Clearly, for folks in Millinocket and much of Maine’s rural quarter, life has not gone the way they wanted.
Mills have downsized or closed, taking with them much of the timber economy. Dreams of owning a camp have been dashed by spiraling real estate costs. A few wealthy conservationists “from away” have bought up vast tracts and closed them to hunting.
Unfortunately, supporters of “traditional use” have picked one thing they think they have control over – a complicated land swap that would add 6,000 acres to Baxter State Park, benefit the economy and preserve hunting access to good wildlife habitat – and drawn a line in the sand in front of it.
Katahdin Lake and 6,000 acres of surrounding forest were part of Gov. Percival Baxter’s vision for his wilderness park, but he was unable to secure it in his lifetime. The state and a national conservation group have come together to negotiate a deal with an old-line Maine timber company to trade the tract for 7,400 acres of other state land.
The Baxter Park Authority will not allow hunting in the new park addition. Supporters are under a July 1 deadline to raise $14 million. Amid the controversy, fundraising has stalled.
The idea that the loss of hunting at Katahdin Lake will affect large numbers of Maine sportsmen is preposterous. Roughly 15 million acres in Maine are open to some form of hunting, so the land included in the deal represents four one-thousandths of 1 percent of available hunting areas. Most hunters who visit a lake camp that has emerged as a cause celebrè hail from out of state.
The deal gives the state $5.5 million protect the best wildlife habitat sportsmen can find from future development.
If the deal falls through, the forest may be cut and the land sold as private kingdom lots, with no guarantee of continuing access.
Two thirds of the Legislature has to approve the deal. Lawmakers should not confuse sympathy for opponents with what is squarely in the public’s interest.