Uncertain Future for Allagash River, One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2008
Eight months after "Most Endangered River" listing, outlook is mixed for future of Wild and Scenic protectionsDecember 11th, 2008
<P>Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23 </P>
Washington, DC — Eight months after American Rivers named the Allagash River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ for 2008, the future of the river’s Wild and Scenic protections still hangs in the balance.
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Maine’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, is slowly seeing its protections degraded thanks to motor vehicle access and harmful development.
“Mainers cannot sit on the sidelines while powerful lobbyists rob them of their natural treasures,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “It is time for action to ensure that this jewel will still be here for our grandchildren.”
The Maine League of Conservation Voters recently gave the current administration a C- grade on wilderness issues because “In the face of political pressure, the administration has allowed the serious undermining of wilderness character in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.”
A newly appointed Allagash Advisory Council is deciding what to do next on the Allagash. The council’s new chairperson has extended the timeline to work on a strategic plan for the river, and the hope is that a plan will be completed by summer 2009. In a positive sign for the river’s health, the council has drafted a working mission statement for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway that incorporates a number of essential concepts, such as protection of wilderness character.
American Rivers and its partners are calling on the Council to advocate for legislative reaffirmation of the original mandate to enhance the “maximum wilderness character” of the Allagash. The plan should restrict motor vehicle access, reduce logging roads and bridges, preserve the native fishery, and designate areas for non-motorized winter recreation.
Backed by powerful lobbyists for motor sports groups and large landowners in the region, lawmakers in Augusta have limited the Maine Department of Conservation’s authority to implement changes to the state’s Allagash management plan which would bring it into compliance with federal Wild and Scenic River guidelines.
The Allagash was the first river in the United States given protection within the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system, not by an act of Congress, but by state initiative. Former Maine Governor Kenneth Curtis petitioned the Department of the Interior to protect this natural treasure in the Pine Tree State in 1970. Now, unless decisive action is taken to enhance its wilderness character, the Allagash we enjoy today will be very different from the one our grandchildren experience.
For generations the Allagash has been a top destination for multi-day wilderness canoeing trips. A thriving industry of outfitters and guides serves tourists from across the country that flock to the region looking to experience history. There are currently few signs of civilization, but that is changing. Structures that were constructed under the guise of being temporary have now been declared permanent fixtures of the landscape, as have 30 summer and winter access points. By law, to be considered wild a river is supposed to represent “vestiges of primitive America.”