FAQ: What is the difference between a National Park, National Forest and National Wildlife Refuge?

Photo Courtesy of Scott Landry

National Parks are located in unique natural places and developed to serve a large number of visitors. Facilities for cars and walking are given priority, with hunting and off-road vehicles generally prohibited. Creating a new national park in the Maine woods would be a departure from the traditional range of low-density recreation activities that most Maine people consider the true essence of the Maine woods experience.

National forests are large land areas managed for five purposes – timber production, water protection, wildlife protection, grazing, and outdoor recreation.  Most eastern national forests were established during economic hard times in rural locations found unsuitable for successful farming. During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Maine’s political leadership rejected several opportunities to expand the national forest system further into the Maine woods. Since that time, the National Forest Service has developed the alternative Forest Legacy program which funds 75% of the cost of acquiring forest land or easements by the State of Maine. In terms of the acreage acquired, the Forest Legacy program functions on a much smaller, parcel by parcel scale, than the traditional large units of the national forest system.

National wildlife refuges come in all sizes, from tiny to enormous. As noted above, on average there are more than 10 refuges per state (with 560 nationally and currently 6 in Maine). Their primary function is to help conserve wildlife, fish and plant resources and their habitats. Six priority visitor activities are hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation and environmental education. Recreation facilities, such as trails and camping, can be established during each refuge’s comprehensive planning process. A High Peaks refuge would always feature active forest management including commercial-scale harvesting.

Photo Courtesy of Lloyd Griscom

Photo Courtesy of Lloyd Griscom

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