I, along with the co-authors of this piece helped to establish Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) beginning way back in 1967. We now strongly support the draft Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Maine’s North Woods and urge its adoption.

Maine’ s North Woods is not just a big backyard. It is a special place — the largest remaining undeveloped area in the East home to lynx, deer, moose, loons and other wildlife the last stronghold of peaceful river and streams, lakes and ponds, mountains and forests a place where backwoods experiences are still possible.

Before LURC was established, “Notable by their absence were any statutes or regulations regarding the management or use of the wildlands in the best interest of the people of Maine,” according to the 1974 analysis prepared for LURC.

At that time Maine’ s North Woods’ “wildlands” were almost exclusively owned by paper and lumber companies, and the companies logged these forests to feed their mills.

Now, investment, real estate, pension fund and insurance companies own much of this enormous and priceless piece of Maine’ s way of life. Their goal is to maximize profits for shareholders.

Understandably, the quest for profits can conflict with what is best for Maine. A prime example is helter-skelter development of Maine’ s wild lands.

LURC has calculated that 72 percent of the development in the North Woods since 1971 has occurred on lots that were never reviewed for location. This is leading to scattered, sprawling development, the primary problem identified by the commission in its draft plan.

Now, the new generation of large landowners is fighting hard against the LURC review process that guides development toward appropriate areas.

LURC’ s mission is more important than ever, and current discussions surrounding its Comprehensive Land Use Plan are critical. The agency was created specifically to ensure a planned approach to development in the unorganized territories.

But, in recent years, trophy homes have sprung up where remote hunting camps once stood. As development pressures increase, LURC needs the proper means to protect the interests of Maine people.

Pressures such as this prompted us to take action 40 years ago and drove us to work to create LURC. Now, the commission needs to regain control of the location of development and fulfill the mission it was given so long ago.

In the mid-1960s, development was starting to sprawl into areas that were prized as great fishing spots, tranquil lakes for paddling and camping, limitless hunting grounds, exhilarating white-water runs, many scenic hiking trails and vital wildlife habitat.

Maine people worried that the spread of tarpaper shacks, A-frames and outhouses scattered all over the North Woods would pollute the water, destroy the region’ s beauty and wilderness, and interfere with timber harvesting operations.

In response, in 1967, I, then a Republican state senator, and previously an attorney for the pulp and paper industry, introduced legislation to establish the Wildlands Use Regulation Commission. That led to the establishment of a legislative study committee to look into the issue.

John McKee, authored a booklet for that committee, titled “Report on the Wildlands.” The booklet shows cabins, outhouses and dozens of “lots for sale” signs scattered through the woods. The report stated: “Pollution is one danger when a cottage is too close to water or a roadway loss of the woods character of the wildlands is another.” McKee later served as a LURC commissioner.

In 1967, Harrison Richardson, then a Republican state representative, introduced another bill, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Land Use Regulation Commission in 1971.

In 1967, Clinton B. Townsend, who later served as a LURC commissioner, testified before the legislative committee: “There is tremendous need for this legislation or else we will end up with 50-foot cottage lots right on the shores of lakes.”

In 1967 I noted in the Portland Press Herald, “This land is within four hours of nearly 40 million people with time, leisure and money, looking for someplace to go. We must look ahead to our problems and do something about them & Legislation is needed to prevent the gradual, imperceptible erosion of the state’ s beauty.”

Today Maine’ s wildlands are within a day’ s drive of 70 million people who have even more time, leisure and money than they did 40 years ago.

The threat of simple, remote hunting camps has been replaced by the threat of trophy homes scattered willy-nilly across Maine’ s North Woods.

It is past time to equip the state to protect Maine’ s North Woods traditions for the future. Only then can we “prevent the gradual, imperceptible erosion of the state’ s beauty.”

Horace Hildreth Jr. of Cumberland is a lawyer and former state senator. This piece also was written by Harrison Richardson of Gorham, John McKee of Brunswick and Clinton B. “Bill” Townsend of Canaan.

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