Third town opposes national wildlife refuge, another puts off a commitment

A third Franklin County town signed on this week to a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation opposing a national wildlife refuge in the western Maine mountains, while a separate town abstained from a commitment.

The Wilton Board of Selectpersons unanimously approved the letter Tuesday and the Carrabassett Valley Select Board decided not to take a stance after a discussion with a federal official and an opposition member.

The two approaches — one town voicing objection, the other adopting a wait-and-see outlook — reflect broader trends by local officials, residents and recreationists in the area.

Those staunchly against the refuge have said state and local conservation efforts in the area are sufficient. They are wary of federal oversight, which they say could limit hunting and recreation access; others say it’s too soon to decide either way.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this spring began exploring the creation of a roughly 200,000-acre refuge straddling the Appalachian Trail in the High Peaks region. 

Ultimately the area would likely be pared down to between 5,000 and 15,000 acres, according to Nancy Perlson, a local conservation consultant working with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

[irp posts=”27055″]

The High Peaks region encompasses some of the highest mountains in Maine and one of the state’s largest roadless expanses. 

Paul Casey, a Fish and Wildlife official managing the process, has said the refuge would provide more opportunity for conservation and protection of local wildlife than the state currently offers.

Over the past few months, the agency has held a series of “scoping sessions” in Rangeley, Farmington and Carrabassett Valley to hear public input. 

A formal proposal is expected by this fall and would be followed by a 45-day public comment period. 

Along with Wilton, other Franklin County officials have begun voicing opposition to the proposal. 

In May, the Eustis Select Board voted unanimously to oppose it and was followed in June by the Franklin County Commission, which voted 2-0-1 in opposition, with one abstention.

Both the town and county went on to sign the opposition letter, which Franklin County Commissioner Bob Carlton said was written by a coalition of citizens who oppose the refuge.

The town of Avon’s select board also signed the letter, a town official said Friday.

Carlton and Tom Saviello, a former state representative and Wilton selectperson, attended Wilton’s meeting Tuesday to lay out their arguments against the proposal and present the letter. 

“We all want to protect the High Peaks, there’s no question about it,” Carlton said. “We want to keep what’s there, we want to keep it open for all the things we like to do,” like hunting, fishing, ATVing and snowmobiling.

Carlton said ATVs wouldn’t be allowed on the refuge, and certain hunting methods would be restricted — including bear hunting with bait and using lead ammunition on small birds and game.

“All of a sudden we have a piece of land … that we can do what we want and we follow the state of Maine laws and regulations,” Carlton said. “Now we’re saying, ‘Come here, but these are the rules you have to follow,’ so it’s restricted right off the bat.”

Third town opposes national wildlife refuge, another puts off a commitment
“The developed areas are not being considered,” said an official with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Saviello, who said he supported an earlier USFWS refuge proposal in 2013, emphasized that the current proposal would pull control from local residents and center it in Washington as opposed to Augusta.

“If there’s a problem in the refuge, with access and so forth, where do you have to go? Washington D.C.,” Saviello said. “If there’s a problem on public lands today, you go to Augusta, you go to your legislator, you have a voice that’s very strong if it’s managed by the state.”

Casey, the USFWS official managing the process, is based in New Hampshire, where he is the manager of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, which includes parts of western Maine.

Selectperson Mike Wells agreed with Saviello, saying the refuge would dilute local input.

“The closer it is to home, the more of a voice we have,” Wells said.

The Carrabassett Valley Select Board took no action following a similar conversation with Carlton, as well as Casey and Perlson. 

Though two select board members said they were apprehensive of the proposal, another expressed being uncomfortable with voting in opposition that night, adding that he thinks the community wants to know more, according to the Daily Bulldog.

That sentiment is reflected in a recent editorial by Will Lund, editor of The Maine Sportsman magazine. 

Lund wrote in the August edition that fellow recreationists should hear out the USFWS and not jump to conclusions while the refuge proposal is in such early planning days.

“The easiest position to take on such proposals is an automatic ‘No,’ since many of us have a healthy distrust of the federal government in any form,” Lund wrote. “However, in our view it does not make sense to shut down the conversation.”

Lund went on to refute claims that the refuge would outlaw hunting, fishing, general public access and the rights of current private landowners.

In regard to snowmobile and ATV use, Lund wrote that the USFWS knows no proposal would be supported unless it called for continuation of snowmobile and other motorized travel.

He also asks outdoorspeople to consider whether private landowners will commit to public access in the future, rounding the editorial out with a contemplative approach to what the USFWS is proposing.

“To be clear, we are not supporting establishment of a refuge. How could we?” Lund wrote. 

“There has been no written, detailed plan put forth that draws the boundary on a map, or that takes into consideration the input the Service has received,” and other questions need addressing, he added.

“However, it’s important to keep talking. It’s challenging to think in the long terms that are required to ensure access to land for our children and our children’s children. However, when land is developed, it’s gone forever. Let’s hear the feds out on this one.”

Sign up for our periodic newsletter to stay informed of Franklin, Somerset and Oxford county news.

The story Third town opposes national wildlife refuge, another puts off a commitment appeared first on The Maine Monitor.