Lessons from a land deal that almost got away

Lessons from a land deal that almost got away Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc. Gov. John E. Baldacci put his signature yesterday on legislation that will enable a hard-fought conservation deal to move ahead. The deal protects the lands surrounding Katahdin Lake, where lucky visitors are treated to not one, but two breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin -- the real one to the west and the shimmering reflection of that view in the smooth waters of the lake. The deal adds those lands to Baxter State Park, and fulfills Percival Baxter's vision for that huge parcel in northern Maine. But it almost fell apart, and provoked a battle royal in the Statehouse, when certain hunters, snowmobilers and trappers objected to the restrictions against hunting and motorized vehicle use in the deal. Things got so bollixed up in the committee considering a bill that an extraordinary four different versions were sent on to the Legislature. Only last-minute maneuvering resulted in the final bill, which the governor just signed, that provides almost 2,000 acres for hunting, trapping and snowmobiling north of the lake and 4,000 acres surrounding Katahdin Lake that will be preserved as a wildlife sanctuary. This Solomon's judgment ultimately satisfied enough people to allow the bill to move forward. But we're concerned about the battle's precedent for future land conservation in Maine. George Smith, head of the Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine, declared in an alert to members that "SAM Can't Support Any Project That Excludes Sportsmen," and told the legislative committee considering the deal that "we see this as a war for our heritage." Hunting and trapping have a long heritage in Maine, and are traditional uses that should be protected, along with hiking, paddling, and camping. We're not so sure that a similar case can be made for motorized access to Maine's backcountry. We're also aware that the community represented by SAM is a diminishing group in our state, and that the non-consumptive use of our wildlands is increasing. So we hope that the lesson policymakers take away from the Katahdin Lake battle is that the public's interest in Maine land conservation is a broad one and shouldn't be held hostage to one group. It is in that inclusiveness that real wisdom lies, and it is on that inclusiveness that all future decisions should be based. Naomi Schalit, Opinion Page Editor Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel