The proposed region that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service are looking to set up their Wildlife refuge.

WILTON — The Board of Selectpersons voted unanimously on Tuesday, Aug. 1, to sign a letter addressed to Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as United States Representative Jared Golden, voicing concern about a potential National Wildlife Refuge in the High Peaks Region of western Maine.

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Carlton, along with former Wilton Selectperson Tom Saviello appeared before the Select Board as concerned citizens over this refuge and asked them to sign a letter to share this concern.

Along with Wilton, Saviello stated the towns of Avon, Eustis and Phillips had also signed the letter. Eustis and Avon have confirmed their signatures, but Phillips could not be reached to confirm their involvement.

According to Carlton, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service [USFWS] is working with Nancy Perlson, a local conservation leader from Madrid Township to push for a wildlife refuge in the High Peaks Region.

From its website, the USFWS outlined the project and stated that, “the region’s high-elevation habitats, and the species they support, are currently underrepresented in the Refuge System.”

Two scoping sessions were held by USFWS representative Paul Casey in May, with one session held in Rangeley on Tuesday, May 16, and the second held in Farmington on Thursday, May 18. The purpose of these sessions was to get feedback on land conservation in the High Peaks Region from the community.


Carlton, who was in attendance, stated that USFWS’s presence in the region is unnecessary and would impose more restrictions than what the state of Maine currently enforces.

Carlton stated that multiple questions were asked about the reasoning behind USFWS’s interest in the High Peaks Region, for which he found responses inadequate.

“‘What are we protecting?’ They couldn’t answer that,” Carlton stated. “‘Where’s the problem?’ They couldn’t tell us that. ‘Why are you here?’ They couldn’t tell us that. They said, ‘we’ll go through our process, and then we’ll tell you.'”

“This is a solution, or proposed solution looking for a problem,” Carlton added.

The Franklin County commissioners voted not to support the proposal in May of this year, with Carlton and fellow Commissioner Lance Harvell voting against it citing taking more land off the tax rolls as one of the reasons. Commission Chairman Terry Brann abstained.

Carlton stated that in the region they had outlined for the project, he estimated 80,000 acres of land already in conservation in some form or another with local and state partners and private landowners.


Carlton’s aversion towards 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 a greater voice when it comes to making changes or altering current laws regarding land conservation.

Saviello, originally supporting of the USFWS’s first proposal which came ten years prior to this current proposal, echoed this concern, 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, where do you go? You go to Augusta, you go to your legislator. You have a voice, it’s very strong.”

Selectperson Mike Wells shared this 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.

Bob Carlton, right, speaks to the Wilton Select Board on Tuesday, Aug. 1, over his concerns over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service potentially setting up a National Wildlife Refuge in the High Peaks Region. A refuge could put more restrictions on the region with fewer options for locals to negotiate those restrictions, Carlton said. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

Carlton gave examples of what the restrictions could mean, and they included no more ATV access and no lead ammunition when hunting small game.

“We all want to protect the High Peaks, there’s no question about it,” he stated. “We want to keep what’s there. We want to keep it open for all the things that we’d like to do. The traditional use is hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, ATV, mountain biking, bird watching, you name it, it’s all there to do.”


Carlton extended his example to a project that he was involved in which, as a consulting forester, he helped clear 140 acres of trees to make a trail in Sugarloaf. According to Carlton, it involved three years of permitting before they could begin work. Carlton estimated the project would take one winter, but was told that he had three weeks to finish the project due to a new USFWS regulation involving the Northern Long-Eared Bat.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “So we couldn’t waste any time. So we went to work. We hit it hard.”

Carlton stated that when he and his team were close to the completion of the project, he was told the deadline for the new regulation had been extended.

“I can’t tell you how many numbers there are in what the cost was to Sugarloaf,” he stated, “but it was significant. It was six figures that cost them to accelerate this whole harvest.”

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