June 05, 2020

State agencies are involved with North Maine Woods policymaking

ASHLAND — Since its inception in 1971, the North Maine Woods has reflected a special relationship between the private and public sectors. With the state a major landowner in the region encompassed by NMW, that relationship “is really very important to us,” said Tom Morrison, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine Department of Conservation.

Public lands

Taxpayers own some 485,000 acres collectively grouped as the Maine Public Reserve Lands. Scattered across the state, with a strong concentration in the region managed by North Maine Woods, these lands are managed for multiple-use purposes, including wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and timber management.

The bureau manages some 560,000 acres, including 75,000 acres found in the state parks and historic sites. The bureau also manages the submerged lands beneath the great ponds (10 acres or greater in size) and the ocean from the low tide mark to the three-mile state boundary.

In the North Maine Woods, “there are approximately 81,000 acres of public reserve lands, plus 22,800 acres of park lands within the Allagash Wilderness Waterway,” Morrison said. “The state is a major landowner in the region, so we interact quite a bit with the North Maine Woods organization.”

The state owns three entire townships: Township 6, Range 11, known as the Telos Township; Township 13, Range 12, known as the Round Pond Township; and Township 15, Range 9, the so-called Deboullie Township.

Interaction with North Maine Woods

The Department of Conservation has campsites scattered throughout the NMW, he noted. While the North Maine Woods maintains certain sites and collects the user fees at its checkpoints, Augusta maintains several campsites in Deboullie Township.

According to Morrison, North Maine Woods manages the state-owned lands within its boundaries through an annual agreement. The state is not a full member of NMW, but some state employees sit on various committees. For example:

Department of Conservation Commission Ronald Lovaglio serves on the NMW board, as does Bucky Owen, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner. They are non-voting members;

Susan Benson, public affairs spokesperson for DOC, is a member of the NMW’s Public Relations Committee;

Delbert Ramey, the DOC northern region manager, serves on the Campsite Coordinating Committee;

In the past, Morrison has belonged to the Coordinating Committee.

Such contact facilitates communications between the state and the companies and individuals owning land within the North Maine Woods. “We are on a few of their committees, so we participate in the discussions about the management of North Maine Woods,” Morrison said. “They make us aware of their plans, and we have the opportunity to talk to them about our particular concerns, especially about activities on the lands we manage in the system.

“I think that the North Maine Woods is an effective way to coordinate the management of recreational use on a very large, expansive area of forest land in the state,” Morrison said. “Since it has multiple ownerships, there is a need for management to occur.

“The organization is a cost-effective way to get the necessary maintenance done at campsites in the region. Everyone is served well by that cooperative, coordinated approach,” he said.

Advantages on the ground

Del Ramey, whose office is shifting from Presque Isle to Ashland, has found the state’s relationship with the North Maine Woods beneficial in his work.

“Through my committee contacts, I get a pretty good idea of what’s going on every year,” he said. “North Maine Woods is not a blanket ownership, not like Baxter, where one voice has the say in how it will be run.

“Because there are so many landowners in the region, everyone has input as to what will be happening in the woods in terms of visitor management,” Ramey said. “That’s important to us, because the state’s lands are scattered.

“Say if someone wanted to go into our campsites at Deboullie. They have to travel through a North Maine Woods checkpoint (the nearest are Fish River and St. Francis) to get there,” he said.

At whichever checkpoint visitors would use to access the Deboullie campsites, each visitor must register at the checkpoint. There is an entrance fee, which helps defray the cost of managing recreational use of NMW-managed land.

The receptionist will ask visitors intending to camp overnight to list their preferred campsite, then will assess a fee. The North Maine Woods manages most state-owned campsites within its boundaries.

By registering visitors at its periphery, the North Maine Woods can track people and vehicles accessing its roads. Such information could be important “if we have to reach someone in an emergency, or if they have an emergency,” Ramey said.

He cited the network of NMW roads as “vital to our own work. Remember, the state’s parcels are scattered everywhere, and it’s a big territory. The roads give us access to that land.

“We can get there easier to look after how it’s being managed when there are loggers cutting there. If there was a fire, we can get men and equipment in there easier,” Ramey said.

The North Maine Woods offers another advantage to the state: Providing an “excellent recreational area for a lot of people who live in Maine,” Ramey stated. “It’s not a wilderness, but a working forest, but for a lot of people who come here from down state, it’s the true woods.

“You get back there past the checkpoints, you really are on your own,” he said. “People come here to hunt and fish or just to camp, but when they drive in 25 or 30 miles, they suddenly notice there aren’t any power lines or phones. It’s a real forest, and you’ve got to be careful.”

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