by George Smith
Bangor Daily News column
Governor Paul LePage is withholding more than $11 million that would allow 41 outstanding conservation projects to be completed – even though he promised to fund these projects as part of a deal to pay off state debts to Maine hospitals in 2013, and despite the fact that 60 percent of Maine voters approved the bonds in 2010 and 2012 that authorized this money.
While members of the Land for Maine’s Future Board – all of whom were appointed by Governor LePage – are in the dark on this, many legislators and lobbyists have heard the news and have been talking about it for the past couple of weeks. Last week a key legislator in the know confirmed for me that the Governor is indeed doing this. The Governor has not issued an announcement or even an acknowledgement of this, so I am hopeful that he will change his mind and allow these terrific projects to be completed.
Paying the state’s share of these projects is the final step in completing them. And many are now in jeopardy, including my favorite, the Cold Stream Forest Project. LMF reports that the Cold Stream Project “protects 8,153 acres, including over 3000 acres of Biological Deer Wintering Area habitat north of the Forks. It includes 30 miles of streams on a major tributary to the Kennebec River, and conserves more wild brook trout pond habitat than in the rest of Northern New England.”
The LMF funds for Cold Stream match a much larger award from the USDA’s Forest Legacy Program. Cold Stream ranked #3 in the nation for the Forest Legacy program last year.
Maine has led the nation in land conservation and the LMF program is one key reason. Since it was created in 1987, LMF has conserved 550,000 acres using an average of $4.78 million annually in state funding for an average cost of just $113 per acre. An analysis by The Trust for Public Land found that every $1 invested in land conservation through LMF returned an astonishing $11 in natural goods and services to the Maine economy. And that return increases every year.
As a hunter, I am especially grateful for LMF’s purchases. Our hunting opportunities have been greatly diminished by the epidemic of private land posting, making public lands of growing importance as we seek to protect our outdoor hunting heritage. I enjoy hunting on 6000 acres of public land just 10 minutes from my house, land acquired over the last decade with LMF support. I also appreciated then-Senator Dave Trahan’s successful effort to add protection of deer yards to LMF’s priorities a few years ago.
As an avid angler, I’m well aware that we have no rights of access to moving water: rivers, streams, and brooks. Many years ago I played a role in dedicating 10 percent of LMF’s money to water access, and almost every LMF project includes frontage on some water body.
When Angus King was governor, he insisted on inserting language into a new LMF bond issue to require all land purchased with LMF money to be open to hunting, trapping, and fishing. His top aide, Kay Rand, and I wrote that language. And it’s been included in all future LMF bond proposals ever since.
We can only hope that by March 17, when the LMF Board meets, the Governor has changed his mind and approved funding so these projects can be completed. Ironically, the Governor’s Conference on Tourism kicks off that night at the Augusta Civic Center. Given the importance of our public lands and parks to the tourism industry, the news that the Governor has refused to fund these LMF projects is certain to be the talk of the conference.