You have a chance to help shape the future of almost half the state of Maine.
Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission, or LURC, is writing a new plan for guiding and managing development in the 10.4 million acres known as the state’s Unorganized Territories. That plan will direct where development can happen, how it can happen and where it shouldn’t happen. And as part of the process of devising that plan, LURC needs to hear from Mainers about their vision for the future of this vast and largely undeveloped part of the state.
The Unorganized Territories contain almost 3,000 lakes and ponds, many of them remote and wild; hundreds of mountain peaks; the highest concentration of free-flowing, undeveloped rivers in the East; dozens of coastal islands and ledges; miles upon miles of ATV and snowmobile trails; and countless opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, paddling and whitewater rafting.
The largest segment is the huge tract of land known as the Great North Woods. If the 300-year history of America’s east has been dominated by urban and suburban development stretching from New England down to the Florida coast, Maine’s Great North Woods have been the exception. Today, those woods comprise the largest contiguous block of undeveloped forestland east of the Mississippi, home to abundant and in some cases unique populations of flora as well as fish and wildlife.
Yet this landscape is neither pristine nor unpeopled. For centuries, Maine’s woods have been a working forest. That forest provided — and still provides — trees for human use, from the fabled King’s Pines turned into masts and spars on British Crown ships to lumber for latter-day homebuilding and fiber destined to be milled into phone books, catalogs and magazines.
With the exception of a handful of communities, there is almost no local government in the state’s Unorganized Territories — thus the “unorganized” part of the name. What government there is in scattered communities may choose not to administer land use rules locally.
So, the Land Use Regulation Commission was established in 1971 after an unexpected boom in land development and recreational building in the north woods during the 1960s which threatened the region’s remote and wild character as well as traditional and industrial uses of the land. “Who is to come forward to say that this resource must not be squandered?” asked a 1968 report on Maine’s wildlands commissioned by the state. The answer was LURC.
In the decades since LURC’s creation by the Maine Legislature, the ownership of its jurisdiction has been transformed from the “paper plantation” forest owned by a handful of large paper companies to a landscape increasingly owned by real estate developers and private individuals.
And with that ownership change, it has become evident that land once used for forestry and recreation may be more valuable not for those uses, but for homes. In a recent study, LURC found that despite the reams of rules and regulations on its books, two-thirds of the residential development in its jurisdiction “is dispersing in a manner that is not compatible with maintenance of the principal values of the Commission’s jurisdiction.”
In other words, sprawl has come to the north woods.
LURC staff have produced a draft plan to stimulate comment at the public input sessions. You can find that plan online at the agency’s website, along with a schedule of public workshops.
You can expect to find the usual suspects at the sessions, from industrial forestry groups to environmental advocates, who have already begun their respective organizing and attack on the draft plan. But this is a process that belongs to all the people of Maine, because the mountains, streams, lakes, forest and fields in question belong to all of us. Get out there and tell the good folks at LURC how you want them to manage your land.