July 19, 2019
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Clammers, wormers can coexist with Acadia’s conservation mission

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

A recent BDN OpEd criticized Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s legislation to clarify the status of clamming and worming on the flats in Acadia National Park. The bill in question and companion legislation in the U.S. Senate are supported by all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation. It permits traditional harvesting while protecting the park against expansion of other harvesting activity or the use of mechanized harvesting equipment.

Clammers and wormers have worked the flats around the park for ages. Only two years ago, when enforcement actions were taken against harvesters, did the practice come into question. Acadia and its neighboring communities live mostly in harmony, though local towns have the uneasy sense that when the chips are down, the park has the muscle on its side.

The OpEd’s authors write that some will see this as “a victory for the ‘little guys’” but assert that we are all “little guys” protected by the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. While that is true in one sense, there is “little” and then there is “little.” The former regional chief scientist for the National Park Service and the former associate director for the National Park Service have chops in political circles that clammers and wormers simply do not have.

Harvesting is wet, cold, muddy and back-breaking, conditions most of us could not sustain for a day, let alone a lifetime. If ever there were a career where one might be tempted to opt for unemployment, this is it. Yet, they work.

These are responsible harvesters. The clam flats are managed through a system of municipal shellfish programs, implemented by local shellfish wardens. Their goal is sustainable use of the flats. They understand their future depends on it.

Poliquin’s bill, the OpEd’s authors say, “regrettably responds to emotional ‘traditional use’ arguments.” There is nothing “regrettable” about supporting traditional use in Maine. That is our heritage here, and it predates Acadia.

The authors claim that permitting clamming and worming around the park sets a “dangerous precedent” that is part of an agenda “to unravel protection of federal lands across the nation.” It is doubtful that the clammers and wormers of Hancock County see themselves as part of that agenda. They just want to work the mud.

Cross the bridge onto Mount Desert Island at the right tide and you will see the familiar silhouette of a clammer or wormer bent double, legs wide, nose to the mud, massive forearms working a rake. Far from raising the specter of an assault on the landscape, the sight is an historic overlay every bit as important to the context of our park as the carriage roads and the carefully selected stones that line them, the historic vistas recently restored, or the protected spring used by the indigenous people who inhabited what is now park land in the summer.

Should all these signs of human impact on our park be removed, too?

Poliquin and the rest of the Maine delegation were quick to recognize the importance of this traditional activity to the Down East coastal economy and to the rich history of our area. They have taken action to protect it. Acadia National Park and this low-intensity, traditional harvest can peacefully coexist.

Let’s not make a mountain out of a clam hod.

Jill Goldthwait served as an independent in the Maine Senate from 1994 to 2002 and is a political columnist for The Mount Desert Islander and Ellsworth American. She lives in Bar Harbor.

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