National wildlife refuge planned in Limestone
The proposed national wildlife refuge at the former Loring Air Force Base could be a boom to the local economy. Interested citizens, town officials in Limestone and Caswell, and area businesses learned of the refuge plans at an informational community meeting Monday, September 25, in Limestone.
"I believe that the refuge will be a part of the rejuvenation of the base area that will lead to jobs and increased economy in the area," said Doug Mullin, executive director of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Calais.
Mullin was invited to visit Limestone by Town Manager Troy Brown to share information on the proposed national wildlife refuge area to be located at the former base and to discuss the economic and environmental benefits the site might bring to Limestone and Aroostook County.
The proposed federal refuge will be spread over 4,295 acres of base property plus 570 acres of the undeveloped portion of land at the Madawaska Dam site. At the Loring Development Authority's May 10 meeting, board members approved transfer of 4,295 acres of land from the Air Force Base Conversion Agency to the Department of Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use as a national wildlife refuge. Most of the Fish and Wildlife acreage lies in Caswell and Limestone.
Mullin showed slides of the Moosehorn refuge and its wildlife and noted that 50,000 visitors are attracted each year to its wildlife-oriented activities. He said people who love nature and wildlife travel to Moosehorn from all parts of the country to see birds and wildlife they never see in their areas.
He cited the background of Moosehorn as a base for how the Loring area might be viewed:
Moosehorn is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat. Moosehorn is a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Calais refuge consists of two units: The Baring Unit covers 17,257 acres and is located off U.S. Route 1 southwest of Calais; and the 7,189-acre Edmunds Unit, bordering the tidal water of Cobscook Bay near Dennysville.
The refuge is a highly glaciated expanse of rolling hills, large ledge outcrops, streams, lakes, bogs and marshes. A diverse forest of aspen, maple, birch, spruce and fir dominates the landscape and scattered stands of white pine are common. The Edmunds Unit boasts several miles of rocky shoreline where 24-foot tidal fluctuations are daily occurrences.
Wildlife to be seen at Moosehorn include black bears, white-tailed deer, moose, fox, bobcats, loons, ducks and birds including the woodcock and endangered bald eagle. Two hundred twenty species of birds have been identified on the refuge which also serves as a breeding area and migration stop for a variety of waterfowl and other waterbirds. Ospreys also nest in the refuge marsh.
Moosehorn offers its visitors over 50 miles of roads and trails which are closed to vehicle traffic but open for hiking, sightseeing, bird watching and cross country skiing. The refuge is also open to deer hunting in November. Also, visitors are invited to accompany wildlife biologists on waterfowl and woodcock banding operations.
At Moosehorn, fields are kept open for young brushy growth that serves as food and cover for many wildlife species, said Mullin. Small clearcuts, which are done every five years, scattered throughout the forest provide openings and young brushy growth that serve as food and cover for many wildlife species. Timber harvesting also provides local employment and a percentage of receipts from sales is returned to the local communities.
Wetlands management on the refuge has greatly increased waterfowl numbers. Water control structures on the refuge's marshes and ponds allows manager to maintain stable water levels during the breeding season. Water level control also improves the growth of plants that provide food and cover and allows the marshes to be emptied periodically for rejuvenation.
Reappraisal of federal wildlife refuge lands results in increased revenues to area twons. Mullin said Fish and Wildlife plans to pay the involved communities a payment in lieu of taxes on the land. Payment partially reimburses the communities for property tax revenues lost when the lands entered the public domain. The appraisal amount is based on ¾ of 1 percent of the fair market value of the land.
Proposed refuge budget at Loring
Mullin said the budget to start up the proposed refuge at Loring for the 1996 fiscal year will be $514,600. This amount includes costs to convert the base alert visitation center into a visitor's center, and a vehicle maintenance facility, in addition to the development of a visitor informational display, salaries for a staff of three, office operations and supplies, and maintenance operations costs.
He said when Fish and Wildlife's master plan is in place for the Loring refuge, local citizens will be asked for their input in related issues. He also proposed that local people be given the opportunity to name the refuge.
"After the set up, we hope to have a dedication of the refuge," advised Mullin.
Mullin also suggested volunteer programs be for the Loring refuge. He said some refuges have 50 to 100 volunteers.
Asked from the audience if the endangered bald eagles would frequent the refuge, Mullin predicted, "you provide the habitat and they'll come."