Professor Vail plans conference on Maine economy
The economic challenges facing Maine's national resource industry have steadily increased over the last few decades. Resource-based businesses such as forest-products, agriculture, and marine fisheries, all now face what Professor David Vail terms a "pretty sad state of economic concern." Industries that have once supported tens of thousands of workers are now currently experiencing a "hemorrhaging of employment opportunities".
As a conference steering committee member, Vail, Adams-Catlin Professor of Economics at Bowdoin, is planning, with the Maine Governor's Office, to host a plenary meeting regarding many of the current challenges and concerns of these businesses.
The conference, to take place at Bowdoin's Blaine House this coming fall, will cover such issues as the depletion of natural resource stock and its relation to dwindling industry, as well as many of the "structural problems" now occurring in rural economies of Southeastern Maine.
Using Great Northern Paper as an example, Vail calls to mind a business that "for over a century was the big paper company and considered a major player in resource industry" that lately filed for bankruptcy. He went on to say, "As one of the major employers of the North Woods, the company at one point owned 2.5 million acres of forest land."
While not directly linked to the recession now felt across the country, Great Northern Paper and its mills in Millinocket had been experiencing economic downfall over a 20 year period, culminating in light of current economic downturn.
Other industries such as agriculture, are experiencing similar trends regarding resource depletion. Vail said, "In the case of agriculture the big problem is that the industry has ceased to be very profitable in many parts of the state and the resource issue of open space and farmland being re-converted back to forest, in a sense, has occurred since the late 1890s." In addition, Vail finds yet a bigger crisis "primarily within the dairy industry" due mostly to an "issue of price-cost squeeze".
Returning to the concerns of receding economies and environmental changes, Professor Vail recognizes "water withdrawals for irrigation, more than anything else in Downeast rivers, where water is drawn in the summer months to irrigate blueberry fields" as that of a major problem. Many biologists have closely linked this process of irrigation-especially in years of minimal rainfall-to the failure of Atlantic salmon, a now endangered species in seven of Maine's rivers. Vail said, "There is an imminent conflict between water withdrawals and the availability of cold water in streams for the spawning of salmon."
This, as well as a major concern regarding aquaculture, the domestic farming of fish, will be among the problems addressed at this coming fall's Blaine House conference. Among his many published articles in the comparative study of tourism and natural resources, Vail has also been the author of two monographs entitled, Livable Wages in Maine Tourism? and Tourism and Maine's Future. He intends to help develop a process of certifiable environmental standards for both eco-tourist resorts and outdoor sports-outfitters through further validating Maine's standards for eco-tourism.