Panel kicks off work on managing land


AUGUSTA (AP) – A 21-member task force established by Gov. John Baldacci to take a comprehensive look at Maine’s management of nearly 1 million acres of public lands has held its first meeting.

The first session began Wednesday with a presentation by Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan highlighting recreational activities available at more than 80 state parks, historic sites and publicly managed lands.

The problem, McGowan said, is that few people know that the state manages so much land – 950,000-plus acres – for public access.

“I think this presentation needs to be seen by a lot of people in the state of Maine so they can see what they own,” he said. “This is publicly owned land.”

The panel was created to help defuse tensions after a plan to add the 6,000-acre Katahdin Lake property to Baxter State Park infuriated sportsmen concerned about losing more hunting, trapping and snowmobiling grounds in the North Woods.

But there are other long-running dispute as well.

The 92-mile-long Allagash Wilderness Waterway also has been a source of friction between local residents and advocates for nonmechanized “wilderness” recreation. At least one court case over access issues in the Allagash is in the courts.

The use of state bonds to help the Appalachian Mountain Club preserve land in the Katahdin Iron Works southwest of Baxter State Park also angered snowmobilers and professional guides. The AMC closed 10,000 of the 37,000 acres to snowmobile traffic.

Issues like these will be tacked by the group. Members of the group range from Maine Audubon and the Sierra Club to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and ATV Maine.

Former state Sen. Paul Davis, who was representing the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, didn’t hesitate when asked what SAM hopes to get out of the task force. “We want to maintain opportunities for sportsmen, pure and simple,” he said.