Wild and Scenic Protections Threatened
The people of Maine realized they needed a State policy to save their own wilderness areas. They petitioned their elected representatives to protect the last great wild river in the eastern United States, and the Maine legislature responded by creating the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, so that the people could own and administer those acres of forest and the waters which give them life. The people of Maine overwhelmingly approved a proposal for the State to raise the money to buy the land in a cooperative venture with the Federal Department of the Interior. The dream of preserving the Allagash came true when we dedicated that waterway in July, 1970.
~U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie, 1971
Bangor, ME— One of the most important wild rivers in Maine is being jeopardized by special interests. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, has been named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers because its legal protections are threatened say wilderness advocates.
State and national organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, announced today at news conferences in Bangor and Washington, D.C., that the Allagash has been put on the 2008 list of Most Endangered Rivers. The groups say that anti-wilderness interests have diminished the wild character and continue to press public agencies to further downgrade existing protections for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
“The Allagash is one of the jewels of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System,” said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers. “Mainers can’t sit on the sidelines and watch lawmakers and lobbyists try to tarnish this treasure. Robbing the Allagash of its wild characteristics today, robs our children from experiencing the joys of the Allagash tomorrow.”>/p>
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway was created in 1966 by the Maine legislature and by an overwhelming vote of Maine citizens. In 1970, the Allagash became the first river in the United States given protection within the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system, not by an act of Congress, but by state initiative. Former Maine Governor Kenneth Curtis petitioned the Department of the Interior to protect this natural treasure.
However, according to Karen Woodsum of the Sierra Club, “Maine policy-makers have let down the people of Maine and Americans nationwide who support the wilderness values embodied by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.”
At issue is excessive motor vehicle access and development. Originally, only two drive-up access points were authorized in the Waterway. Over the years, another ten vehicular access sites have been created. That has caused conflicts when short-term users try to compete with wilderness paddlers for campsites.
Conservationists also point to a logging road alongside the Allagash that was bulldozed open in 2006 by northern Maine legislators and local residents without state or federal authorization. Despite public outcry and blatant disregard for federal law, no enforcement action was taken. In addition, plans are in the works to build a massive, permanent bridge over the river, which would fundamentally change the character of a 50-mile stretch of the Wilderness Waterway.
“After backsliding in the 1990s, we saw progress to improve the wilderness character of the Allagash,” said Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director of RESTORE: The North Woods. “However, since state law was radically changed two years ago protections have gone backwards again.”
The river advocates point out that former U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie wanted the Allagash preserved so that anyone could turn their canoe into a time machine and have the same kind of wilderness experience in the heart of the Maine Woods that inspired Henry David Thoreau more than 150 years ago.
“In 2008, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. We should be honoring, not undoing, Muskie’s hard work to protect the Allagash,” said St. Pierre.
For generations the Allagash has been a top destination for multi-day wilderness canoeing trips. A thriving industry of outfitters and guides serves tourists from across the country who flock to the region looking to experience history.
“The Allagash has recovered from a history of logging. Today, much of the Allagash reflects the best of Maine’s canoe country, but that is at risk with more motorized access and no chance to eventually remove some of the bridges,” said Garrett Conover, a Registered Maine Guide who has run North Woods Ways wilderness guide service for nearly 30 years.
The groups announcing the Most Endangered River designation emphasized that bridges that were supposed to be temporary structures have now been declared permanent fixtures of the landscape, as have 30 summer and winter motor vehicle access sites. By law, to be considered wild a river is supposed to represent “vestiges of primitive America.”
Tim Caverly, a retired Supervisor of the Waterway, said that despite the many assaults on the wild character of the Allagash, the Maine Department of Conservation, which manages the Waterway, seems powerless to stop the abuse. Backed by lobbyists for motor sports groups and large industrial landowners in the region, lawmakers in Augusta have limited the department’s authority to implement changes to the state’s Allagash management plan, which would bring it into compliance with federal Wild and Scenic River guidelines.
“In the 1970s, the Allagash was a shining example of a state-federal partnership. It’s shocking to see federal protections for this extraordinary river diluted in the name of state’s rights to satisfy special interests,” said Rollin Thurlow, President of the Allagash Alliance Group. “The state needs to do a much better stewardship job and the National Park Service needs to provide much more rigorous oversight of the state’s management.”
A newly appointed advisory council is deciding what to do next with the Allagash. River advocates say the Council should recommend legislative reaffirmation of the original mandate to enhance the “maximum wilderness character” of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. They also say that the plan should restrict motor vehicle access, reduce logging roads and bridges, preserve the native fishery, and designate areas for non-motorized winter recreation.
One northern Mainer sums up the concerns of wilderness advocates. Bob Guethlen lives in an unorganized township in northwestern Maine. He has paddled the Allagash more than 20 times in recent years.
“The very name Allagash represents wildness to people across the country,” says Guethlen. “The Allagash deserves to be respected by users and managed by our state and federal agencies as a wild river.”
Maine groups and individuals supporting the listing of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway on the 2008 list of Most Endangered Rivers
Jym St. Pierre
RESTORE: The North Woods
9 Union Street
Hallowell, ME 04347
AWW Advisory Council 2003-2006
Dean Bennett, Ph.D.
AWW Advisory Council 1996-1998, 2003-2006
Author, Allagash: Maine’s Wild & Scenic River and
The Wilderness from Chamberlain Farm
Sheila Bennett, Ph.D.
Professor of Natural Science
AWW Advisory Council 1999-2003
Jennifer Burns Gray, J.D.
Staff Attorney and Advocate
Maine Audubon Society
AWW Advisory Council 2003-2006
Allagash Wilderness Waterway
AWW Supervisor 1981-1999
Allagash Alliance Group
Board Director, Allagash Alliance Group
Cathy Johnson, J.D.
North Woods Project Director
Natural Resources Council of Maine
AWW Advisory Council 1999-2006
Maine Projects Director
The Wilderness Society
Northeast Program Manager
National Parks Conservation Association
Allagash Alliance Group
Maine Policy Manager
Appalachian Mountain Club
Director – Maine Woods Program