Maine’s North Woods are a state treasure, a vast stretch of undeveloped land big enough to support wildlife habitat and the forest products industry, a leading source of jobs and wealth for the state.

They also have room for activities as diverse as hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and white-water rafting, a powerful draw for Maine’s tourism industry.

All together, the area is a precious resource that feeds our state economy and sense of place.

The forest also is a place people call home and is big enough to make room for some development of houses, services and infrastructure.

Nowhere in the Northeast is there such a large contiguous forest, nor one in which so many critical uses are balanced.

Balance is the key issue when it comes to regulating the North Woods. It was what a group of residents of the unorganized territories were looking for when they took a bill to the Legislature this year that would have gotten rid of the Land Use Regulation Commission and put all planning decisions in the hands of the county governments whose jurisdiction overlaps LURC’s.

The regulatory scheme was out of balance, they said, because it was slow and overly limiting, denying local residents flexibility to use their property in the ways they wanted.

Their plan would have tipped the balance from heavy state regulation to local control similar to what’s found in most Maine towns. That plan also would have resulted in a hodgepodge of regulation that does not recognize the value of the forest in its totality.

Fortunately, the Legislature saw that the cure would tip the balance too far in the other direction. Instead of passing the bill, it created a task force to come back with a recommendation for the next session. The group’s findings are out, and there is a lot to like.

The task force rejected the option of eliminating LURC and turning its work completely over to the counties. Instead, it would increase the size of the commission from six members to nine, and change the way they are selected.

Under their proposal, only three would be named by the governor. The rest would be county commissioners who are elected locally, but with no confirmation from the Legislature.

The proposed reform also would create an opportunity for counties to take over their own planning in the unorganized territories if they create their own planning boards.

These proposals also would upset the balance, putting local residential concerns ahead of all others. While the residents of the unorganized territory should have a say in planning decisions, those decisions can affect industry, recreation and conservation in ways that have statewide impact and should not be treated as exclusively local matters.

The task force is headed in the right direction, but the Legislature should do more to get the balance right.

An expanded LURC should have more room for a local voice, but those representatives should have to go through the same confirmation process as every other member of a regulatory board.

And it would be wrong to give counties the ability to opt out of the LURC jurisdiction, creating inconsistent regulations that don’t recognize the entire northern forest as an entity that should be managed as a whole.

The Legislature should consider the recommendations as the first step in a process that recognizes all sides need a voice in this process.

The unique natural resource of the Maine North Woods should be regulated with the big picture in mind.

It may make sense to give the counties a bigger role, but not at the expense of the rest of the state, which needs this resource to be managed wisely.

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