In May 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held public scoping sessions in Rangeley and Farmington to introduce the concept of a High Peaks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). These meetings were purely preliminary, an invitation to western Maine residents to provide feedback and input. The USFWS did not present a formal proposal as no proposal yet exists. So far, the High Peaks NWR is just an idea.
It is an idea I support wholeheartedly, which is why I’ve joined the USFWS stakeholder representative team to help shape the concept in a way that reflects community values. As a 50-year resident of Phillips and a Madrid landowner, I believe the High Peaks NWR would be a force multiplier for this region. The USFWS would bring invaluable conservation and outdoor recreation-focused funding to the High Peaks, helping us build and maintain outdoor access, crucial infrastructure, and threatened habitat.
Between Madrid and Phillips, I care for 140 acres of land. In Madrid, I established a de facto refuge that sits within the southern boundary of the High Peaks NWR study area. I have hiked and camped in the High Peaks all my adult life. As readers of this paper know, the High Peaks region is very special. It’s vertical, with many ecological zones. The area deserves federal protection and all the resources the USFWS can bring.
For private landowners like me, inviting the USFWS into our community is a win-win. By having property within an acquisition-area boundary, I can choose to protect my land in perpetuity by either selling an easement or title to a committed buyer who promises to permanently conserve the land and buy it at fair-market value. If I chose to sell my land to the feds — at a time and a price of my choosing — is the Maine Congressional delegation or the Franklin County Commission going to stop me?
I have visited 22 National Wildlife Refuges across the country and have been most impressed with the level of outdoor- recreation access and land management. It’s marvelous what the USFWS is doing. In the High Peaks, the USFWS would bring its scientific methods to bear to protect non-insular habitat for wildlife and preserve connectivity.
A handful of people, led by Franklin County Commissioner Bob Carlton, vociferously oppose this idea. And yet I caution opponents that no one can make a rational decision about this idea until we know what exactly we’re talking about. So let’s work together to shape this opportunity in a way that works for those of us who live in western Maine.
The upside for those who live, work and recreate in the High Peaks is enormous. We would permanently protect outdoor recreation access and wildlife habitat in the region while gaining access to a $900-million pot of federal funding. Why wouldn’t we want a seat at that planning table?
Dr. Arthur Lage serves on the High Peaks Alliance Lands and Conservation Committee. Dr. Lage received a DVM in 1967 at the College of Veterinary medicine at Iowa State University. He has led a distinguished career that has advanced public health, veterinary medicine, and human medicine. After successfully building one of the largest private specialty practices on the Atlantic Coast, Dr. Lage joined the faculty at Harvard University. As a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), Dr. Lage is a recognized international expert in renal and urologic medicine and surgery. He has served as president of the ACVIM and chair of the ACVIM Board of Regents. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, the New England Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the Harvard Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery, and Director of the Harvard Center for Comparative Medicine.
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