For the last several months there has been a quiet battle raging over the fate of thousands of acres of land in Maine’s north woods. Roxanne Quimby, one of the co-founders of Burt’s Bees and a prominent philanthropist, had for years been buying lands surrounding Baxter State Park; home to Maine’s highest peak Mount Katahdin. Mrs. Quimby was rumored to have been buying the lands with the goal of creating a conservation zone. Obviously questions have been raised as to whether or not the goal is to incorporate the land into the existing Baxter lands or something else. Last month it was confirmed that Mrs. Quimby has other plans which could have very devastating consequences for Maine’s north woods.
Many Mainers are of course skeptical of the creation of such a zone. What will the rules governing this conservation zone be? Will hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and other popular recreational activities be permitted? Will the land be managed by the State of Maine or will it fall into federal hands? Paul LePage, the Governor of Maine, was a strong voice of opposition to Mrs. Quimby’s rather ambiguous plans, suggesting that the lands would likely not go to the state but rather to the federal government. As the Governor and other critics have noted, some of the lands Mrs. Quimby has purchased in the Moosehead and Katahdin regions have been restricted to many recreational activities which is similar to the sort of federal restrictions on National Park land. Elliotsville Plantation LLC., Quimby’s holding company for the lands, had for months refused to issue statement on the future liberalization of the rules for use of the land.
Last month, on the 23rd of August, Elliotsville Plantation LLC. donated approximately 87,500 acres to the federal government. Two days later the land was declared, by executive order, the ‘Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’. This of course confirmed the concerns of opponents to the Quimby conservation plans. Many conservation activist groups in Maine are concerned that federal management of the lands will be much worse than state level management. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) is concerned that hundreds of thousands of acres of land will become virtually unusable for hunting, fishing, and other life sustaining activities necessary to people’s survival in the region. Last month in their newsletter, SAM condemned the transfer calling it a “federal land grab unlike any other in the East”. SAM’s fear is that the Baxter lands could be incorporated into a future National Park. Already forestry is prohibited in National Monuments and Parks. Such prohibitions would spell disaster for the health of the forests in the region.
On the political side of things Quimby was accused of bribing Senators and Congressmen to push the President to create the National Monument. Mrs. Quimby was aware that most of the people of Maine were against the creation of such a park and lobbying was the best solution to make sure that her interests were protected over the interests of the common people. Of course only time will tell if the people of Maine will remain steadfast in refusing to allow the federal government to control these large parcels of land in their north woods.