Maine's High Peaks Refuge Proposal

For nearly twenty years, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has sought to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting. A vision for backcountry conservation and a hunt for wild lands has guided our work across North America. Here in the Northeast, few places embody these values more than the High Peaks Region of Maine.

The High Peaks region encompasses nearly 400,000 acres of outstanding fish and wildlife habitat and it represents one of the state’s largest roadless areas. Streams and ponds, teaming with brook trout abound, including the headwaters of the Dead, Androscoggin, and Kennebec Rivers. With ten of Maine’s fourteen 4000’ peaks as a backdrop, few places offer the freedom, challenge, and solitude our community of hunters and anglers seeks.

This year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made public its intent to explore the concept of forming a national wildlife refuge in the High Peaks region for the purpose of protecting habitat and preserving access to recreational opportunities. The proposed refuge would be between 5,000 – 15,000 acres in size and be assembled from roughly a 200,000-acre swath along the Appalachian Trail corridor. In addition to putting resources to work to protect some of the most ecologically rich and climate change resilient lands in the U.S., the refuge would ensure permanent public recreation access for activities like hunting and fishing and add to the lands already secured for public access by state and regional conservation groups.  

From the start, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made it clear it intended to work with the surrounding community and a broad range of stakeholder groups in shaping this potential refuge, which would ultimately be assembled through easements and lands purchased from willing sellers. Still, some politicians and individuals took an immediate stance against the possible refuge, calling for the Fish & Wildlife Service to abandon the proposal. As hunters and anglers in the Northeast, we know all too well, that open access to private land is becoming increasingly tenuous. So many of us have stories of no longer being able to walk the woods we once did or finding “Posted” signs and gates where they never were before. To walk away from the table before conversations have even started, seems contrary to our values as hunters and anglers.  

We are interested, along with other stakeholders, to continue the conversation with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and see if our values and traditions can be reflected in the potential formation of this refuge. We know it can be done; there are recent examples where rural communities, sportsmen and sportswomen, and other outdoor recreationists have structured a conservation area refuge that has achieved a balance of habitat and wildlife conservation, along with outdoor recreation. Let’s try to do that here.

Stay tuned to the BHA website, and the New England Chapter’s social media channels for updates and information. If you are not already on our mailing list, consider joining BHA, and support our work on behalf of public lands, waters, and wildlife.

 

About Christopher Borgatti

BHA Eastern Policy & Conservation Manager

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