Jym St. Pierre’s column in the July 8 issue, which presented his views on the status and future of Maine’s North Woods, contained inaccuracies and misleading statements warranting correction. Maine’s North Woods provide extraordinary benefits to all who live in or visit Maine, and the Forest Society of Maine feels strongly that accurate information about these lands needs to be presented.
The first inaccuracy in St. Pierre’s statement is that the public has lost access to millions of acres in Maine due to posting of land. FSM pays close attention to trends regarding the wonderful tradition of the public being able to use Maine’s expansive, private forestland for outdoor recreation, and we see no basis for this claim. The posting of land is certainly a concern, especially in southern Maine, but the total acreage of posted land is far, far less than his claim. In fact, the trend in Maine’s North Woods is just the opposite, with public recreational access continuing to be provided and increasingly guaranteed.
Maine’s North Woods comprise about 10 million acres. Historically, and still true today, these lands are owned by a relatively small number of large landowners, all of whom continue the practice of an open lands policy. Across these millions of acres, these private landowners allow public access for recreational pursuits including camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and more.
A number of landowners have for many years joined together to provide a system of campsites and access on about 3.5 million of these acres ( www.northmainewoods.org). As an added safeguard against future changes, groups like FSM, the state and others, working with private landowners, have secured permanent guarantees for public access through conservation easements on about 1.5 million acres of recreationally significant lands in the North Woods — quite a different story than was portrayed in the July 8 column.
Conservation easements are an exciting and successful approach used to help ensure that the values and traditions of Maine’s North Woods are continued. The July 8 column contained inaccurate statements about conservation easements as well, stating that they don’t protect fish and wildlife habitat, don’t guarantee sustainable forestry, and that most do not ensure public access. Again, just the opposite is true.
Nationally, Maine has led the way in the development and use of conservation easements, including their use in working forests. Landowners, working with FSM, other land trusts and the state, have placed easements on millions of acres in Maine’s North Woods, permanently protecting habitat for hundreds of species of fish and wildlife.
For all but one of those easements, sustainable forestry is an explicit requirement, and for the other, it is stated as an expected outcome. In addition, public access is guaranteed on about 1.5 million acres. While some easements do allow for certain publicly beneficial activities and services, such activities are clearly spelled out and the bottom line is that more than 2 million acres of Maine’s North Woods are permanently protected from development.
The key to understanding these extraordinary lands and their future is understanding the unique dynamic in Maine between private forestland ownerships, a strong forest-based economy and conservation organizations that understand that conservation and economic vitality go hand-in-hand. Hugely important discussions are ongoing in places like Millinocket, Greenville, Fort Kent and Bethel about the future of Maine’s North Woods and the economic future of these communities. The importance of these discussions and decisions deserve nothing less than accurate information.
Carole Dyer, Bucky Owen and Craig Watt are members of the Forest Society of Maine’s board of directors.