July 20, 2019

RESTORE’s plan for national park won’t pass

After unrolling their sleeping bags in Orono’s Black Bear Inn on Tuesday, members of the Maine Sporting Camp Association gathered for a panel discussion titled: “The Future Of The Unorganized Townships of Northern Maine.” The five panelists and their affiliations were: George Smith, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine; Al Cowperthwaite, North Maine Woods; Cathy Johnson, Natural Resources Council of Maine; Ralph Knoll, Department of Conservation; Jym St. Pierre, RESTORE: The North Woods.

Considering that RESTORE is the environmental organization proposing establishment of a 3.2 million acre national park in Maine’s heartland, you might imagine St. Pierre’s position wasn’t exactly the most popular. That was alluded to diplomatically by moderator Pete Norris when he opened the program saying: “Sporting camps depend on high recreational value, so we are sensitive to new developments.”

Smith began his presentation with a poem by Robert Frost describing the special pleasures enjoyed on a less-traveled road. Smith compared the poet’s lines to the lives of Maine sporting camp owners, who in dependirecreations for their livelihoods, have chosen less-traveled roads.

The SAM’s executive director also pointed out that timber harvesting, hunting and trapping would be prohibited within the proposed national park: “Timber harvesting provides 32,000 jobs and represents 35 percent of the state’s payroll, and in many Maine communities hunting and fishing are integral to the local economy.” Cogent comments.

Johnson, the NRC’s north woods director, focused on the Northern Forest Alliance’s – a coalition comprising the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York – 26 million acres, 16 of which are in Maine. She said the NRC’s vision for Maine’s north woods is “multiple use of the resource without conflict.”

Without hesitation or reservation, Johnson warned against current forestry practices and development: “About one-half of the harvesting in the Maine north woods – approximately 200,000 acres – is leaving the forest below minimum standards to ensure reproduction.” Regarding development, Johnson said many of the building permits now being issued in remote areas are for permanent retirement homes. “This and the construction of roads results in forest fragmentation and loss of productivity and remoteness. Twenty years ago,” she reminded, “southern Maine was considered remote.” Strong points.

In presenting a history of North Maine Woods, Al Cowperthwaite said 48 percent of the organization’s land is owned by families, 52 percent by companies. To give you an idea of the enormity of that land and its recreational use, Cowperthwaite surprised the audience by saying that if the 90,000 annual visitors to NMW all arrived at once, they would have 30-plus acres apiece on which to camp and cook. Think about it.

St. Pierre’s presentation was, in my opinion, lack-luster. He showed up with a shopping bag full of magazines that touted the pleasures and advantages of parks located in other states. Displaying the colorful pages to the audience, the Maine director of RESTORE said Maine was the only state not represented. Exactly. Therein lies the reason why people flock to this neck of the woods each summer. Maine already is a natural national park, so why reduce it to a 3.2 million acre recreational race track for tourists on two-week vacations?

After attending the MSCA’s panel discussion, I’m convinced the national park proposal has about as much chance of succeeding as I would in securing a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before Knoll gave his presentation. But the tracks left by Smith, Johnson and Cowperthwaite more than emphasizes the importance of cooperation among landowners, sportsmen and state and federal agencies to ensuring multiple use of Maine’s magnificent outdoor resources – without conflict.

Flag up: Word is that more than a few good-size togue are being derricked from the ice-sealed depths of Green Lake in Dedham-Ellsworth. The report comes from a local angler who keeps a tight line on such matters.

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