An Oct. 3 announcement that the Board of Directors of Land For Maine’s Future has just approved a major portion of the financing package to acquire a historic 3,000-acre deer wintering area in southern Aroostook County is big news.
The increasing decline in deer farms, particularly in the North Woods, has contributed to lower deer survival numbers, particularly in Aroostook County. That year, new legislation earmarked $40 million in the state’s biennial budget for the express purpose of protecting historic deer wintering grounds through direct purchase and subsequent management by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Funding for these purchases at the Hirschhof comes from a number of sources, along with funding from Land For Maine’s Future (LMF). Some of the money comes from federal funds (Pittman-Robertson) and from new government revenue generated by hunters purchasing deer licenses in Maine.
The Maine Department of Freshwater Fisheries and Wildlife has identified 7,500 acres of deer wintering grounds in Aroostook County for the proposed purchase. A half-dozen other wildlife shelters in other parts of the state are “under negotiation.” As far as we can tell, there has yet to be a solid “close” to these purchases at the Hirschhof.
Some media reports of the LMF funding vote suggested that the land deal was a fait accompli – in other words, had already been decided in advance. That’s not the case. Despite public winning rounds from Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso and Gov. Janet Mills after the LMF vote, the 3,000-acre Reed Deadwater area will not actually be owned by the state until estimates are complete, the search for Titles are complete and signatures are on the dotted line.
If the deal is truly sealed, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which played a critical role in this wildlife conservation legislation, deserves to stand with Governor Mills and Commissioner Camuso as they bow.
When the past is prologue, real estate transactions can be difficult. Buying deer wintering grounds from a willing seller is no different. As historic and hopeful as this all is for Maine and its deer populations, taxpayers, which include hunters, still need to be vigilant and ask questions once farm purchases are complete. Are we paying a fair price per hectare for these deer wintering grounds? And do these government land purchases remove taxable property from the tax base? Who makes the difference?
Interestingly, Maine’s gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage clashed with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine over this very issue, the loss of state-purchased wild lands from property tax lists. LePage’s concern is justified. Sportsman’s Alliance chief executive David Trahan admits the tax concerns are not light-hearted. He told LePage that Allianz stands ready to support legislation that could address these concerns about lost tax revenue. According to the Sportsman’s Alliance, many of Maine’s protected lands (four out of five acres) pay PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes).
All in all, these initiatives to protect deer wintering grounds were inevitable if Maine is serious about being proactive stewards of its white-tailed deer populations. The instruments of state-enforced code regulations and voluntary cooperation agreements with landowners were simply not enough.
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of Northwoods Sporting Journal, author, travel guide to Maine, and host of the weekly radio show “Maine Outdoors” aired Sundays at 7:00 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]
As ATVs hit record numbers in Maine, clubs get to work on trails