Maine's Backcountry: Squeezing Out Traditional Users-part 2

Part two of a three-part series
By Rep. David Trahan

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It was with great dismay that sportsmen and traditional outdoor enthusiasts learned recently that Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt's Bees, had purchased another 25,000 acres to add to her vast land holdings around Baxter State Park. The purchase price was reported as $10 million.

In the September 9 issue of the Bangor Daily News, there appeared a front page story under the headline, “Quimby land deal angers hunters.” The story quoted Bart Dewolf, the science director of Roxanne Quimby's non-profit conservation foundation. Dewolf gave us a glimpse of the future. “Like other land purchased by the Burt's Bees founder, the property likely will be off-limits to hunters, trappers, snowmobiles and ATVs,” he said. “Our primary goal is basically to protect the resources on the property.”

When one compares the obvious intent of Roxanne Quimby to lock up vast tracks of land for so called “protection” and then compares her goal to the new backcountry land use designation proposed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), you can't help but be concerned. They are eerily similar. There appears to be a two-pronged, public-private strategy to systematically eliminate traditional use of Maine's wild country.

On August 16, 2006, I received documents from the DOC requested under Maine's Freedom of Information Act. In the cover letter from the commissioner, Patrick McGowan, I was assured that “the objectives of the Backcountry Project were to identify, enhance and showcase backcountry, long distance, human-powered recreational opportunities throughout Maine.”

Sounds innocent enough, but slap me for being skeptical. My request asked for the department's application for a $100,000.00 grant from the Kendall Foundation of Massachusetts – the outfit that ultimately funded the Maine Backcountry Project. The application answers in detail five questions the Kendall Foundation had about the Backcountry Project and how the Maine DOC planned to spend the money.

These questions and answers have been condensed: Question one asks the state to describe “backcountry” and their definition of “wilderness.” It also asks, “What kind of and amount of activities would be allowed in these areas?” DOC's response: “The terms 'backcountry' and 'wilderness' both refer to large areas of wild lands where nature prevails and human alterations are minimal (i.e. primitive hiking and campsites).”

Question two requests are description of the projects “scope” and timeframe. DOC's response: “We propose to conduct this project in three phases over one year.” Those phases were listed as: • Inventory/analysis of protected areas for management as wilderness;

  • Identify discrete strategic acquisition/protection opportunities that could link or enhance these wilderness areas/travel routes;
  • And identify large areas suited for wilderness management or corridors suited for long -distance travel that are currently unprotected and to propose broad strategies to protect and manage them.

Question three discusses the membership of the Backcountry Peer Group and how the Kendall Foundation can make the group more effective. Question four asks for a detailed budget. DOC's response: “The department provided an in depth chart on the different phases and their costs to implement the plan.” The final plan has a $100,000.00 price tag.

Question five asks where the state will find funds to implement the plan once it is completed. DOC felt confident about this one. “This project is a priority of Governor Baldacci's administration,” went the answer. “We are optimistic that a bond will be approved to fund the Land for Maine's Future program and that federal conservation funding will continue to be a significant source of revenue.”

I intentionally withheld the department's response to the part of question two regarding which activities would be allowed in these areas. The DOC answers this question by referencing Ecological Reserves of at least 1,000 acres as one option. Ecological Reserves allow virtually no activities within their boundaries. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and ATV use, as well as logging, are prohibited. The DOC later references a new category of land use called “Backcountry Recreational Areas”. BRAs, it said, “are allocated for dominant recreation use for the values associated with a special combination of features, including superior scenic quality, remoteness, wild and pristine character, and a capacity to impart a sense of solitude. Most will encompass more than 1,000 contiguous acres. BRAs can be either non-mechanized, roadless areas with outstanding opportunities for solitude and a primitive and unconfined type of dispersed recreation.” In short, these BRAs would permit no motorized travel and no timber harvesting.

BRAs can also be motorized multi-use areas with significant opportunities for dispersed recreation where trails for motorized activities, timber harvesting on a multi-aged basis, and management roads are allowed if permitted by deed or statute.

The definition goes on, “Where timber management is not allowed, wildlife management within these areas will be non-extractive in nature – meaning no hunting or trapping.

DOC officials stated emphatically in two meetings with me that the Backcountry Project was simply a way to map out areas that could be used for people seeking a wilderness experience. Their own documents tell a much different and more ominous story. Step by step, Maine environmentalists are moving to get hunters, fishermen, trappers and snowmobile users out of state lands. After centuries of traditional use, our public lands could become no-go zones for those folks. And as the tourism dollars they bring in vanish, small towns in rural parts of Maine could lose one of their major financial pillars.

Continued in part three: Environmental elitists threaten Maine's historic backcountry

Click here for part three.