods had begun to drift. He said a huge investment company called GMO had recently purchased land formerly owned by paper companies and that since that exchange logging in Maine had changed dramatically.

The logger spoke of GMO in almost mystical terms. He alluded to the company's size and power without really explaining what kind of company it was. Only when I got home to Google did I see that it is a multi-national investment firm with investment interests running the gamut from forestry to algorithmic trading. The head of acquisitions for the forestry division is Bob Saul.

"We never left land looking like they do now," said the logger, as he described the new wood harvesting order. "They're just chewing it up." He said no one is watching anymore. Or if there is supervision it is of the least ethical kind. "GMO has power over them somehow," he surmised.

The sorrow and anxiety in this hard working man's face was clear. The prospects of moving his household at a time when most men begin to plan their retirement showed.

If anyone knows anything about GMO or Bob Saul, I'd appreciate the help. Because of laziness, disorganization and general distraction, I've given up illuminating this story beyond a man's heartbreak at having to leave the sweet home in the woods he had made. The story, if there is any truth to this sweet man's tale, deserves much more attention.

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