An amendment to make worthwhile changes should be the preferred option.
by Nancy E. Smith
AUGUSTA – I remember one winter afternoon. I was checking a logging job in Township 1, Range 6, north of Millinocket, and I came across an active deer yard outside of the harvest area where there must have been 40 deer standing quietly under the protection of the conifers overhead.
The sight was breathtaking. Then there was that autumn afternoon in T2R8, just west of Lincoln, about a mile from the nearest road.
My dog walked beside me as I used my ax to clear boundary lines and re-blaze trees that marked the property line, when I heard the unmistakable noise of a bull moose in rut.
And it was coming right at us. I froze, eyes searching for a tree big enough to climb; the dog was barking until I thought she’d be the end of us both. The moose, no more than 20 feet away, stared at me and huffed a few times before disappearing into the alders.
Some of my most cherished memories of working days come from the unorganized territories of Maine where I worked as a forester for about 13 years for International Paper.
The Legislature is grappling with L.D. 1534 and efforts to abolish the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees land use and development in these areas without municipal government, and these memories come back to me, raising concern over the future of the Maine North Woods.
Some who live in the unorganized territories believe LURC commissioners and staff have not heard them and have not responded to the urgent demands for jobs and economic growth.
Legislation to eliminate LURC has been late in coming this legislative session, with public hearings on L.D. 1534 only a few weeks ago, and adjournment on the horizon.
These initial efforts have been replaced with two proposals for a stakeholder group to study the issue and report back to the Legislative Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry next year. Having served on that committee for two of my four terms in the Legislature, I know they have a tough road ahead of them.
The issue of who will oversee planning and permitting in 10.4 million acres of the unorganized territories will be studied, but key issues remain unresolved as competing proposals advance to the House and Senate.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, has offered a proposal to improve the process within LURC, to review all options for making the land use planning and regulation in the UT more predictable, and empowering LURC to incorporate expertise from regional, local, and statewide agencies.
It includes legislators among the numerous key stakeholders, thus ensuring a broad range of perspectives is included in the deliberations.
The McCabe amendment also outlines a charge to the stakeholder group to explore all options for ensuring that LURC officials address potential opportunities and conflicts in their planning and permitting work, and that permit applications are dealt with in a timely and respectful manner.
The amendment by Rep. Jeffrey Gifford, R-Lincoln, clearly favors a predetermined outcome of eliminating LURC, asking the study committee only to look at the governance of the UT, and to propose a transition plan if LURC is eliminated.
This is not the way to manage and encourage growth in an area so vast and unique that it is of statewide and even national significance.
As I reflect on my experiences living and working in Maine, I want to remind readers that those who work in the woods are as taken by the beauty of the North Woods as those who visit and vacation there.
And those who come to the woods for refuge from their work life do not dismiss the need for true, sustainable economic growth in rural Maine.
This is not a choice between protecting our natural assets and growing the economy.
Our challenge is to work together to figure out how to build our economy on the natural assets in a way that economy and environment continue to thrive for generations.
Rep. McCabe’s version of L.D. 1534 will provide an opportunity for this to happen, honoring both the local and statewide stewardship responsibilities.