The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has paused its plan to designate part of the High Peaks region in western Maine as a national wildlife refuge, after hearing from concerned local residents and some of Maine’s federal lawmakers who have argued that the region is already well managed locally.

The federal government had been considering making between 5,000 and 15,000 acres in the High Peaks into a refuge since the spring. The Fish and Wildlife Service held a series of “scoping sessions” to gather public input in May and June in Rangeley, Farmington, Carrabassett Valley and the Sugarloaf ski resort.

In August, U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Rep. Jared Golden sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service outlining their concerns about the plan for the refuge, citing local opposition as well.

“It is clear to us that this project does not have sufficient public support from the local communities which may be directly impacted by the proposal,” the letter stated. “Without local buy-in, the creation of a refuge unit in the region would have a diminished chance of success and would not serve the goals of the USFWS.”

The lawmakers asserted that the land doesn’t need federal oversight to be protected.

“To be clear, this region and its residents – like much of Maine – have a strong history of protecting the land and depending on it for their livelihood. Residents take great pride in the natural character of the High Peaks area,” they wrote, noting that nearly one-third of the 200,000 High Peaks acres under review are already conserved through local or state efforts.


“In short, this region has a long tradition of tending to its own conservation needs; the imposition of a new federal enclave would serve neither the local communities nor the values such a project would seek to advance,” their letter read.

In a letter dated Dec. 15, a Fish and Wildlife official responded to the lawmakers that “the Service has decided to pause its planning efforts to consider authorizing a new refuge in the High Peaks Region. This pause will provide further opportunity to better understand what role, if any, the Service could play to better support local conservation needs.”

Fish and Wildlife received more than 300 emails and letters from local residents since their public forums in the region, according to the letter. They noted that the land under consideration is the state’s largest expanse of high-elevation forest, containing plenty of flora and fauna “of conservation concern.”

“While we have heard that many in the community want to see this special landscape conserved for the long-term benefit of fish and wildlife species and to support wildlife-dependent recreation,” the letter stated, “we also appreciate that there are varied perspectives on the best way to achieve that goal.”

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