December 3, 2022

The Shortsightedness of Maine's Leaders

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What is it the proponents of the Baxter land deal refuse to see and understand about Baxtergate, the controversial, complicated and secretive land swap that would add 6,015 acres of land to Baxter State Park? As is the case all too often, hunters are being blamed for the deal being stalled.

Aside from the fact that the deal is simply poor business, which for some reason seems to be of little interest to anyone, it epitomizes the greediness of the land grabbers running rampant throughout this country. Too many Mainers or actually too many transplants who are determined to create their own exclusive mountain retreat, continue to use lame reasoning for pushing for the deal.

I am tired out from listening to the bashing of hunters and in particular the age old story of how hunters have millions of acres to hunt on and why is it we can’t give up 6,000 acres for wildlife sanctuary. Well, if it was that simple that would be one thing but it is not, yet those proposing this swap will only see what they want to see no matter at what expense.

Story after story in the news relates the same line – “Baxter land deal held up because of hunting access”, “Hunters refuse to compromise on Baxter land swap”, “Gov. Baxter wouldn’t have wanted hunting on this piece of land” – and on and on it goes. Why won’t anyone address the bigger picture? Simple answer: selfishness and shortsightedness.

Linda Rogers McKee, former chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and serves on the Board of Directors of Friends of Baxter State Park, has an article in the Kennebec Journal this morning. She exemplifies selfishness and shortsightedness along with hypocricy.

First of all she pens a lie that is used by anti-hunters everywhere. This lie always begins with, “I am not against hunting but………” then it is followed by a statement that says the following.

Plain and simple, hunting and hiking just don’t mix. Just ask any parent who has to wait until Sunday to take the kids out for recreation in the woods during hunting season in our area. The safety issue should convince anyone that hunting should not be allowed.

What a crock! This kind of lie doesn’t even deserve a response but the lack of seeing anything beyond her perception that hunters are dangerous, free-wheeling, hip-shooting, idiots, angers me to no end. And she obviously doesn’t have the ability to see beyond the end of her nose. Here’s how she begins.

Let’s be clear. Most Mainers do accept hunting. What we don’t accept is the notion that every parcel of open land should be open to hunters, especially one of paramount importance like Katahdin Lake.

With more than 15 million acres of both public and private land available to hunters in our state, there are plenty of places to hunt — and better ones than the lake lands.

Oh, isn’t that nice. This statement certainly shows her ignorance of the facts and to think she chaired the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. Maine only has 480,000 acres of public lands and this deal will rob Maine residents of 7,400 of that. And what about ALL that private land hunters can hunt on?

McKee actually answers that question and she doesn’t even know it because of blinded hypocrisy. Read what she herself uses as a big reason why we need to approve this land swap.

There is a lot at stake here. Wild places are diminishing at an astonishing rate as development creeps northward. Unless we want this parcel dotted with McMansions and development, we must act quickly.

This statement is a rare truth in her entire article. This is one of the biggest reasons Maine hunters are opposed to excluding use of this land to other forms of recreation.

Biased news articles and statements made by some are attempting to relay to the general public and to influence other members of the Legislature that hunters are in favor of the original deal that would exclude them. I strongly disagree. I can make the same statement in the reverse that hunters are opposed to the deal. Rep. Donald Marean (R) from Hollis and a member of the committee said he has talked to about a dozen hunters in his district who all support the original plan. Birds of a feather flock together I guess.

But I really want to get back to the argument that Linda Rogers McKee has made along with countless others that Maine hunters have millions of acres available to them to hunt on. 10.4 million acres in Maine are in unorganized territory and the majority of that land is owned by timber and pulp and paper companies. We are fortunate that these companies have left their lands open to recreation. But is this going to last forever? In all honesty, it probably won’t last another 10 years at best.

The Washington Post had an article a while back that dealt with big timber company lands across America and what is happening with them. One area in California called the Big River tract and nearby Salmon Creek are huge expanses of forested timberland owned by timber companies. People in those areas knew that the companies would never sell these lands because they needed them for the lumber. How wrong they were. These parcels and other larger tracts of timberlands across much of America, totaling millions and millions of acres have either sold or are up for sale.

Big River, neighboring Salmon Creek and dozens of other forests across the nation have come on the market in recent years as timber companies shed holdings that are worth more as real estate than as a source of lumber. The trend has spurred a land rush that has conservation groups scrambling to raise money to buy environmentally sensitive tracts in competition with private investors seeking to snap up the land for development.

The U.S. Forest Service conducted a recent study in an attempt to figure out what was going on and how this massive land sell off was going to affect wildlife resources, etc.

A recent U.S. Forest Service study predicted that more than 44 million acres of private forest land, an area twice the size of Maine, will be sold over the next 25 years. The consulting firm U.S. Forest Capital estimates that half of all U.S. timberland has changed hands in the past decade.

Here’s a reaction from a conservation group president about what is going on.

“The nation has never seen anything like this,” said Conservation Fund President Lawrence A. Selzer, whose 20-year-old group is hoping to raise $48 million in the coming months to buy the 16,000 acres that make up Big River and Salmon Creek. “It has the potential to permanently and profoundly change the landscape of America.”

And if that isn’t enough, does this shock anyone? If it doesn’t it should. This is a wake-up call folks.

International Paper Co. spokeswoman Amy J. Sawyer said her company is “contemplating selling some or all” of its 6.8 million acres of forest land scattered across the country and focusing on producing more profitable products such as uncoated papers and packages.

“We’re exploring whether there’s more value in holding and operating the land or in selling it,” Sawyer said. “That’s what we’re weighing.”

And what is happening to some of this land that is being bought up by conservation groups?

….the Conservation Fund bought nearly 7,700 acres of the most sensitive lands along the headwaters of Maine’s Machias River. A month later, it bought 1,600 acres of land in Georgia, just a fraction of the roughly 300,000 acres timber giant Weyerhaeuser recently sold in the state. Fund officials resold the tract to state officials, who plan to turn the area into a nature preserve…..

If any of this is not helping to convince you that Maine’s private, unorganized territories aren’t in jeopardy, perhaps this last part from the article will do it.

Like Georgia, Maine reveals both the promise and the pitfalls of the forest land rush. Maine has the largest contiguous block of undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi — at least 10 million acres, or more than half of the state’s entire land mass. Most of it was once owned by paper companies, but this is shifting quickly. According to the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, 20 million acres changed hands in Maine’s North Woods, north of Bangor, between 1980 and 2000.

To those who continue to insist that Maine hunters have enough land to hunt on, please open your eyes and look into the near future. The same arguments you are using to try to convince others that Baxter land needs to be preserved as a wildlife sanctuary are the same reasons why it shouldn’t be exclusionary.

The Katahdin Lake parcel is only a tiny part of Maine’s land and what appears on the surface as a small concession hunters might need to make, will become a huge loss in a few years. Maine residents need to be prepared to spend huge sums of money to buy up the large tracts of land when they become available on the market and we can’t watch the real estate ads. Smart people need to watch the same things the land grabbers are watching – Security and Exchange Commission filings for debt problems with land holding companies, stock market and buying and selling trends nation wide.

While Maine residents are arguing the complicated land deal, more of our forested properties are being sold off to private enterprise and developers.

Are we asking all the right questions about this deal? Are the questions being asked tough enough or are we just smug in our own little world that we think Maine is not being looked at by greedy, land hungry barrons looking for a quick buck? Has anyone asked about what Gardner Land Co. is going to do with the 12,000 plus acres of forestland once it has clear-cut it?

Shortsightedness is a disease that is going to destroy Maine and it’s hunting, fishing and outdoor heritage. It’s time to put the Baxter land swap deal in the history books and focus in on the much larger picture with all who love “Maine, The Way Life Should Be”, working together. Together, we can protect Maine’s resources from the land grabbers for all Maine residents, not just a select few.

*Previous Posts on Baxtergate*

Two Opposing Sides Speak Out on Baxtergate

Clearing Up Two Misconceptions About Baxtergate

Putting Maine’s Wilderness In Perspective or Fighting Fire With Fire

Baxtergate Debate Continues

Millinocket Continues Its Battle

Adding a Personal Touch to Baxtergate

Many Small Percentages = One Big Percentage

More on Baxtergate

Katahdin Lake to be Added to Baxter State Park

Land Swap Proposal to Increase Baxter State Park

Not Everyone Happy About Baxter Land Swap

Millinocket Wants To Be Heard In Regards To Baxter Land Swap

Monday Morning Podcast (audio podcast about the Baxter Land Swap)

Why The Baxter Land Swap Shouldn’t Happen

Maine’s Governmental Leaders Have Messed Up – The Saga of Baxtergate

More Information on Baxtergate

Baxter and the Anti-Hunting Crowd

Tom Remington