A legislative committee rightly reconsidered its four-way vote on preserving land around Katahdin Lake and came out strongly in favor of a compromise to divide the parcel in two with hunting allowed on one part. This is a good compromise that should be approved by the House and Senate when they consider it.
State officials announced in January that they had reached agreement with a logging company to buy and swap land to add Katahdin Lake and surrounding land to Baxter State Park. The original deal encompassed 6,000 acres, all of which the park authority intended to manage as sanctuary.
The deal is complex because the Gardner Land Co., the Lincoln company that owns the Katahdin Lake parcel, wants other land, not money, in exchange so its woods and mill employees can keep working. This means the state must sell some of its holdings, something that requires two-thirds approval of the Legislature.
Because lawmakers must approve the public land sale, sportsmen had unusual leverage over the deal. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine convinced several lawmakers to oppose the deal if hunting and snowmobiling were not allowed everywhere on the parcel.
Late last month, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee split four ways on the Katahdin Lake plan. Eight of the committee’s members supported dividing the parcel in two with 4,000 acres around the lake would be added to Baxter State Park to be managed as a sanctuary as Gov. Percival Baxter intended.
The remaining 2,000 acres, which stretches north to Wassataquoik Stream, could then be open to hunting. Three of the eight then said they would only support the split if the park agreed to groom its perimeter road for snowmobiles, a last-minute addition that could have ended a 25-year compromise on snowmobile use in the park. Three committee members supported the plan as proposed and one voted against the whole deal.
The committee then forwarded this mish-mash to the full Legislature.
Wisely, the committee took the plan back this week and came up with a clean compromise. Only one member voted against splitting the parcel. Under the compromise, the smaller parcel would be owned by the Department of Conservation, not Baxter State Park. Concerns over where the department will get the resources – financial and personnel – to manage the parcel can be addressed later.
This compromise will add a prime parcel to Baxter State Park while allowing for hunting nearby. It should be supported by the full Legislature.