Statement on LUPC Adoption of New Development Rules in the North Woods

Maine Audubon is deeply disappointed by the Land Use Planning Commission’s (LUPC) vote on April 2 to adopt rules to open tens of thousands of acres of Maine’s North Woods to subdivisons and commercial development.

There was very little discussion by the Commissioners before the vote, which is the most significant policy change in the history of both the LUPC and its predecessor, the Land Use Regulation Commission. We appreciate changes that were made to the new rules along the way, but more changes could and should have been made before final adoption. Because of its scope and scale, and untested new approaches, we are extremely worried that this change will significantly alter the character of Maine’s unorganized areas, negatively affecting wildlife by fragmenting and developing habitat and increasing human disturbance.

Maine’s North Woods is one of the largest remaining temperate forests in the world. It is the crossroads of an extensive wildlife habitat network, spanning from upstate New York to Nova Scotia, where wide-ranging mammals like bear, moose, bobcat, and fisher can move between core habitat areas. It is also home to 97 percent of the wild Brook Trout waters in the Eastern United States, and is a globally-recognized Important Bird Area, serving as breeding grounds for dozens of songbirds, many of which are in steep decline.

The newly-adopted LUPC rules eliminate the longstanding “adjacency principle,” which required that new development occur within one road mile of existing compatible development, like an existing business or cluster of camps. The new rules will allow residential and commercial uses in areas that are up to seven miles from a “rural hub” and one mile from a public road, with some subdivisions allowed up to three miles from a public road. While Maine Audubon recognizes the merits of reviewing the “adjacency principle,” we feel strongly that the scale of these new rules could have a serious negative impact on Maine’s wildlife.

Going forward, Maine Audubon will carefully track the rules’ implementation, and will explore alternative means to ensure future development is located even closer to existing communities in the unorganized territories and neighboring towns in order to protect the North Woods’ unparalleled wildlife habitat values. Fortunately, at the end of five years, there will be a chance to compare the number, location, and character of new development projects against the goals of the new rules. You can count on us to be there to speak up about what is and isn’t working, and what additional modifications to the rules should be made, if any.