Public Reserved Lands
What are Public Reserved Lands?
Maine has approximately 600,000 acres of Public Reserved Lands in 37 separate parcels located across the state. These lands are enjoyed for their outstanding hiking, camping, birding, fishing, and hunting opportunities. They include the Bigelow Preserve, Kennebec Highlands, Tumbledown, Cutler’s Bold Coast, Donnell Pond, Debouillie, Mount Abraham, and other Maine gems. (Please check out this map from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to see the full list.)
How are Public Reserved Lands managed and maintained?
Maine’s Public Reserved Lands are managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) for multiple uses, including wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and sustainable timber harvesting.
Maine’s Public Reserved Lands include some of the best, largest, and oldest trees in the state. Stands with big, old trees are not only economically valuable, but they also provide some of the best remaining habitat in Maine’s forests for those plant, bird, and mammal species that thrive in older forests.
For most of its history, BPL has harvested timber from Public Reserved Lands’ forests in a sustainable manner, improving both the quality and the quantity of timber on those lands. Under the LePage Administration, however, Public Reserved Lands were regularly under attack: the former governor attempted to increase timber harvesting to unsustainable levels and needlessly restructure public land management. The LePage Administration also attempted to siphon off essential funding from harvests to be used for unrelated purposes.
Management of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands is entirely funded by revenues generated from the lands themselves, primarily from timber harvesting. All of the roads, trails, campsites, picnic tables, and other recreational infrastructure; all wildlife habitat and ecological protection activities; and all timber management and harvesting activities on Public Reserved Lands are paid for by the lands themselves. No taxpayer funds are used.
We are hopeful that the Bureau of Parks and Lands, under Governor Mills’ leadership, will return to harvesting timber at sustainable levels. We urge BPL to uphold the law and use funds from harvested timber to support the Public Reserved Lands system.
How are Public Reserved Lands acquired?
Maine’s 600,000 acres of Public Reserved Lands are a unique state resource. Their origin dates back to the separation of Maine from Massachusetts in 1820. In 1820, the state set aside lots in each unincorporated township from private sale in order for this land to provide various public benefits. In the 1970s, these dispersed public lots were consolidated into the spectacular Public Reserved Land System that we have today. These consolidated lots provide timber, protect wildlife habitat, and offer a wide variety of public recreational opportunities. These lands are held in public trust and managed for public use and enjoyment.
Additional public funding for acquiring new Public Reserved Lands comes from the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program, the federal Forest Legacy Program, or from private philanthropic donations. NRCM strongly supports all of these funding sources. Please read more about why NRCM supports revitalizing the LMF program through a $75 million bond in 2019.
Maine has 48 State Parks and Historic Sites, protecting more than 100,000 acres of land and offering diverse recreational opportunities throughout the state.*
With gems including Aroostook State Park, Mount Kineo, Rangeley Lakes, Grafton Notch, Bradbury Mountain, Crescent Beach, and Quoddy Head, Maine’s State Parks are very popular: the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands recently announced that 2018 saw the highest visitation ever to the Maine State Parks system. Close to 3 million total visits marked an 11 percent increase over visitation in 2017.
At the same time, Maine State Parks currently have a $50 million maintenance backlog. Considering both the success of our State Parks System and its needs for repairs, NRCM believes that $20 million in bond funding for State Parks’ infrastructure is needed to make meaningful progress at decreasing this backlog and providing a high quality experience for park visitors. It would ensure that the State can immediately make high priority repairs so that Maine residents and tourists alike have safe, accessible, and positive visits to Maine’s protected lands.
For a longer-term solution to the maintenance backlog, NRCM supports dedicating a percentage of revenues generated from park visits to maintaining the quality and safety of State Parks, roads, and facilities.
*Baxter State Park is a separate entity from the State Park System, as it has an independent management structure.
Banner photo: View from Bigelow. Photo by Pete Didisheim