Showing posts with label LakesRegionSuburbanWeekly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LakesRegionSuburbanWeekly. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Saving the lives of unwanted horses

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Cassie Fernald of Standish was on a mission. In January, she was calling farms and businesses around Maine, trying to find a place to house two dozen horses for a few hours.

She had no luck – people didn’t have the space, the time or the desire to help – until she called Hauns Bassett at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough. Bassett, the camp’s new program director, heard Fernald describe the plight of these horses and said he’d help. Fernald burst into tears, and Bassett “very nearly did too,” he said.

The horses were coming from Alberta, Canada, where they had been on a large farm, raised to supply estrogen to the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies need estrogen to make hormone supplements for menopausal women. One way they get estrogen is from the urine of pregnant mares.

Fernald is part of FoalQuest, a group originally set up to help handle the “by-product” of the mares’ pregnancy – foals. The group links adopters from the U.S. and Canada with farmers who want to get rid of their foals.

Without the group’s help, many of the foals would be slaughtered, Fernald said.

The group has taken on a new mission in recent months. A medical study late last year called into question the safety of one of the drugs made with pregnant mares’ urine (PMU). As a result, demand for the urine has dropped, causing most of the farms to close or drastically reduce their stock.

The horses Fernald was hoping to unload were mostly pregnant mares, which would be adopted largely by people in Maine. Some horses in the shipment were adopted by folks from Connecticut and New York.

Bassett agreed to donate the use of one of the camp’s corrals, and to coordinate having hay and water on the site when the horses arrived.

The horses arrived Tuesday morning, after a 3,400-mile trip from Canada. People were there to greet them, and horse trailers streamed down Black Point Road for much of the morning, as adopters arrived at Camp Ketcha, picked up their horses and left.

Outside the corral, one spectator, whose friend is adopting a horse, said the gathering was like a meeting of “horse-aholics anonymous.”

“It’s such a relief to see them here,” Fernald said.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a couple of months now,” said Joyce Carney of Rochester, N.H. It’s her first mare from the PMU program, though she has adopted foals in the past.

The mare will be the 11th horse on the family farm, and when she foals in May or June, there will be 12. “I would like to fox-hunt her,” Carney said.

The group may have another shipment in coming months and is asking adopters to visit the Web site to look at available horses.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Enjoying wildlife in a winter wonderland

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

There’s plenty to do outdoors during the winter, even if you’re not a downhill skier or a snowmobiler. Taking it slow – walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing – can be a great way to explore Maine’s winter and learn more about the wildlife all around us.

If you’re into birding, “the Scarborough Marsh is a good place to go,” said Phil Bozenhard, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

There are plenty of birds to be seen, including waterfowl. “Occasionally you’ll see a hawk or an owl flying around,” Bozenhard said.

Naturalist Margi Huber at Maine Audubon notes that Casco Bay is also a wonderful place to see all kinds of birds. “I think we forget what a jewel we have out there.” You can take walks along Portland’s East End Beach, which has a flat walking path, often packed down for skiing or plowed. “You’ll see a lot of birds in half an hour,” Huber said.

If you’re lucky, you may spot a peregrine falcon that roosts on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Portland and is often spotted near the B&M Baked Beans plant.

Another great place is Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, where “sometimes you can see owls and hawks” in the back area of the park or watch seabirds from the cliffs, which are kept clear of snow by the wind.

At Pine Point Beach, you can see eiders and even loons in winter plumage. “The loons winter on the coast of Maine,” Huber said.

On the Westbrook-Portland line is the Fore River Sanctuary, along Outer Congress Street, which includes trails for snowshoeing and skiing and plenty of trees and water for spotting all kinds of bird life.

Up in the Lakes Region are some other excellent spots for checking out freshwater birds. Behind the fire station on Route 202 in South Windham, “there’s an opening in the Presumpscot River” where a hooded merganser often hangs out. “What you want to look for is open water,” Huber said.

Near the Gambo Dam, also on the Presumpscot, an eagle has been wintering there for a few seasons. You may see other birdwatchers while you’re out on these trips, so feel free to ask them about other good spots. If you’re looking for a particular bird, check out Maine Audubon’s Web site at It has a “bird alert” list that’s regularly updated with bird sightings throughout Maine.

Birds may be easier to spot in the sky and because trees have lost their foliage, but some mammals are also very active in winter. Many of them can be found along the sides of rivers and lakes throughout Southern Maine, as well as in wooded areas.

While the animals themselves may be elusive, winter is great for checking out tracks.

“A day or two after a new snow is probably the best time,” Bozenhard said. If the snow is too powdery, though, “they all look the same,” because loose snow fills the small parts that allow the tracks to be differentiated.

“It’s more interesting when you’re out there and you can identify the tracks,” he said. “It gives you a little bit of satisfaction in knowing what you’re looking at.”

Animals you may see tracks from include big ones like moose and deer, through coyote, fox, fisher and mink to small animals like squirrels, rabbits and snowshoe hares.

Some good spots to follow tracks include the Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area in Standish and Morgan Meadow Wildlife Management Area in Raymond, Bozenhard said. They have hundreds of acres to explore, including snow-covered roads and trails.

Guided adventures
If you’re looking for an expert to help you navigate and understand the winter wildlands, Maine Audubon is running several programs that may interest you. All require advance reservations, so call 781-2330 ext. 215 for times and fees.

On Saturday, Jan. 10, a family nature walk called “Surviving Winter” will teach adults and kids about how animals make it through the cold season.

On the same day, you can take a guided ferry cruise on Casco Bay to look at water birds, including possibly a glimpse of a bald eagle.

The following Saturday, Jan. 17, Maine Audubon is holding a workshop for outdoor artists, teaching not only basic landscape drawing techniques, but also how to adapt outdoor artwork to winter’s cold.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, a tracking program will teach everyone in the family how to identify tracks and other signs left behind by animals. Children
can make a plaster-of-paris mold of a track as part of the workshop. It also includes an outdoor nature walk to practice identifying tracks.

Also that day, a birding expedition will visit local “hot spots,” including Back Cove, Willard Beach, Portland Head Light, Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove, to look for a wide range of water birds.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, you can take a nature walk around Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm sanctuary in Falmouth to look at how plants handle the winter, and how to identify them in their winter disguises.

Highways to be renumbered

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Get set to revamp the directions you give to friends from out of town. Starting this week and finishing in the middle of May, the state’s interstate highway system will be renumbered, with highways and exits changing their names and numbers.

The state’s main interstate highway, running from Kittery through Westbrook, Lewiston and Augusta to Houlton, will be known as Interstate 95. The toll portion of this highway, called the Maine Turnpike, will end in Augusta as it does now. There will no longer be a road called Interstate 495.

A secondary highway, starting in Scarborough and running through South Portland, along the coast to Brunswick and meeting up with I-95 in Gardiner, will be known as Interstate 295 along its whole length. At present, the southern end of this road is called I-295, but changes its name to I-95 between Falmouth and Freeport.

All of those signs will be changed over as of Jan. 10, at which point a project will begin to renumber all of the exits on both highways. The new exit numbers will correspond to the nearest mile marker. At present, exit numbers increase by 1 each successive exit, leading to complications when adding new exits (as with Exit 7B in Westbrook, between Exits 7A and 8).

It can be confusing to realize that in the six miles between mile marker 42 and 48 on I-95 are six exits (numbered 6, 6A, 7, 7A, 7B and 8), but the next exit, number 9, is four miles away, at mile marker 52. Now those exits will be numbered 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 52.

The new numbers “will give travelers a better sense of where they are and how far they need to travel,” according to a Maine Department of Transportation brochure detailing the renumbering.

The exit renumbering will be complete by May 15, and the total project is expected to cost the state between $260,000 and $280,000.

Signs showing the former exit numbers will be displayed at the bottom of at least two advance signs at each interchange; these signs will have black text on a yellow background. The “formerly” signs will remain in place until after Labor Day 2004.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Column: Decorating for the season on a budget

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

As new homeowners, my wife and I have a sizable challenge this year: Beyond just unpacking the boxes still stacked around the place, we need to make the place festive, but are not exactly flush with cash.

I’ve gone looking around the area to find some nice touches without emptying my wallet, and found that making a house look great is not too hard. With a little careful thought, it won’t take much time to set up, maintain or take down when the season is over.

Outside, we’ve got a few shrubs and a little fence. Local hardware stores and gift shops stock holiday lights in wide varieties, with anything from simple white bulbs to sparkling colors, and even lighted figures like cows, moose and Santa Claus.

Choose ones you like – make sure to get outdoor cords and bulbs – and for a few bucks a strand, you can light up the season. There’s no need to go overboard (though some love to, buying thousands of lights and footing large electrical bills through December). Just a few touches, near the entrance to your yard or driveway, and again near the door, are enough. Remember not to put lights on the ground, or you’ll have to dig them out when the snow flies!

If lights aren’t your thing, or you want to spruce the yard up a bit, head to a farm market. Most close in the fall, after summer’s bounty has ended, but reopen in late November with wreaths, greenery and other festive items. As with lights, there are wide varieties, from traditional evergreen wreaths to painted pine-cone ones. Many places also have garlands, perfect for draping along the top of a fence or hanging around a doorway. Other arrangements often include red berries and sticks in simple, elegant designs.

All of these items can go outside and look beautiful when first installed, as well as with a dusting of snow. Inside, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the possibilities.

Sure, it’s nice to have something in every room, but try to keep a space that isn’t totally taken over by the holiday, as a place you can get away from stresses of the season.

Some folks like candles in each window, though fire departments often worry about them igniting curtains or other window dressings. For safer alternatives that are cheaper over the long run, buy plastic candles that take Christmas-tree replacement light bulbs.

They plug into a regular electrical outlet and stay cool near draperies. There are also electric menorahs for celebrating Hanukkah.

The cheapest way to get pretty decorations is to keep around last year’s greeting cards. Hang a few around early in the season to get in the mood – attaching them to a few simple ribbons can be nice – and rotate them as you get this year’s cards.

Another cheap way to get in the holiday mood is to have a fire, if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace. Just make sure your chimney is clean and clear, and check the flue for leaks to keep smoke out of your home.

Many people get Christmas trees, and there are several Christmas tree farms in the area, as well groups’ sales. Those sales can also be good places to get
greenery and wreaths for both inside and outside.

Decorating a tree doesn’t have to be a huge production. A few lights, some colorful ornaments – your kids or grandkids will probably make some in school – and you’re all set.

Don’t forget the greeneries, which can look wonderful sitting on windowsills or over doorways, to bring the holiday spirit all over your home. Keep the greens misted from time to time to prolong their life, and always make sure your tree has plenty of water.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Unum fires CEO after stock slide

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Facing as many as 13 class-action securities fraud lawsuits, profit restatements, downgrades from investment rating firms and a crisis of employee morale, UnumProvident fired long-time chairman and CEO Harold Chandler and replaced him March 27 with interim president and CEO Thomas Watjen, Chandler’s right-hand man.

Layoffs and organizational restructuring are not on the table, said the company’s spokeswoman in Portland, Linnea Olsen. “We need everyone that’s here,” she said. UnumProvident, which sells disability insurance, is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The board’s firing of Chandler “is not something that was caused by any one event,” Olsen said. Instead, it was “the cumulative effect of many things.”

Among those were a $29.1 million restated reduction in earnings for 2000, 2001 and 2002, the result of a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into its investment disclosures. And in the past three weeks, several investment-rating firms, including Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, have downgraded UnumProvident stock, citing concerns the company is over invested in high-risk companies.

The company recently sold $500 million worth of these below-investment-grade bonds specifically to placate rating agencies, Olsen said.

But the company still believes in its business plan and will continue to implement it quickly, Watjen told analysts in a Monday conference call briefing.

A crisis of confidence and leadership led to Chandler’s ouster, Olsen said. He will get $8.5 million in severance pay, roughly four times his annual pay in 2000, and $8.5 million in pension benefits.

Chandler joined Provident as its CEO in 1993, and presided over the merger with the Portland-based Unum in 1999, after which he remained CEO of the combined company. One analyst said in the conference call that she was glad that Watjen would stay on “to provide continuity,” while another expressed surprise that one architect of the company’s plan would be fired and the other would take his place.

Watjen said he would keep the plan moving, but would have a different leadership style from Chandler, who he said was less decisive, less inclusive and less communicative than Watjen will be. He said his new style would become evident very shortly, and pointed to the increased disclosures in the company’s annual report, filed with the SEC Monday, as an example of more communications.

He said company employees were notified of the management change over the weekend and would be involved in further company-wide discussions
in the coming days, to allow them to understand what happened.

In the coming months, UnumProvident will be “out in the marketplace” seeking to raise as much as $1.5 billion, according to a November 2002 filing with the SEC. Olsen said the company would be looking for between $500 million and $1 billion, while Watjen told analysts Monday that the figure would be between $750 million and $1 billion.

The money is not earmarked for spending but instead will be used as capital on hand to offset concerns held by investment analysts, Olsen said.

“We will continue to have investment losses,” she said. Rating agencies are therefore looking for additional capital on hand to cushion those losses, she said.

Some of the capital will come from internal processes, such as regrouping some old individual disability policies into group policies, and there may be further sales of below-investment-grade bonds, she said.

Also, inter-company loans from the insurance subsidiaries to the holding company will be repaid, giving the subsidiaries more ready cash, Olsen said.

She expects there will be a combination of stock sales and convertible bonds. “We will not be issuing straight debt,” Olsen said.

Initial indications from investment banks lead her to believe the company will raise the money it needs, she said.

The company also faces 13 class-action lawsuits alleging the company committed securities fraud by failing to truthfully disclose financial performance information to shareholders and prospective shareholders.

Olsen discounted the lawsuits, saying, “it’s an annoyance.” She said many of them were filed by law firms that specialize in stock-price collapses. The last group of suits was filed after the price dropped 62 percent, bottoming out below $6 per share.

“None of those classes have been certified,” Olsen said. Without a judge’s certification that a broad class of people was harmed, the suits cannot proceed.

The company also was fined $1 million by Georgia’s insurance commissioner for violations of that state’s insurance code during the merger of Unum and Provident in 1999.

“It was a slap on the wrist,” Olsen said.

The company’s search for a new, permanent CEO will begin shortly, and interim CEO Watjen will be considered for the position, Olsen said. “We have a real sense of urgency about this,” she added.