Obama creates Monument
Issues in the Sport 4-17
The spectacular winter of 2016-17 keeps rolling along with riding in many areas of the state continuing past the first of April. A combination of regular snowfall and grooming that mitigated the effect of the spring sun is keeping riders on the trails. It has also been helpful that much of the rest of the Northeast has been experiencing a snow drought for most of the winter. As of March 8, total registrations stood at 73,213, a 39% increase over last year. Non-resident season registrations in particular have shown an impressive gain of 49%. The Licensing Bureau at IF&W estimates that it is probable that by the end of the fiscal year registrations will exceed 80,000, which has not been seen in over six years.
Given the conditions and the efforts clubs needed to make this year to maintain our high-quality trail system, Joe Higgins of the Snowmobile Office has been working on different funding scenarios that will be presented to the Snowmobile Trail Fund Advisory Council in the late spring. His plan would help ensure that all clubs and municipal contracts will benefit from the increased funds either this year or next winter.
The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee took up snowmobile bills in early March, and so far the results have worked out well. LD-483, "An Act to Improve Enforcement of Snowmobile Noise Levels," an MSA bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, was heard on March 9, and the Committee unanimously endorsed it during the work session following the hearing. It will soon go the full House and Senate for approval and then on the Governor for his signature. The LePage Administration testified in support of the bill.
LD-506, "An Act to Allow Reciprocal Recognition of New Hampshire and Maine Snowmobile Registrations," sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome of York County was heard the same day. This effort to reinstate registration reciprocity with New Hampshire was opposed by the MSA, who met with Senator Woodsome prior to the hearing. Woodsome explained his interest in promoting business and economic development in rural areas of the state and during his presentation of the bill before the Committee acknowledged that the bill was probably not a good way to achieve it. Although it has not been voted out yet, it appears to be the consensus of the Committee is to kill the bill. During discussions to date, it appears the Committee is interested in revisiting the reciprocal weekend in existing law to refine and expand it. The MSA supports this effort and it is possible the Committee will act on it soon.
The two Landowner Liability Law bills that were heard in February are still pending before the Judiciary Committee. LD-39, "An Act to Clarify Landowners' Liability Regarding Public Access;" and LD-112, "An Act To Further Limit the Liability of Landowners Who Permit the Use of Land for Outdoor Recreational Activity," have had two work sessions and are still unresolved due to conflicts between landowners and recreational interests. The various stakeholders have been meeting to discuss language and to date no consensus has been reached. If that does not happen soon, it is likely both bills will die in Committee. Two more bills that could affect snowmobiling have now been printed and will be heard soon. LD-1179, "An Act To Increase Funding for Programs That Support the Mission of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife," sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello of Franklin County would create a Maine Outdoor Programs and Activities Fund, administered by a Maine Outdoor Programs and Activities Fund Board, to carry out the mission of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Among the activities would be youth education and other projects including snowmobile and ATV trail improvements. The problem with the bill is its funding source. The bill proposes to add an additional $1 or $2 to resident and non-resident fishing licenses respectively to fund the account. Primarily for that reason, the MSA will be opposing this bill, which appears to have only limited special-interest support.
LD-1246, "An Act to Provide Landowners a Property Tax Exemption for Certain Trails," sponsored by Rep. Steve Stanley of Medway, will be heard before the Taxation Committee. The bill provides for a property tax exemption under certain conditions to landowners who allow recreational trails on their property. The MSA has opposed similar bills in the past because the concept has little support from landowners who fear that an exemption would lead to a penalty if they stopped allowing the trail. It would also be difficult to track and maintain the exemptions as trails are constantly changing to meet landowners' needs.
The MSA will also be supporting a bill to expand Maine's very successful Landowner Relations Program by adding enforcement and educational personnel and developing a marketing plan for the program. The MSA and landowner groups have been working with the Administration to identify funding for the expansion of the program.
Things will start happening quickly now that the Legislature is in full swing. To keep up to date and participate in the legislative process, members are encouraged to sign up for the MSA Alert List by e-mailing. The alert list management was switched to Constant Contact this year, but all addresses from the original list have been transferred.
Monument declared as expected
On August 24, President Obama declared 87,563 acres of land east of Baxter State Park a National Monument following the transfer of the deeds to the property a day earlier from Roxanne Quimby's Elliotsville Plantation to the National Park Service. The designation is the first step in the campaign to Quimby's quest to have the former industrial forest become a national park. The move came after years of often bitter debate between local residents, environmental groups and a number of statewide organizations including the Maine Snowmobile Association. Other leaders in the opposition include the Maine Woods Coalition, Maine Forest Products Council and the Maine Professional Logging Contractors.
The campaign to create the monument heated up over the past several months, as Quimby pushed to reach her self-imposed goal of having the land under federal control by August 25, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In April, Patten residents voted to oppose the monument 2-1 in an advisory referendum, mirroring similar votes in Medway and East Millinocket the previous year. In May, Senator Angus King hosted "listening sessions" with NPS Director John Jarvis in East Millinocket and Orono. The East Millinocket meeting was a frank discussion of the issue, but it was overshadowed by the circus-like Orono event where environmental groups bused in hundreds of supporters from as far away as Portland and turned the event into a pointless pep rally for a national park.
On June 1, Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, traveled to East Millinocket to hold a committee hearing on the proposed monument at the invitation of Rep. Bruce Poliquin. MSA Executive Director Bob Meyers presented testimony at that hearing. Around the same time, Poliquin successfully added language to the 2017 National Park Service budget that prohibited any funds from being expended on a monument in Maine. The budget is under consideration in the Senate.
The campaign has been led by Quimby's son, Lucas St Clair, since 2012. While the park goal never changed, St Clair was perceived as a more credible and reasonable proponent than his mother. St Clair first proposed the adjoining national recreation area, which would allow traditional activities like hunting and snowmobiling that were being prohibited in the proposed park. The area became a significant talking point for St Clair, although only 20% of the proposed recreation land was ever purchased by the group.
At stake for snowmobilers is the continuity of ITS-85 between East Millinocket and Shin Pond which runs through a portion of the property as it approaches the East Branch of the Penobscot at Whetstone Falls. Four of the thirteen deeds transferred to the Park Service mention snowmobiling as an allowed activity, so it appears in the near term that snowmobiling will be allowed to continue.
Reaction from Maine's political leaders ranged from strong opposition to tepid support. "While opposed to a unilateral decision, ignoring the votes in the local towns, the Maine Legislature, and Congress, I will continue to work with everyone to move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy that creates more and better paying jobs in the Katahdin Region and in Maine," said Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a statement.
Senator Susan Collins released a statement saying, "While I recognize that the President has the legal authority to designate national monuments, I believe he should not have used his executive authority given the objection lodged by the Maine Legislature, the lack of consensus among Mainers who live in the area, and the absence of Congressional approval. Bypassing Congress and taking this action without the support of the state and the local communities circumvented discussions of alternatives such as the creation of a national recreation area or management by the Forest Service — proposals that might have had broader support than the President unilaterally designating a national monument."
Senator Angus King said, "I believe that the President's proclamation, along with the binding commitments in the deeds conveying the land, address the essential elements of those conditions, and that, as a result, the benefits of the designation will far outweigh any detriment and – on balance – will be a significant benefit to Maine and the region. This conclusion is confirmed by the comments made by Secretary of the Interior Jewell shortly after the designation was announced, explicitly mentioning hiking, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing."
Far from being the end of the debate, the monument designation promises to be the beginning of the discussion over Quimby's ultimate goal of turning the land into a national park. The president created the monument via an executive order under the authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act. Any effort to create a national park would require an act of congress and to date, only Chellie Pingree, Maine's first district congressperson, has expressed support for that.
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