Baldacci creates land-use task force


February 22, 2007

By John Richardson, Staff Writer [email protected] or 207-791-6324
Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

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A new task force created by Maine Governor John Baldacci will review the management of Maine's conservation lands in hopes of resolving tensions between recreational users such as hunters and hikers.

Baldacci signed an executive order Tuesday to create the Governor's Task Force Regarding the Management of Public Lands and Publicly Held Easements. His office announced the decision Wednesday.

"In the last four years, more than 750,000 acres of land have been conserved in Maine through public and private partnerships," Baldacci said in a written statement. "Given all of the changes taking place in land ownership and around land-use issues, now is an important time to bring people together to make sure protected land is managed appropriately."

The task force will develop an inventory of all conservation lands and uses and then identify solutions to conflicts between competing uses ranging from motorized vehicles to backcountry camping.

The group's 16 members will include recreational users, landowners and the heads of the Department of Conservation, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Land for Maine's Future Program. The task force will hold public hearings and report back to the Legislature before the end of the year, according to the executive order.

The task force was originally proposed by the Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine (SAM) and included in a bill presented by Sen. Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport. That legislation was one of several bills dealing with land access and uses in the wake of last year's battle over the addition of Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park.

SAM Executive Director George Smith said the task force will address the growing concern, particularly among northern Mainers, about the loss of traditional access to forests. Loss of hunting and snowmobiling lands almost derailed conservation of Katahdin Lake.

"Everybody recognizes the need to do better and resolve all of these conflicts on public lands," Smith said.

"I think (the task force) is a great alternative to what's been happening, which is basically throwing rocks at each other," said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. The association also has criticized loss of access to woodlands in northern Maine.

Several legislative proposals that dealt with divisive issues such as motorized access and ecological reserves will be withdrawn and referred to the task force, officials said. At least one related bill that would guarantee no net loss of hunting grounds will still move forward, however, according to Smith.

Under that bill, he said, "anytime public land is closed to hunting an equal amount of acreage has to be opened to hunting. We don't really have much of a problem with that in Maine, but we want to establish this concept for the future." Smith said that idea doesn't need to be studied by the commission.

Patrick McGowan, commissioner of the Department of Conservation, said the task force will get past the political feuds and focus on the facts of Maine's conservation lands. Under Baldacci, he said, both conservation of land and protected access has grown dramatically.

"That definitely is the bottom line objective -- to do an inventory of the land in Maine and what is available for use," he said.

"We know people want more land in conservation. What we need to know is are we doing the right things with the land."

Karin Tilberg, on the governor's staff, said the task force will be able to discuss the larger issues without the time pressures of a legislative session.

"We know it's time to have this discussion," she said. "There's been a lot of changes which have caused greater pressures on recreational users and greater fears. Let's get the facts, roll up our sleeves and get to work on these issues."


Copyright 2007, Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Reader comments


Bill Randall of Winthrop, ME
Feb 22, 2007 1:34 PM
A total of 21 people on this task force will resolve nothing; a two-people task force might.

I've not yet forgotten the nullified Allagash Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the nullified River Drivers Agreement, 10 Statewide meetings of the Legislative Public Access Committee and the results of other task force Committees that did little except to produce another report to adorn the shelves of the State Planning Office. Let Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan and IF&W Commissioner Dan Martin duke it out in a back room is a far better solution. May the best man win.

Matt Bowie of Holliston, MA
Feb 22, 2007 1:12 PM

There is time for both. I completely agree that they need to make a real effort at the statehouse to fix the tax situation and turn around the often negative business climate in Maine. As Golfer said, they need not to allow people to put land into private trust to avoid taxation. Give people the option to donate it, etc, but not to retain ownership without taxation. However, the main point of the task force is to fix the problem with the additional land. Maybe one of the things that the task-force can add to its duties is how to generate additional funds from this land without noticeably disturbing nature. Eco-tourism fits in well with Maine's regular tourism. Unfortunately with government, they can't stop their other duties when there is a problem unresolved (although we taxpayers would love to see more of an effort there). Dave, you're quite passionate about this topic, and rightfully so. Maybe you can join one of the organizations trying to fix the tax issue, run for office, or create your own group. I know posting on blogs has little chance of effecting change.

Michael kri of Portland, ME
Feb 22, 2007 1:06 PM
Independent of Gardiner,

Maine is not a death sentence. Maine is like 98% woods! This State is so messed up.

Golfer of Brunswick, ME
Feb 22, 2007 11:00 AM
I agree with fedup. Taxpayers are paying higher property taxes as a result of private citizens donating their land to conservation. If private citizens are placing their land in tax free trusts to avoid paying taxes, something is wrong. I hope that the new land use task force addresses this critical issue!

Dave of Portland, ME
Feb 22, 2007 10:24 AM
Independent - no one ever said there isn't value in conserving land. The frustration comes from Augusta ignoring the issues that affect everyone's daily lives, like taxes and the economy. There is time for land management, but after you fix the financial system that Mainers have been screaming about. I've said it before. You can't enjoy the view form your back porch (used figuratively) if you can't pay the mortgage. Democrats in Maine have been managing the bills poorly for a long time. First things first is all!

Independent of Gardiner, ME
Feb 22, 2007 9:29 AM
Dave and fedup,

Wild land in northern Maine does wonders for the average working guy - like me. I can't afford my own slice of heaven up there in the Great North Woods, so it's pretty darn nice to know I can go escape from the day-to-day rigorous of work life and go to a place a few hours away and escape from it all. You neocons that post here all the time fail to see value in anything that doesn't directly put more money in your pocket. Non-tax roll conservation land has value. I'm sorry that you fail to see that. Maybe one day you can look beyond your wallet and awaken to a world beyond dollars and cents.

Dave of Portland, ME
Feb 22, 2007 7:23 AM

What are you doing to help the tax situation, Mr. Governor? Seems socialist style land usage isn't helping us with high taxes, poor economy, lack of jobs, industry, and the substandard education our kids are getting. Quit screwing around and get to work on the real problems!

fedup of Biddeford, ME
Feb 22, 2007 7:19 AM
All this land that was taken off the tax rolls, should be put on the market and the proceeds used to reduce taxes. What good does some wild land in northern Maine do to the average guy working for a living and trying to make ends meet? Maine should not be in the Land business.