April 07, 2020

Hunting, trapping allowed at Baxter > New ruling applies to T2 R10 acreage

AUGUSTA — Baxter State Park will allow hunting and trapping on its new 2,669 acres in Township 2 Range 10, neighboring the southern portion of the park. By a 2-1 vote, members of the Baxter State Park Authority on Tuesday decided against managing the new lands it purchased from Great Northern Paper Co. last year as part of the park’s wildlife sanctuary.

Although hunting and trapping will be allowed on the new park lands, Authority members made it clear they had no intention to invest trust money left by the late Gov. Percival P. Baxter for maintaining or reconstructing roads within the new lands. Limited motor vehicle access will be allowed but only as long as it is safe to cross the deteriorating Abol Stream bridge. Snowmobiling will be allowed, not as a recreational activity but to accommodate the two families who have limited-term camp leases, to get major supplies to and from their camps.

Authority chairman Chuck Gadzik, director of the Maine Forest Service, and Authority member Lee Perry, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, supported hunting and trapping within the new park lands. Gadzik said Baxter, who purchased and donated the park to the people of the state, did not like hunting. But the track record of the late governor’s decisions showed he made compromises, Gadzik said.

“It would be simple to say he never had to deal with the level of controversy that is here, but that is not true at all. He struggled with the exact same issues,” said Gadzik. “What the governor did when approached in the right manner was to listen, compromise, and change his actions.”

While the Authority’s citizens advisory committee, park staff and many people who love the park believe it would be a tribute to the late governor if the new lands were managed as part of the wildlife sanctuary, Gadzik didn’t agree. He said there was a difference between what Baxter might have done, and paying a tribute to Baxter. Gadzik said the answer was not simple, but said he didn’t think it was appropriate to give the new lands sanctuary status.

“The appropriate thing to do would be to leave land open to hunting and trapping,” said Perry.

But Attorney General Andrew Ketterer, an Authority member, said he could not ignore the position of Baxter’s family members, park staff and the authority’s advisory committee, which was to place the new lands in sanctuary status. Frank Clukey of East Millinocket, a member of the citizens advisory committee, said the group recommended the new lands be managed as a wildlife sanctuary.

Ketterer indicated he would support hunting and trapping on the new lands with the understanding those activities would be phased out over time.

“It’s a bad decision by majority vote,” said Baxter Park Director Irvin “Buzz” Caverly Jr. He applauded Ketterer for his stance and having an understanding of the park’s deeds of trust.

“The good thing the authority did was to limit vehicle access,” said Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “By their action they are recognizing that Baxter State Park provides some unique, remote opportunities that are very rare in Maine’s north woods,” she said. Johnson said she was disappointed with the Authority’s decision on the sanctuary status. “They failed to honor Baxter’s intent that the park be a wildlife sanctuary. Their actions are eroding the specialness of Baxter State Park as a sanctuary for wildlife. It is a sad day for the park,” she said.

Ray Campbell of Millinocket, a member of the Fin and Feather Club, is happy the authority will allow hunting and trapping in the new park lands. But Campbell and more than 30 other Millinocket area residents who chartered a private bus to attend Tuesday’s meeting, don’t like the idea the park will not maintain roads providing motor vehicle access.

Park officials, members of the late Baxter’s family, environmental groups, hikers and others who frequent the park say the new lands should be added to the existing wildlife sanctuary in the park. Hunting, trapping and motor vehicle access are prohibited there.

Officials of a few sportsmen’s groups and many Millinocket area residents say traditional uses such as hunting, trapping and motor vehicle access should continue because they were allowed for decades by the former landowner.

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