by George Smith
Three exceptional men have been endorsed for positions on the Land for Maine’s Future Board. This is an “A” team, but we’re putting them into a race car that is out of gas — with nobody in the pit to fill up the tank or change the tires.
When the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee took public testimony on the governor’s nomination of Don Marean, Bill Vail and Jim Gorman Jr., for three-year terms on the LMF Board, it was my privilege to offer supporting testimony for all three.
Marean is a former legislator and the current LMF board chairman. Vail is a former Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner. Gorman is L.L. Bean’s grandson and the only person who served on the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s board for my entire 18 years as the group’s executive director.
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.
A recent economic 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.
The LMF program focuses on four key areas: conservation and recreation with an emphasis on public access for outdoor recreation; water access for boating, fishing, and swimming; farmland protection and working waterfronts.
LMF has won the support of Maine voters for an extraordinary five bond issues totaling $127 million and attracted an equal amount of matching funds.
As a hunter, I am especially grateful for LMF’s purchases. Our hunting opportunities have been diminished greatly by the epidemic of private land posting, making public lands of growing importance as we seek to protect our outdoor heritage.
As an avid angler, I’m also 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 of 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.
Unfortunately, the single staff position dedicated to the LMF program was eliminated recently, and the program is nearly out of money. The Legislature is considering a new LMF bond issue, in a very competitive field of bond proposals.
There is quite a bit of interest in dedicating any new LMF money to the purchase of deer yards — a key component of the state’s plan to rebuild the deer herd and rescue our outdoor economy, now in a tailspin.
Many are unaware that potential LMF funded projects are rated higher if they include deeryards, and LMF already has purchased 15,000 acres of deeryards. No landowner is going to sell the state a stand-alone deeryard. Nor is the deeryard sufficient to sustain deer — surrounding habitat is also important. So they don’t really need to restrict LMF funding to deeryards to get this part of the job done. Been there. Doing that.
What they must do is restore the LMF staff position and give the program some gas. Otherwise, Marean, Vail, Gorman and the other LMF board members will be unable to keep this key economic and conservation vehicle on the track and in the race.
If legislators are uncertain about this critical issue, they should get out of the Capitol and visit the Kennebec Highlands, just 10 miles up the road in Belgrade, Mount Vernon and Vienna. The Highlands is a public paradise with mountains, forests, remote ponds (full of fish), blueberries, bears, deer, moose and many other wild creatures and ATV-snowmobile-and-hiking trails.
For me, the Highlands is the jewel in Maine’s crown of public lands, largely because it’s five minutes from my house, and the place I spend a lot of time.
My grandson Addison once caught 38 smallmouth bass in two hours in a Highlands pond.
The Highlands is our gift to Addison and all of our children and grandchildren. They are the reasons we have enthusiastically supported LMF bonds, and why we will support a new bond, if legislators and the governor give us a chance.