AUGUSTA — Sixteen months ago, Bill Beardsley left his job as president of Husson University to run for governor.

Six months later, he finished fifth in a seven-way Republican primary.

Now he finds himself working for one of his former rivals — Gov. Paul LePage — as commissioner of the Department of Conservation.

“I was duking it out as a conservative with Gov. LePage, and he whomped me,” he said. “I just came back for more.”

Beardsley, who is widely credited with turning Husson from a struggling small college into a strong Bangor institution, began his new job in late January.

When nominating him for the position in December, LePage said Beardsley’s résumé was so varied — a state planner in Vermont, a hydroelectric vice president in Maine, a forest products director in Alaska — he had trouble deciding where best to use his talents.

He chose him for the Department of Conservation, a job in which Beardsley has to balance his interest in the economic value of the state’s forests while ensuring they are preserved for public access.

His department of 600 — 40 percent of whom are seasonal employees — performs a variety of tasks, from keeping invasive species out of the woods to managing state parks and public land to fighting forest fires.

“I’ve always asked, ‘What’s the economic value? What’s the present worth?” Beardsley said during a recent interview in his Augusta office. “We have a team of people who say, ‘Well, it’s just plain got intrinsic value where economics doesn’t really weigh in.’ ”

Beardsley, 68, is learning a lot in his new job, and loving it.

“I’ve got so many smart Ph.D. people that may or may not agree with me,” he said. “They are very sharp, hardworking people. I go to the Cabinet meetings and I say, ‘Wow.’ I’m a little humbled.”

Those who know him say they aren’t surprised Beardsley ended up in a new and challenging job after serving 23 years at Husson.

“There are no small answers with Bill,” said Julie Green, director of public affairs for Husson University.

“His personality is larger than life.”

Part of that big personality comes through in Beardsley’s use of strong language.

The most recent example came earlier this month when a judge put a stop to Plum Creek Timber Co.’s housing and resort development near Moosehead Lake.

“This is a tragedy,” Beardsley said in a statement put out by the department. “I see more poverty and fewer job opportunities in Maine’s fragile rural economies if this decision stands.”

While running for governor last spring, Beardsley said he would “go to war” against interest groups that tie up projects in the court system. He’s called vernal pools “insane” and blamed “our socialistic, left-wing liberal government in Augusta” for driving up energy prices beyond what Mainers can afford.

When it comes to Plum Creek, Beardsley defends his strong statement.

“Is it hyperbole to say here we’ve got a company that’s spent $30 million on their own land, they are only going to develop 2 percent of their land, they were going to set aside 363,000 acres of easements?” he said. “They’ve been at it for five years, and there’s still more uncertainty.”

“To me, that’s a tragedy that our system doesn’t work,” he said.

Early life

Beardsley was born in New Hampshire on July 4, 1942. His father ran a paper mill and a hydroelectric company in Newfoundland, and his mother was a homemaker and astronomer. He has ancestors who operated sawmills in Hancock County shortly after the Civil War, prompting him to note at the bottom of his résumé that “natural resources are in the Beardsley family DNA.”

Beardsley earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Earlham College in 1964 and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University from the department of geography and environmental studies in 1970.

His research area focused on resolving conflicts in forest resource management in Aroostook County.

He later worked as assistant to the president of Green Mountain Power Co. and at Bangor Hydro Electric Co., where he was vice president and assistant to the president.

Beardsley said he didn’t see opportunities for further advancement at the company, so he began to consider options.

“My wife and I said we need an adventure before the kids get to high school,” he said.

So they packed up the children in the 1980s and headed to Alaska, where he gained experience that would serve him as conservation commissioner.

From 1981 to 1982, Beardsley was executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Development and associate professor of natural resources development at Alaska Pacific University. After that, he worked as the director of energy and power development, finance and economics, and the office of forest products in the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development.

“I worked on the Tongass National Forest and the environmental impact statement on that,” he said. “I was representing the state of Alaska, saying, ‘What are the ramifications of changes in the forest plans?’”

That work touched on ecology, conservation, the state’s largest sawmill and negotiations with American Indians. At that time, Alaska was trying to develop markets in Japan and China for different types of wood, he said.

When he headed the energy office, it was exploring alternative energy sources.

In 1985, Beardsley and his wife, Betsy, decided they wanted to move back to Maine to raise their three children in the Ellsworth home where Beardsley’s mother had been born.

Back to Maine

A year later, he took a job at Husson as interim executive vice president. He was 45 and took over a school that “hadn’t balanced its budget in 10 years,” he said.

While at Husson, Beardsley struck up a friendly rivalry with George Spann, president of Thomas College. Spann described him as “a wonderful man in every way.”

“He’s such an approachable person,” he said. “He can talk to anyone about anything at almost any time. There isn’t an iota of snobbery in him.”

The Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee gave Beardsley unanimous approval during the confirmation process. The state Senate followed suit with a unanimous vote.
Sen. Roger Sherman, R-Hodgdon, chairman of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, said Beardsley’s varied experiences in Alaska, Vermont and at Husson are a big plus.

“He’s a superintelligent guy with a nice big background,” he said. “I think his background in natural resource management is top drawer.”

One of the upcoming issues that Beardsley and lawmakers face is whether or how to reshape the Land Use Regulation Commission. That’s the citizen board that oversees development in the state’s 10.4 million acres of townships, plantations and unorganized territories.

Beardsley said he will monitor bills making their way through the Legislature, but his preference would be to ensure that local people who would be affected by new development have a bigger say in what happens where they live.

As it is now, Beardsley thinks, those who live in the unorganized territories don’t have enough input into decisions by the board.

“Most people believe that an area the size of Vermont and New Hampshire needs good planning, good zoning,” he said. “My feeling is some decisions, some authority, some input needs to be reflected in the people who come from the LURC areas.”

Green, the director of public affairs for Husson, worked closely with Beardsley from 1996 to 2010, when he left the university.

She said he cares about his employees and often quietly helped people who were struggling. Green said Beardsley admired those who did their jobs well, from the person who made sandwiches in the cafeteria to the highly educated professors at the university.

“Bill is decisive,” she said. “He’s a visionary. He can look beyond the day-to-day aspects of a job that can be overwhelming and see the bigger picture.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015
[email protected]

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