Bob Carlton, right, speaks Tuesday to the Wilton Select Board on his concerns over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service potentially establishing a national wildlife refuge in the High Peaks Region of western Maine. A refuge could put more restrictions on the region with fewer options for locals to negotiate those restrictions, Carlton said. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

WILTON — The Board of Selectpersons voted unanimously Tuesday to sign a letter to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden opposing a potential national wildlife refuge in the High Peaks Region of western Maine.

Wilton officials joined Avon and Eustis in signing the letter.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is studying roughly 200,000 acres straddling the Appalachian Trail, and is looking to establish a refuge of between 5,000 and 15,000 acres, according to Nancy Perlson, a local conservation consultant working with USFWS.

The area has 14 of Maine’s highest summits and the largest cluster of peaks over 4,000 feet in the state. The refuge would be in the high peaks region.

The study area stretches from the northeast corner of Byron in Oxford County, northeast into parts or all of Township D, Township E, Township 6 North of Weld, Rangeley Plantation, Sandy River Plantation, Madrid Township, Dallas Plantation, Phillips, Redington Township, Mount Abram Township, Carrabassett Valley, Coplin Planation, Wyman Township, Dead River Township and Salem Township.

News of the project broke in April when the agency announced two separate public listening sessions/scoping workshops with representative Paul Casey in May. One session was held in Rangeley on May 16, and the second was held in Farmington on May 18.


The purpose of the sessions was to gather feedback on land conservation in the High Peaks region from the community.

An effort to establish a refuge of manage wildlife in the High Peaks Region first appeared in February 2013, when the High Peaks Alliance hosted a series of discussion forums to establish a model of preservation in the region. Talks of a refuge fizzled out after USFWS saw pushback from the community.

A map designates an area of the High Peaks Region in western Maine where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering establishing a wildlife refuge of 5,000 to 15,000 acres. The area stretches from the northeast corner of Byron in Oxford County, northeast into parts or all of some towns, townships and plantations in Franklin County. Submitted Photo

Brent West, executive director of the High Peaks Alliance, said the organization is not involved in the newest proposal, but is watching it closely. According to West, the organization is not taking a position on the proposal until more details surface, but some of the public outrage is warranted.

“A lot has changed since I’ve grown up,” West said in a phone interview. “A lot of places I used to go to as a kid are now no longer accessible. They are either gated off or fenced up.”

West added that a lot of the public backlash the proposal is seeing is similar to what the federal agency saw a decade prior, but federal presence could also be a good thing with potential grant funding.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he said. “No action could sometimes be a lot worse than taking action.”


Carlton, along with fellow county Commissioner Lance Harvell, voted in July to sign the letter that, according to Carlton, was drafted by a coalition of concerned citizens who oppose the refuge. Chairman Terry Brann abstained.

Carlton stated he was a member of the coalition, along with former state legislator Tom Saviello of Wilton, James Cote of Franklin County and many others.

Carlton’s opposition to the refuge stems from his belief that keeping conservation efforts in the hands of the state as opposed to the federal government will allow Maine residents to have greater control over conservation.

Saviello, originally supporting the USFWS’s first proposal in 2013, echoed this concern at Tuesday’s meeting, stating, “If there’s a problem in the refuge, access and so forth, you have to go to Washington, D.C.

“If there’s a problem in our public lands today,” he continued, “where do you go? You go to Augusta; you go to your legislator. You have a voice, it’s very strong.”

Selectperson Mike Wells echoed the sentiment, stating, “The closer it is to home, the more of a voice you have if it is in Augusta. We’ve done a great job with the 80,000-plus acres in this region already that is in some sort of preserve status.”

“We can do just fine all by ourselves,” he added.

A proposal is estimated to be ready sometime in the fall. The public will have 45 days to comment.

Casey said he would expect a proposal to go to the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service by the winter of 2024.

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