Maine - Conservation easements have grown

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Feb 2, 2005
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Maine ranks near the bottom of states with regard to public land vs private. About 95% of Maine land is held privately. Although it may be accessible to the public, it is nonetheless private.
Look back during the Percival Baxter Era, contrary to popular belief, Baxter wanted the state to buy land around Katahdin but Maine's government goal was to sell all public land so it could be put into productive use by private industry. It also reportedly helped that large landholders were very generous to the legislature. Baxter eventually decided he could not trust politicians and went ahead and bought it on his own. He endowed it and put in a decades long effort to have multiple legislative sessions accept his deeds of trust which was to keep Katahdin, "forever wild" out of the reach of the legislature. In his opinion as a politician was that he did not trust politicians to protect lands for the long term if the popular winds shifted.

Maine's economy up into the 1970s was directly linked to pulp and paper and logging and the owners of those firms wanted to own the land and the state made it cheap to own and hold. The companies were generous with leases and also on occasion outright sold blocks on land on lakes for camps. Their lands were open to the public and it seemed to work well.

When Bigelow was threatened with development, there was a big public demand to preserve it, but Maine government was not, it was a people's referendum that forced the state to buy it and put in a new public reserve land system that was supposed to be managed long term as wildland for the Maine people. Forestry was allowed on some of the parcels but any profits were retained in the system so it would not be regarded as a "piggybank: to be raided. This worked for few decades until a recent governor forced the public reserve land system to cut large amounts of trees and that money went to the general fund despite the rules in place. The legislature recently did it again allowing an easement to be sold across forever wild lands. Thus, the Maine government seems to just not be the best entity to hold conservation land for the long term as short-term expediency seems to override long term commitments every time.

The combination of the spruce budworm epidemic in the 1970s and the long term effects of the clean water act where large corporations starting with Great Northern decided they could make money elsewhere, either in the southern US or foreign countries. Successor firms came in and when they needed money they cashed in the woodlands, GNP, Sappi, Fraser, Mead and IP all got of the land game and sold to investors who may or may not be in it for the long term and also considered recreation access something with monetary value. Right now, there is bit of lull in the demand for wood products but the planned multibillion dollar bioproduct refinery at Loring is an indication that there could be an upswing in demand.

The alternative to state control of wildlands has been the use of third party easements held by regional and national non profit groups ha been used extensively in Maine. Talk to anyone looking at the biggest controllable threats to the conservation lands and that is fragmentation of land. Once land is subdivided and goes into divided ownership, its difficult to manage landscape sized blocks, therefore the number one priority is lock up the development potential of land. Landscape blocks of land can be protected on a willing seller willing buyer basis. Generally, hand in hand with development rights is at least some form of sustainable forestry restrictions. Even though pulp and paper is vastly diminished in the state. forestry remains a source of employment in rural areas so outright banning of forestry on large blocks of lands would not be politically acceptable, even the Nature Conservancy and the AMC practice forestry on some lands they own in Maine. The nice thing with third party easements is they are somewhat independent of political influence, and if the third party is not doing their job they can be taken to court. Yes, not having state wilderness land upsets the Maine Woods National Park and the Restore the North Woods preservationists but I feel private landholders being reimbursed to sell off conservation and development easements makes the most sense for Maine as Maine long ago squandered their public lands that came along when it split off from Mass.

When I look at this map Map it looks to me that there are a lot of large blocks of land being protected "forever" (until the next glacier) in Maine, it just is not publicly owned land. Note that the map excludes a few other entities like Bayroot owned by a Yale University. Its effectively managed as forest land but Bayroot tends to hold the land unencumbered by long term easements and then sells them piecemeal to other groups when they need some revenue for the Yale endowment. Add in those blocks and the map gets a bit darker. I believe John Malone's lands are the same although he really has no need for revenue.
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Nice map, thanks for sharing that. The AT is truly just a sliver of green.
That sliver of green is mostly a result of lawsuit against the paper companies who had bought the public land from the state of Maine long ago. The problem was that in unorganized territories in Maine, 1/160 of the township is reserved for the benefit of the those who settle there and form a town. If the town is never formed the state controls but does not own that 1/160 right. Many of those unorganized townships were bought and sold in complete blocks that were never surveyed or subdivided, so when the state sold an entire township there was not a block carved out in the corner reserved for a future town. Therefore even though the state sold the public land to a private entity like a logger or papermill, they could not sell the 1/160 as that was held in trust for the public. Back when they sold the public lots, the work around was for the state to sell one time cutting rights to the 1/160 share. Most firms assumed the wood would never run out and never worried about the successive cuts into the future. Eventually the landowners just treated the land as theirs and the state never asked for their cut.

There was a lawsuit that went on for decades that eventually meant that the landowners had to come up with lot of money owed to the state for subsequent cutting of the so called township lots. The solution at the time was to trade the money owed for blocks of public land including a lot of the Maine AT corridor and other areas. The AT prior to this lawsuit resolution was run through a lot of private land as it was put in a rush in the 1930s when the ATC set a deadline for the trail to be completed. If it was not completed in Maine it would end at Mt Washington. It did get completed but it was mostly not on the ridgeline and ran next to the ridgeline on logging roads between sporting camps.

The landowners who lost the suit did not want to corridor on their land and they had a lot of mountains and ridgeline that was not suitable for growing trees so they traded the ridgeline for money owed and to resolve the township lot issue for good. MATC was then told to relocate the trail onto the new rideline corridor and they did so stringing together whatever trails that existed (usually steep firewardens trails) or just hacked in steep straight line routes to the summits. They have been relocating and rebuilding the new trail ever since slowly to resolve drainage and install switchbacks.

Here is interesting link to article about Bob Cummings who was instrumental in the lawsuit Maine's first environmental reporter found 'lost' public lands - Island Institute
I always thought MPRL's were found during the native tribes suing the state to get their lands back. When researching how the land deeds were granted, they were "discovered"
My limited understanding of the native land claims was that there were documents signed by the tribes signing their rights away to be tribes but the agreements were not made with the federal government. Prior to those agreements, the federal government had taken over any dealings with tribes, so the agreements signed between a tribe and any other entity other than the federal government were not valid. There is also part of the Maine constitution that is not published and "secret" laying out secret agreements between Mass and the newly formed state of Maine regarding dealing with the tribes that may or may not have any bearing.
There is also part of the Maine constitution that is not published and "secret" laying out secret agreements between Mass and the newly formed state of Maine regarding dealing with the tribes that may or may not have any bearing.
That must be where the "secret" agreements between ME and MA concerning the gradual selling of all the house lots in ME back to MA...:unsure:
No thats from the T shirt "Make it in Mass, spend it in Maine ;)
Well, I used to "make it in Mass" but I spent it in NH! Because of the sales tax, with the exception of the KTP, I bought almost nothing in ME unless I absolutely had to.
There is also part of the Maine constitution that is not published and "secret" laying out secret agreements between Mass and the newly formed state of Maine regarding dealing with the tribes that may or may not have any bearing.
Even by your standards this is a rather dramatic statement. Do you have any actual citation to back this up?