The Land Use Regulation Commission's 2009 go-ahead to Plum Creek to develop Moosehead was the NRCM's biggest recent disappointment, although the group was successful in helping to reduce the project's size. The other significant recent loss was last year's loosening of restrictions on open-pit mining, allowing Bald Mountain and possibly other locations in Maine to be excavated on a large scale.
Because the first two years of Republican Governor Paul LePage's term coincided with his party's control of the Legislature, environmental groups had to go strong on defense. With Democratic support and the help of the few remaining Republican moderates, they beat back many of the most regressive bills, such as one gutting the returnable-bottle law. In the last session they lost also on several bills that weakened state agencies regulating the environment.
Now, however, the NRCM — emboldened by the seating of a Democratic Legislature and in cooperation with other established advocacy groups and the enlivened grass roots — is trying to take the initiative on a variety of environmental issues.
This spring, the movement is seeing a rebirth or, at least, a re-blossoming. Expressing this development in the sober tones of Maine Audubon, Gray says, "The voice of the environmental community has gotten stronger and more effective."
In the end, the movement's juices are flowing because the threats to Maine and the Earth are, for many people, enormous and becoming greater. The global Big Money behind these threats can sometimes seem like a Goliath. But as Melanie Lanctot, representing a coalition of "green churches" at a recent hearing on energy legislation, observed: "David won."
SIDEBAR: The national park contradiction
• Yes, Maine people want their environment preserved, as the polls have shown. That point has been demonstrated in long-standing public approval of the idea proposed by Restore: the North Woods for a 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve, which would be bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite parks combined.
Jym St. Pierre has a handout listing a dozen Maine opinion polls over the last dozen years showing firm support — with a majority even in the Second District, where park opponents have been most vocal.
But here's the contradiction: strikingly, Maine's political class, with the notable exception of Democratic 1st District Representative Chellie Pingree, will not even support a federal study of the value of a park. The Legislature two years ago swiftly and nearly unanimously passed a resolution opposing a study.
Deferring to this lack of political will, the major environmental groups have not gotten enthusiastically behind the Restore plan. A 3.2-million-acre park is "just not feasible," the NRCM's Pete Didisheim claims.
St. Pierre's explanation is that support for the park is "broad and soft," while opposition is "narrow and deep and loud and intimidating." He lists the opponents: the politically powerful forest industry, snowmobilers' groups, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, and zealous property-rights advocates.
For a smaller park proposal, however, that situation appears to be changing. Both the NRCM and Maine Audubon are expressing interest in philanthropist Roxanne Quimby's desire to give 100,000-plus acres to the federal government of land she has accumulated east of Baxter State Park for a combined park and multi-use recreation area.