Baxter still a wildlife sanctuary

Posted Jan. 31, 2011, at 6:17 p.m.

A new bill introduced in the state Legislature threatens the independence of Baxter State Park. LD 55, “An Act To Restore Hunting Rights in the Katahdin Lake Region,” would reverse an agreement reached five years ago when the Katahdin Lake lands were added to the park as sanctuary. Baxter State Park supporters should oppose this bill.

“While I am living I fear no encroachments on the Park, but as time passes and new men appear on the scene, there may be a tendency to overlook these restrictions and break the spirit of these gifts.”

These were the prescient words of Gov. Percival Baxter about the gifts of land he made to the people of Maine to create his unique vision of wilderness in Baxter State Park, which is legally held in trust for the people of Maine through various deeds. His words resonate today.

LD 55 is a blatant attempt to “overlook the restrictions” and “break the spirit” of Gov. Baxter’s gifts and that of the most recent gift, the gift of the Katahdin Lake lands from the people of Maine to Baxter State Park.

A carefully crafted, complex and somewhat controversial deal was struck in 2006 to bring the Katahdin Lake lands into Baxter State Park as sanctuary. Most Maine people agreed and so did their Legislature.

The Baxter State Park Authority accepted the lands unencumbered. Mainers and Baxter Park lovers everywhere responded with their wallets based on that understanding. LD 55 undoes all of that, breaking the trust of every single donor, large and small.

Percival Baxter had a great love of animals, including wildlife. The Deeds of Trust, which transferred lands to the state of Maine, consistently stated that the lands:

“… shall forever be used for public park and recreational purposes, shall forever be left in the natural wild state, shall forever be kept as a sanctuary for the wild beasts and birds ….”

Maine people have embraced this concept of wilderness and sanctuary. There are millions of acres in Maine available for hunting, and that’s terrific. The protection of 4,000 acres at Katahdin Lake, land that is remote, relatively inaccessible, and of marginal hunting value, was seen as a reasonable trade-off by most fair-minded people. In fact, the compromise arrived at by the Legislature carved out 2,000 acres as state land for hunting.

Yes, there are lands open to hunting in Baxter State Park. They simply reflect the practical realities facing Gov. Baxter as he pieced together the park. Let there be no doubt he preferred sanctuary, and the bulk of park lands are managed as such today.

In yet another example of amazing foresight, Gov. Baxter also understood that his wilderness park would only stand the test of time if it were completely independent from meddling by state park officials or the Maine Legislature. He set up the Baxter State Park Authority expressly for this purpose in 1939, and the park has been managed independently since then under the guidance of the Deeds of Trust.

LD 55 seeks to undermine the autonomy of the Baxter State Park Authority. It has an arguable legal foundation and sets the stage for further conflict if approved.

Gov. Baxter also once said: “Katahdin stands above the surrounding plain unique in grandeur and glory.” Katahdin and Baxter State Park also stand above as iconic symbols of our values, especially independence.

And here is one final quote: “He would be a rash individual who … would seek to take these lands from the State and would attempt to break these Trusts created not by one Governor or one Legislature but by several. While I live I can successfully oppose any such action; I seek to prevent it after I have gone.”

Gov. Baxter is gone, but the spirit of his gifts lives on and the spirit of our gift of Katahdin Lake should live on as well. I urge you to oppose this bill at the hearing in Augusta Feb. 3. For information about how to do this visit www.friendsofbaxter.org.

The deal and the Deeds of Trust must stand.

Charlie Jacobi of Bar Harbor is a member of the Friends of Baxter State Park board of directors.

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