The Maine Woods Region is experiencing a tremendous amount of development pressure in certain locations (such as Moosehead Lake). Corporate owners of large tracts of undeveloped land are exploring the potential windfall of liquidating their lesser-valued holdings in response this development pressure. Some groups have forwarded large-scale conservation easements as the answer to this problem.
On the surface, these easements – which generally allow for the purchase from the owner of development rights on the property for perpetuity – seem to be what we all want. If wood could still be harvested following good forestry practices, and if the land (even if sold) could not be developed, and if the public would continue to be allowed to cross the land as they have for centuries, then isn't this what we want? The Steering Committee for the Maine Woods Coalition at their April 5, 2001 meeting raised several concerns about these easements, some of which are listed here. The Steering Committee will continue to seek answers to these questions, and we urge you to think critically about these issues.
- If conservation easements remove development rights from the land (for a cost), the land's value is primarily as marketable woodland. What happens if after this occurs, forestry laws change, decreasing or eliminating the potential value of that wood? Who would be the likely purchaser of land that cannot be developed and cannot be harvested for wood products?
- If large-scale conservation easements are put into place, will the value of this undeveloped land decrease on the county's tax rolls? If this occurred, how would this loss of assessed value be made up?
- Do these easements allow for ALL of the current uses of the lands in question: wood harvesting, public access, non-motorized and motorized recreation, hunting, fishing & trapping?
- Is the development pressure seen in the organized townships of the region also present in the remote unorganized territories? Are current regulatory agencies and Maine laws sufficient to prevent significant development of this region?
- How is the woods industry – a significant portion of our regional economy – impacted by these easements? Will these stabilize or destabilize the woods industry?