Good morning, Senator Dill, Representative O’Neil, and Members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. I’m Melanie Sturm, Forests and Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on LD 1756.
Regarding Section 1, the proposal for T12 R13 in Aroostook County, we have a couple of concerns we would like to raise with the Committee. We pay close attention to land management and ownership issues along the corridor of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (“Waterway”), which includes the township in question. We strongly support efforts by the State to “preserve, protect, and develop the maximum wilderness character” of the Waterway, as required by law. While we generally have a great deal of appreciation and respect for the approach taken by the Bureau of Parks and Lands (“Bureau”) under Director Cutko’s leadership, the Waterway is nationally significant and deserves special consideration. The entire 92.5 miles of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway comprises Maine’s only federally designated wild and scenic river, providing fish and wildlife habitat and offering hard-to-find backcountry recreation experiences.
Under Section 1, the Bureau would be authorized to sell its interest in T12 R13 and use the funds to purchase land elsewhere in Aroostook County. The Bureau is not providing information about what parcel of land might be purchased with the funds from this proposed sale, so the public cannot know how the values of such a future parcel may compare with the property interests given up along the Waterway. We acknowledge the Bureau is seeking to untangle itself from common and undivided interest in which it has no management authority in exchange for land that can be developed for public recreation and the like. However, we are reticent to provide support for selling any State interests along the critically important Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
Under Section 2, the Bureau would be authorized to sell its interest in roughly 2,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park in T4 R8, including East Turner Mountain. The land would be conveyed to Baxter State Park, adding to the block of conservation land formed by Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and other public and private properties managed for conservation. This sale makes practical sense, as the land would be managed by Baxter State Park in a manner that is consistent with the Bureau’s practices, maintaining habitat connectivity and supporting outdoor recreation.
I encourage the Committee to take these questions into consideration and appreciate this opportunity to testify on the bill.