by Roland D. Martin
Leadership oftentimes is unpopular. One needs to look no further than V. Paul Reynolds’ column “Baxter Deal a Disaster for Sportsmen” (BDN, Jan. 1) to see that making difficult decisions can often lead to personal criticism.
Recently, the state finalized the details of a transaction that will add 4,000 acres of land to Baxter State Park. While it has been widely hailed as a victory for all who enjoy the outdoors, in some circles, the deal has been criticized as being unfair to sportsmen or even biased against sportsmen. That and more were stated in Reynolds’ column.
Those who have criticized the loudest seem to be those who have failed to grasp the wisdom of Gov. Percival Baxter when he created Baxter State Park.
When Gov. Baxter presented this gift of land to the state, it was stated that it was “incumbent upon them, the recipients, to preserve the trust impressed upon them, to ensure for themselves and for future generations the fullest use of Baxter State Park consistent with the desires of the donor.”>/p>
Gov. Baxter’s expressed desires were that this park “shall forever be retained and used for state forest, public park and public recreational purposes … shall forever be kept and remain in the natural wild state … shall forever be kept and remain as a sanctuary for beasts and birds.” To ensure that his wishes were kept, he designed a governing board known as the Baxter State Park Authority.
It was stated in Reynolds’ column that I, as the commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, should have done more to protect the rights of sportsmen during the Katahdin Lake land debate. Mr. Reynolds failed to mention that the transaction included an additional 2,000 acres that have been deeded to the Department of Conservation, and that this land is open to hunters and trappers.
While sitting as a member of the authority, all members, including the commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, must lead with Gov. Baxter’s vision for the park foremost in their mind, not the mission of the agency they are responsible for administering. As the law states, “Solemnly cognizant of the responsibility, it shall always be the purpose of the Authority to satisfy the terms of the Trust.”>/p>
Over a period of 30 years, Gov. Baxter continued to add pieces to the park. Each time there was a new piece to be added, he would give a deed to the Legislature to accept consistent with the conditions that were already in place with the park; in accepting the deed, the Legislature agreed to abide by these conditions, and we too are obligated to carry out the conditions of Gov. Baxter’s deeds.
Baxter in fact worried about this, and wrote, “While I am living, I fear no encroachments on the park, but as time passes and new men appear upon the scene, there may be a tendency to overlook these restrictions and thus break the spirit of these gifts.”
While wearing the hat of an authority member, I am proud to have championed the true vision of Gov. Baxter in the Katahdin Lake debate. When Mr. Reynolds brings up a former commissioner as someone who would have championed the department in this debate, he forgets that back in the early ’90s, that very commissioner opposed the wishes of his own Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife when, as a member of the Baxter State Park Authority, he opposed the continuation of attempts to reintroduce caribou into the park.
Reynolds’ claims ring even more hollow when he states that sportsmen’s heritage is being swallowed up by what he terms “elitist environmental incrementalism.”>/p>
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the tide is going the other way as far as land purchases that are open to hunting and fishing. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife owns over 100,000 acres with more land being purchased each year that is open to hunting and trapping. The Department of Conservation owns and manages over 661,847 acres of land, 97 percent of which is open to hunting. The Department of Conservation has also obtained conservation easements on an additional 268,511 acres. These conservation easements have been vital tools in limiting sprawl, and preserving acreage for sportsmen, whether it is hunting, trapping or other types of outdoor recreation.
We have traveled far since the days of Gov. Baxter. It seems now that it is far easier to point fingers and criticize than it is to work together toward consensus. Gov. Baxter certainly was a man ahead of his time, who made certain that when his time had passed, the park would conform to his foresight and vision.
I am proud to say that I have worked tirelessly with others to uphold this vision, and will continue to follow the intent and deeds of Gov. Baxter while working within the boundaries set by our Legislature, for it was the Legislature that stated over 30 years ago, “it shall be the object of the Baxter State Park Authority… to subordinate its own wishes to the intent of Gov. Baxter; to recognize his wish that in this era of change, one thing of natural beauty remain constant.”>/p>
While I respect Paul Reynolds’ opinion, I must say that he simply “does not get it.” This deal ultimately benefits all Maine citizens.