May 28, 2023

Understanding "Traditional Use"

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All through the debate that is continuing still about Baxtergate and the controversial land swap, the term traditional use has come up many times. Traditional use has been used to describe the many aspects of recreational access to lands.

Dave Sherwood, writer for the Morning Sentinel, on Saturday had an article about traditional use and what it really means. It comes as no suprise to those in the know that traditional use is all in the eyes of the beholder. It is terminology that is used to defend what is under attack at the moment.

Some people take great offense to other’s free-wheeling use of the term traditional use. On the one extreme you might have the traditional use purist and on the other end, the employer of the latest in high tech gadgets to enjoy their “traditional use”.

“Hunting, fishing, trapping, guiding, canoeing, hiking and wildlife viewing. Those have been traditions in this state forever,” said Skip Trask, a lobbyist for the Maine Trappers Association.

“Let’s face it, trappers explored the state of Maine. They were the first to come here. Hunting and fishing went along with that,” Trask said. He said colonial laws which allowed access to so-called “great ponds” for fish and foul long ago established the rights of hunters, fishermen and trappers to do “their thing” in Maine.

Chris Potholm, a Bowdoin College professor, who has been studying Maine outdoor politics for 40 years had this to say.

“Back in the day, there were operating railroads in the north woods, there were steamers going up and down Moosehead Lake. It’s only in the last 30 years that the idea that ‘nature exists for the use of people’ has changed. It’s all in the eye and mind of the beholder. Some would say in a working forest, you have to use an axe, but then came the chainsaw, and skidder. Is it still tradition? Tradition is what we project onto an ever-changing reality,”

George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine summed it up this way.

“Hunters and fishermen have always used the latest technology. Everybody has the best of equipment, everybody wants the new stuff. It’s very much a personal decision as to where you draw the line,”

Although Smith defended traditional use as pertaining to hunting, trapping and fishing, with what I think might have been a tongue in cheek comment, said this.

“It only takes 24 hours to create a tradition,”

Perhaps we are all guilty of using the term traditional use to defend something that we have done our entire life – however long that has been. What I define as traditional is quite different from what you deem it. What it really boils down to is that it’s a personal thing of which no one can put a definition on.

Tom Remington