By Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods project director
Good afternoon, Senator Nutting, Representative Piotti and members of the Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am a resident of Alna. I am here today to testify on behalf of the 9000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine in support of section 9 of L.D. 2015.
Katahdin Lake is one of the most spectacular unprotected lakes in the State of Maine. The view of Mt. Katahdin from Katahdin Lake and the lake’s rare unspoiled wilderness character has rightly inspired dozens of artists. The mature forest next to the lake contains one of the largest areas of unprotected old growth forest in Maine. In the Wildlands Lakes Assessment, Katahdin Lake was found to have outstanding scenic qualities and shoreline character. It was also found to have significant fisheries, and cultural and physical resources.
Wassataquoik Stream which forms the northern boundary of the proposed acquisition, is a Class A river. Wassataquoik Stream has eight unique or significant resource values, including geologic/hydrologic features, ecological resources, undeveloped river areas, scenic river resources, anadromous fisheries, inland fisheries, whitewater boating, and back country excursion opportunities.
The proposed acquisition is a wilderness recreational gem. Katahdin Lake and Wassataquoik Stream offer quiet, remote and beautiful settings for fishing and paddling. Because the parcel shares a 6 mile border with Baxter State Park, acquisition of this land will provide new opportunities for hiking with unparalleled views of Mt. Katahdin, through old growth forest, to a remote lake, along a remote stream and along the slopes of South Turner Mountain. Maine has only a tiny percentage of its land, less than 3%, protected for remote wilderness recreation. This parcel is an important addition to that small amount of land protected for its wilderness qualities.
Our support of the bill is tempered, however, by our concern about the proposed transfer of public lands. We would prefer that state land not be sold. Maine’s public lands are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and are among the best managed lands in the state. However, we understand that this is a unique and complex project. We also understand that the funds received for the sale of the public lots listed in this bill will, in turn, be used to purchase additional conservation lands in the same county in which the lands are being sold.
However, we believe that one of the lots proposed to be sold, the Wyman Township lot, should be retained by the state and not be sold. This public lot is immediately adjacent to the Bigelow Preserve, and the Appalachian Trail. It includes an old growth stand. While all of the parcels proposed for sale include valuable timber resources, the Wyman parcel also has additional valuable ecological and recreational resources. And because of its location, we believe that it is at high risk of development. Therefore, we strongly urge the Committee to amend the bill to remove this lot from the authorized sale.
We have heard concerns expressed by some hunters that the negotiated deal would prohibit hunting on the property. NRCM has always supported hunting. We support the Land for Maine’s Future Program which allows hunting. In recent years, we have supported the West Branch and Katahdin Forest projects – over 500,000 acres located near Baxter State Park – as well as numerous other projects throughout the state which will be permanently available for hunting.
This parcel, however, is unlike any other parcel in the State of Maine. It was part of Governor Baxter’s original vision for Baxter State Park and should be included in the sanctuary. The 6015 acres in question constitute only 3/100 of 1% of the land in the State of Maine. There are literally millions of acres adjacent to Baxter State Park where hunting can, will and should continue.
Concerns have also been raised about the provision to limit the use of snowmobiles on the parcel. Snowmobile use in the area has been extremely limited. There are no official trails to the parcel. And there are millions of acres surrounding Baxter State Park where snowmobiles can and will continue to be used. The amount of land allocated for non-motorized use is miniscule – less than 3% statewide – by comparison. Adding this land to Baxter State Park where snowmobile use will be limited is an important step towards righting the balance.
We are strongly in support of the proposed Katahdin Lake acquisition and we urge the Committee to delete the Wyman lot and then pass section 9 of L.D. 2015 so that this unique deal can proceed.
Thank you for your attention.