The Bangor Daily News editorial of Sept. 16-17 titled “Hunting for Access” misfired. But we can’t fault you because, like the legislators who endorsed the complex Katahdin Lake deal, you did not have all the necessary information. Indeed, we were all misled.
Here are the facts. Roxanne Quimby has purchased 23,000 acres in T3-8 and T2-8 directly below Katahdin Lake. Quimby’s land use policies are well known, prohibiting hunting, trapping, snowmobiling and ATV riding. She’s a private landowner and we recognize and respect her right to make these choices. But her new purchase includes an extensive ATV trail system (shown on the Department of Conservation’s new ATV trails map), a portion of the ITS snowmobile trail, and the major access roads up to and into the Katahdin Lake area. Access to that area for sportsmen is now effectively blocked.
The land that Quimby purchased was identified by Millinocket leaders as critical to their economy. The DOC promised to try to purchase the land. In a recent letter to state Sen. Kevin Raye, DOC Commissioner Pat McGowan wrote, “Following the Katahdin Lake ACF hearings, DOC believed we had a clear direction from the people in the Millinocket area and from the ACF Committee to pursue acquisition of the [H.C.] Haynes-Crawford land located north of Millinocket.”
The hearings Commissioner McGowan refers to were completed in May. But DOC officials reported to a roomful of conservation group representatives and the press on Sept. 11 that the landowner, H.C. Haynes, told them in February that he had a buyer who was offering more money than the state could offer. “We’d heard the rumors Roxanne was buying it,” reported Dave Soucy, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
If legislators had known this, I am certain the Katahdin Lake deal would have been significantly different. As Rep. Pat Flood, a strong supporter of the Katahdin Project, asked at the Sept. 11 meeting, “Why the heck weren’t we given the heads up on this between March and June?” That’s a very good question.
A Sept. 15 Phyllis Austin report on the Web site of Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org) informs us that Quimby “had signed a purchase/sales agreement with them six months previously but held off closing to give the state time to complete the bitterly debated Katahdin Lake purchase and avoid agitating critics more.”
Now that we know that the lands to the south of Katahdin Lake have been lost to traditional uses, the law that authorized this deal ought to be amended.
The Trust for Public Land’s portion of this project, the purchase of 4,000 acres surrounding Katahdin Lake as a gift for Baxter State Park, need not be revisited. But it makes no sense to use public money to purchase the adjacent lands – the 2,000 acres to the north and the 8,000 acres to the east, which are no longer accessible to sportsmen and other recreationists.
Although Gov. Baldacci recently went to Millinocket and announced that four landowners to the east of Quimby’s lands “have all agreed to continue their policies of public access for multiple recreational uses,” that is nothing new, and it isn’t guaranteed beyond today. The governor hopes to build a road across some public lands between these landowners and the Gardner parcels.
But we won’t have legal access to the Katahdin Lake parcel from the south, and these landowners told me they are not going to give us that. Their open-access policy could change tomorrow if they sell to Quimby or someone with similar policies and the governor’s new road could be a road to nowhere.
It is important that we try to mitigate the losses caused by Quimby’s purchase, namely ATV and snowmobile trails and opportunities, but there is no mitigation available for sportsmen who have lost their hunting opportunities on 26,000 acres.
We should capture all the public money that was going to be used to buy the 2,000- and 8,000- acre tracts from the Gardners, and redirect that to lands close to Millinocket that offer multiple-use opportunities. Perhaps we could even engineer a swap with Quimby to recapture the important recreational lands she recently purchased.
When the Katahdin deal was being debated at the Legislature, an important voice was heard to say: “Even better would be for the state to buy easily accessible land close by hunting and motorized vehicle use. Local residents could help pick the land to buy. Katahdin Lake is not easily accessible so few people go there now.
“Allowing hunting on land that is easier to get to in the same area should satisfy local concerns. Sportsmen should accept such a compromise… If this transaction doesn’t happen, it is only a matter of time before the land is sold for development. There will be no hunting access then.”
That BDN editorial of March 4 should be repeated today. It was prophetic.
George Smith is the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.