Good afternoon Senator Davis, Representative Dunphy, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Eliza Donoghue. I am here today on behalf of the 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to LD 1126, An Act To Support Tourism on Public Reserved Lands by Leasing Sites to Commercial Sporting Camps.
NRCM acknowledges and appreciates that one goal of this bill is to encourage increased and diversified use of Public Reserved Lands. Our organization has long advocated for policies that would increase the accessibility and public use of this remarkable, shared resource. However, this bill ultimately would privatize a public resource and result in the exclusion of public users, and for that reason and others, we do not support the bill.
- Allowing a private entity to build private structures and trails for the use of their customers on public lands essentially converts those public lands into private lands. This bill would result in the de facto blockage of public use of a public resource. Ordinary members of the public wishing to hunt, hike, camp, watch wildlife, or do any of the other recreational activities allowed on public lands would essentially be excluded from those areas where the new structures and trails would be located. LD 1126 calls for the lease of private structures, as well as the conveyance of trail easements to those structures—one per lodging room of a commercial sporting camp. In the case of Grant’s Camps located on a 41-acre public lot on Kennebago Lake, that could mean as many as 18 to 30 leases and accompanying miles of trails. If, for instance, those structures and one-mile trails stemmed from the sporting camp, it would cover up to 2,000 acres. Two thousand acres would essentially be blocked from public use by a ring of private structures. That’s a quick way to eat our public lots—there are nine sporting camp leases on Public Reserved Lands. This is inconsistent with the Bureau’s public mission and discourages public use.
- We’re also very concerned about creating a precedent of allowing new, privately owned structures on Public Reserved Lands. The lease system on public lands was created to accommodate structures that existed on the land prior to state acquisition, such as sporting camps. As such, there is deliberately no system in place for regulating the creation of new structures. “Observation stand” and “shelter” are not defined in statute or rule, which creates ambiguity that could result in outcomes not intended by the bill’s supporters. For instance, while my vision of an “observation stand” is likely pretty consistent with others’ vision of an observation stand, “shelters” could be anything from a blind, to a lean-to, to a cabin. This bill opens the door to a use outside of the scope of traditional public land management –the creation of new, private structures on public lands.
Because this bill would result in the privatization of public lands and the exclusion, as a practical matter, of the general public from using significant areas of our Public Reserved Lands, and because it would set a new precedent allowing the creation of new private structures on public lands, we strongly urge you to vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 1126. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee.