Balancing Preservation, Conservation, Industry, and Recreation

Man is born to die. His works are short lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the Mountain of the People of Maine.” Percival Baxter, Governor of Maine, 1921-1925[1]

 

Located directly in the middle of northern Maine, Baxter State Park is made up of over 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest.[2] Originally owned by private families and a paper company, Maine Governor Percival Baxter gradually bought tracks of land over several decades (1930-1962) in order to create a park for the State of Maine.[3] Today, 60,000 visitors come to the Park each season to hike, see wildlife, and even hunt; almost a quarter of the Park is open to hunting and trapping (except Moose).[4] Surrounding the park is even more wild land. Primarily held by paper companies, the owners gave a hundred-year lease to whoever staked a claim, allowing their private land to be used for public recreation in addition to company logging activities.[5] Many people took advantage of this deal and thousands of private camps dot the North Woods, primarily used for hunting, snowmobiling, fishing, and hiking.[6] While camp owners knew their land could be taken away at any moment, it never was.

In recent years, Roxanne Quimby, the former owner and CEO of Burt’s Bees, has been purchasing land surrounding Baxter in order to give it back to Maine. With most of her 70,000+ acres contiguous to the park, her goal is for it to be designated as a national park, the Maine North Woods. [7] While Quimby thought Maine would welcome such a gift, she has met substantial hostility: “I could not believe people would come after me like that, so personally and with such venom. I mean, doesn’t everybody love a park?”[8] Perhaps, but Quimby “closed her properties to snowmobiles and hunting and gave notice to the camp owners” who had enjoyed the land for decades.

For many avid environmentalists, and indeed for anyone who enjoys hiking, camping, or other outdoor recreational activities, there is an intuitive sense that we should do everything we can to keep nature pristine, to safeguard undeveloped land for posterity. Throughout recent history, “policymakers and conservation groups in the United States have devoted a great deal of attention to preserving natural places.”[9] But, the seemingly harmonious goals of preservation and conservation often conflict. For example, National Parks are supposed to be preserved “for the enjoyment of future generations,”[10] but what if, as in Maine, designating the land prohibits some recreational activities in lieu of others? Is hiking “better” than snowmobiling? According to whom?

For decades, the Maine North Woods largely produced “pulp for the state’s paper mills and created plenty of good jobs”[11] making it hard to imagine any other purpose for the vast acreage of near-wilderness. Still, given the current decline of the paper industry, recreation and tourism could conceivably revive the struggling local economies. This illustrates a significant modern challenge: how do you craft effective laws and policies (environmental or otherwise) so that they best represent the present and future interests of the American people? Which values do you use? Do you defer to economic interests, mainstream preferences, or paternalistic notions? My hunch is that you have to consider them all, weigh the balance carefully, and make the best decision possible under the circumstances, but I don’t have an answer to which type of land use is best or how to make that determination, in Maine or in general.

– Emilie Pinkham, Notes Editor 


[1] Margaret Dornfeld and Joyce Hart, Maine, 2010.

[2] Baxter State Park Authority, General Info,  http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/about/aboutGeneral.html

[3] Baxter State Park Authority, Park History, http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/about/aboutHistory.html

[4] Baxter State Park Authority, General Info, http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/about/aboutGeneral.html

[5] Edie Clark. Roxanne Quimby: Controversy in Maine. Yankee Magazine, March/April 2008, http://www.yankeemagazine.com/issues/2008-03/features/quimby/all.

[6] Michael Charles Tobias, Maine vs. Thoreau: The Roxanne Quimby Question? Forbes.com Tech Blog, October 3, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltobias/2011/10/03/maine-vs-thoreau-the-roxanne-quimby-question/.

[7] Clark, supra note 4.

[8] Id.

[9] Samuel Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency, 1999.

[10] National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, 16 U.S.C. 3 (2006).

[11] Susan Sharon. In Wood Pulp Country, A New Plan For Conservation, NPR, September 30, 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/30/140632021/in-wood-pulp-country-a-new-plan-for-conservation.

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