When all is said and done, when there is no open space left in Maine for sportsmen to hunt, what will we see when we look back? Will we be able to say that we went down fighting to save our heritage, or will we lower our heads in shame knowing that we let our way of life slip from our hands with a whimper?

On Dec. 15, just a week after the 65th anniversary of another day that must never be forgotten, the lead headline in the Bangor Daily News said, “Baxter park deal adds 4,000 acres.” What the headline fails to say is that the 4,000 acres, which was once accessible to hunters (including the father of conservation – Teddy Roosevelt), is forbidden to hunters forever. Our governor let that happen. Our state legislature let that happen. Our state Fish and Wildlife Commissioner let that happen.

The celebratory comments from state officials ought to be burned into the memory of all us who call ourselves sportsmen. The governor likened the land annexation to a “holiday present for Maine residents.”

It is a rebuff, a slap in the face to sportsmen. Our fish and wildlife “leader,” Commissioner Roland Martin said, “He (Baxter) is probably looking down on us right now and he is saying something like, ‘Finally, it’s complete after all these years.'”

At this point, what else could Commissioner Martin say? He could have said some stronger words back when the deal was in its formative stages. As a voting member of the Baxter Park Authority, he could have stood up and taken a stand. With a determined voice, he could have said, “No, sir. As Maine’s fish and wildlife commissioner, I strongly oppose this deal as long as it excludes my constituents, hunters and trappers.”

He could have said it then. He could have said these words again, later, during testimony to the legislature when this anti-hunting deal was being debated. But he didn’t. He didn’t speak for sportsmen at a time when his voice could have made the difference. Was he under orders from the governor’s office not to speak out? Perhaps, but we may never know. What we do know is that commissioners before him, stronger leaders like Bucky Owen or Bill Vail, would have spoken out and even put their jobs on the line for a high-stakes issue like this one.

Even SAM spokesman George Smith, who earlier waged the good fight against this deal, sounded tired, resigned and low on pluck. “What we are trying to do is put this project behind us. It wasn’t a good project for sportsmen,” Smith said.

It is not like Smith to be so cautious and understated. Face it. This was a disaster for sportsmen. It is more than a loss of 4,000 acres of accessible hunting land. It is an unsettling policy template for the future. From the Baldacci administration and his political patrons, Maine’s new age environmental organizations, there are more exclusionary recreational land- use policies just around the corner.

Consider: 1) Roxanne Quimby’s new township purchase north of Millinocket; 2) Department of Conservation’s Backcountry Project that envisions multiple 1,000-acre eco-reserves that are off limits to hunters and other traditional users; 3) the 37,000-acre Katahdin Iron Works acquisition by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).

One way or another, all or part of these aforementioned new-ownership timberlands will exclude hunters, trappers, snowsledders, and, in some cases, fishermen.

As sportsmen watch in whimpering disbelief as their Maine heritage gets swallowed up by elitist environmental incrementalism, there will be no solace in the knowledge that, in so many instances, sportsmen’s tax dollars and their hunting and fishing license fees were used against them.

If you are a sportsmen with any fight left at all, you might not want to forget the Katahdin Lake land deal.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwards Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, CO-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WHOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept.. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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