Trotting out Trotzky at the Maine Legislature
Howard Trotzky of Bangor played an historic role in cleaning up Maine’s rivers and defining the future of the North Woods. So I wasn’t surprised when they trotted Howard out on February 16 for the legislative hearing on a bill to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), the planning and regulatory agency for the unorganized territories.
At a morning press conference, organized by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Howard spoke about his four terms as a Republican Senator from 1974 through 1982, during which he chaired the legislature’s Natural Resources Committee and defended LURC against many attacks.But he didn’t tell them about his most astonishing environmental achievement. So I did, at the end of the press conference.
But I started with something else, my favorite Howard Trotzky story. In his third Senate term, Howard was transported in an ambulance from the Bangor hospital, where he’d had serious back surgery, to Augusta where, after being wheeled into the Senate chamber on a hospital gurney, he cast the deciding vote to confirm the controversial Richard Barringer as Democratic Governor Joe Brennan’s Conservation Commissioner. Howard’s Republican colleagues were not happy.
I was standing in the hall just outside the Senate that evening when Howard was wheeled by, flat on the stretcher, eyes upward. He voted right from the gurney, while gazing at the Senate ceiling, and was quickly wheeled back out and returned to the Bangor hospital. A newspaper photo of Howard being wheeled into the Senate recorded the event but failed to capture the atmosphere, which was electric.
While Howard has been an environmental activist all his life – including a long stint in Jackman as a high school science teacher – he ought to be best remembered for initiating and leading the campaign to stop the log drives in Maine’s rivers. It’s a long story, but here’s a short version.
In the early 1970s, Howard discovered a high level of pollution in the Penobscot River, including ton of logs and bark on the bottom of the river, upon whose banks he lived. And he filed a lawsuit to stop the cause, the log drives in the river. Eventually both the state and the federal government launched their own lawsuits, and finally the legislature acted, ending the log drives in 1976.
At the February 16 press conference, I told this story, then asked Howard if, at the time, he anticipated that the end of the log drives would open up every part of the north woods to an extensive network of roads, the most significant change in that forest in our lifetimes. Given that result, I also asked Howard if he regretted what he did.
“At that time the rivers were bubbling methane gas,” he said, “and were choked with bark. We were not aware that logging transportation was changing,” he said. “But then our softwood trees were depleted by cutting and spruce budworm, and the forest products industry went to hardwoods – and wood chips – that don’t float. So log drives were going to end anyway,” he said.
“And I’m proud of what we did. It resulted in new industries, including rafting, and gave us clean rivers. Before that, one company monopolized an entire river. Now the rivers are accessible to everyone.”
Later in the day, I sat with Howard at the public hearing on the LURC bill, fascinated as he told story after story of his days at the legislature. He really should write a book. Some of what he told me is amazing. And I delighted in sharing some of my own stories from hanging around the legislature for the last forty years.
Three hours into the hearing, Howard finally got a chance to speak. It disappointed me that few if any of the members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee know who he is. These days, there is very little historical knowledge at the legislature. As always, his speech was from the heart, entertaining, and on-point.
By that time, I’d already filed my report on the hearing, but I’d stayed longer in order to hear Howard speak. When he sat back down, I grabbed my coat, shook Howard’s hand, and started to walk out of the still-crowded room. Behind me, I heard Howard say, “George, you’re an icon.” Turning around, I said, “No Howard, you’re the icon, and we’re both dinosaurs!”