November 27, 2020

Analyzing the Candidates for Maine Governor – Question Five

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Analyzing the Candidates for Maine Governor – Question Five

We are now on to question five. I have analyzed the previous four questions and you can find them here, one, two, three and four.

As a reminder, I asked four candidates for Maine’s Governor to participate in an online interview. They were the incumbent democrat John Baldacci, republican Chandler Woodcock, independent Barbara Merrill and green party Patricia LaMarche. All but LaMarche have returned answers. If I receive hers at a later date I will publish them.

Question Five:

Maine lags far behind other states in percentage of land owned by the public trust. Those opposed to spending public dollars for the purchase of lands in Maine argue that there is ample private property available for hunting, fishing, trapping, and all forms of outdoor recreation. Do you see Maine’s private available lands shrinking and do you support the further investment of purchasing public lands?

Governor Baldacci’s response:Maine Governor John Baldacci

Answer 5. I strongly support adding additional land to the public trust, and favor a policy that there be “no net loss” of public lands open to traditional uses like hunting, fishing and trapping. In fact, as part of the Katahdin Lake legislation earlier this year, nearly 10,000 acres of land will be acquired that will be open to traditional uses, far exceeding the 4000 acres that went into Baxter State Park as part of the deal.
During my time as Governor we have added a little less than one million acres of land to the public trust through purchases “in fee” or through easements, including the addition of 205,000 acres in two deals announced during the week of July 10-14, 2006. I have also been pressing the Legislature to approve state bonding to acquire more public land open to traditional uses, but opposition from most Republican legislators has denied us the 2/3 vote needed to send the issue to voters for their approval. I will continue to make acquiring more land for the public trust a top priority in my second term.

Chandler Woodcock’s response:Woodcock.jpg

5.I have been a supporter of public land purchases if access and traditional use are maintained for all.

Barbara Merrill’s response:Merrill.jpg

5. I am a supporter of public land purchases and have advocated that we do more, not just in northern Maine, but that we preserve open spaces in southern Maine as well. I regret that the current spirit of partisanship in Augusta has retarded these efforts. However, there is one issue we need to get settled: we need to make certain that these land deals take account of traditional uses such as hunting. Last session I tried to convince the party leaders to allow me to introduce a bill which would have created a commission whose membership included hunters and snowmobilers. This commission would set state policy, in an open process that would protect hunting and fishing rights in all future land purchases. Neither political party seemed to think this was a priority, but I will do it by executive order on my first day as Governor.

My analysis:

Public land ownership and access are necessary for the future of Maine. Living in Maine, as I did for about 47 years, it is easy to become a bit isolated, almost provincial in how we live. With this we shut ourselves out of what goes on in the rest of the country.

Maine is unique. It is one of those rare states that looks upon private land as open to the public unless the landowner chooses to close it by means of legal posting.

Twenty years ago if I had had more insight into what the future of Maine might look like I would have started up a small business making signs, specializing in “No Trespassing”.

Nobody can predict the future but it is certainly easier to speculate when other states have followed down a certain path. Many of our fellow states have locked out land. It is extremely difficult in some areas to find any land where you can take a kid fishing or teach him or her how to shoot and hunt.

Some states have been trying to play catch-up, buying up lands for public recreation having missed out on golden opportunities because they never thought all the unpopulated lands would one day be closed.

Maine is staring down a double-barrel shotgun on this issue and still residents and politicians refuse to look into the future and see what is ahead. We can’t continue to sit back and say, “We have millions of wooded acres of land to recreate on. Why would we need to buy public lands?”

It appears that all three candidates are in favor of purchasing lands for public use. It also appears that they are for the most part for complete use of the lands and not limiting access to specific groups or interests (excluding the Katahdin deal). How they would purchase those lands or manage them afterward is where we may have some differences.

For those of you who followed my ranting over the Baxtergate land swap, you know that I was opposed to the deal for two major reasons. The first and foremost that it was a very poor business deal. Maine taxpayers will lose if this deal is ultimately brought to fruition. The second is that 4,000 acres of land was closed to many traditional forms of recreation.

There is not enough space in this article to rehash. I am troubled by Governor Baldacci’s math in how he calculates that Maine people will net gain 10,000 acres from the Katahdin deal. “In fact, as part of the Katahdin Lake legislation earlier this year, nearly 10,000 acres of land will be acquired that will be open to traditional uses, far exceeding the 4000 acres that went into Baxter State Park as part of the deal.”

I think it was the late President Ronald Reagan who coined the phrase “voodoo economics”. I think the Governor may be playing a bit of voodoo mathematics in coming up with the net result of land acquired by the citizens of Maine. It has yet to be seen but Maine residents may end up with a net loss.

Baldacci speaks in support of a policy of a “no net loss” in dealing with public lands. This should become more than a policy. It needs to become law.

He is correct when he says that during his tenure as Governor 205,000 acres of land were given in easement to Maine through deals worked out by the Nature Conservancy. What he failed to tell us was that it was because of a Great Northern Paper’s dire need of capital to remain in business, the Nature Conservancy in an unprecedented move, loaned them the money in exchange for the. These two deals totaled around 241,000 acres. One parcel of 195,000 acres is adjacent to Baxter State Park. Another 46,000 acres is south of the Park. They are lifetime easements and open to public recreation including hunting.

What I take real issue with Governor Baldacci on is the Baxter land deal. I think it was a terrible deal for the taxpayers of Maine. The price paid for Katahdin land compared to price received in the sale of public lands was completely out of scale.

There were no safeguards put into the dealings to ensure that Maine residents would regain all of the land they had to give up, including all the money that was made from the sale of 7,400 acres of public land.

I should also point out that as near as I can tell in sifting through piles of papers, Maine will receive $5.5 million for the 7,400 acres of public lands included in the deal. Of that $5.5 million only $3 million is being put into the coffers of the Department of Conservation for replacement land purchases. Where is the remaining $2.5 million?

But the biggest mistake that he made was allowing this entire deal to take place in secret. This has left a bad taste in the mouths of many people and a certain level of mistrust has developed where there may not have been at one time. It is insane reasoning to think that there was anything in negotiating this deal that should have been kept from the public, unless of course there was something to hide. If given a chance maybe Maine taxpayers would have opted to buy the parcel outright. We’ll never know.

Mr. Woodcock continues his style of very few words. He supports the purchase of public lands providing they are left open to everyone. You know, maybe that does say it all but I’d like to hear more.

Ms. Merrill has a great idea in developing a commission that would have seats for hunters and snowmobilers. I can see why she would run up against opposition. We all know that the good-ole-boy politicians don’t take kindly to citizens interfering with THEIR work.

I think I would have to agree with her on this idea. What it would actually accomplish remains to be seen but she feels so strongly about it that she says she would create the commission by executive order on her first day at work.

She is right in stating that the one item that needs settling is access issues to public lands. Public lands are not the answer to everything nor is it a perfect solution but it beats the alternative. Public lands have to remain open to all users.

I am a hunter, a fisherman and a general outdoors enthusiast. I use lands for what I enjoy from one end of Maine to the other. I am not alone when I say that hunters want to share the land. We don’t want exclusive rights to those lands just so we can hunt and we expect the same treatment in return.

Hunting in Maine seriously comprises less than one-sixth of a year. Contrary to what some would like us to believe, hunting is an extremely safe activity. If someone chooses to not go into the woods during deer hunting season that is their choice. They have 10 months of the year where they can. Please don’t ask me to give up my time in the woods because you don’t like what I do. This entire concept is called sharing. It is not unique. It has been around for a long time but is becoming more and more of a rare occurrence.

Maine does lag most other states in the ownership and purchase of lands for public recreation. The percentage of landmass to the amount of public land that we own is edging toward 6%. That pales in comparison to other states. We need to do a better job of that and to go along with it we need better management. We can’t cave in to the land grabbers who want to swallow up lands like that around Katahdin Lake and then shut out much of the public. If these groups want their fantasy islands, they can raise their own money and buy the land to do with it as they see fit.

I hope that the next Governor of Maine would have the foresight to see what does await its citizens. A proactive approach is the best way because a wait and see attitude will be much too late.

I think it should be clear to this point who will get my nod on this question. Because of the Baxter debacle that I have come to call Baxtergate, Baldacci comes in dead last.

Because Merrill is so certain in her feelings about forming a commission comprised of hunters and snowmobilers to resolve access issues and set state policy in regards to public land purchases and uses, she gets my approval.

Comments are open.

Tom Remington

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