By George Smith
Bangor Daily News column
My first reaction was sadness. Later, I was ashamed, for our Governor, our state, and ourselves. When the LePage Administration refused to submit any conservation projects to the federal Forest Legacy Program for funding, for the first time in 15 years, we turned our back on a legacy of conservation in our state and signaled an end – at least for the remainder of the LePage Administration – to the outstanding conservation work we’ve accomplished over the last few decades.
Tom Doak, the executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, was actually on the national advisory group that started the Forest Legacy Program in the early 1990s, when he served as Director of Maine’s Forest Service. And I served for several years on the first Forest Legacy Advisory Committee in Maine. It was a special privilege – and a thrill – to serve on Maine’s original Forest Legacy Advisory Committee. I recently learned that the advisory committee hasn’t met for more than a year.
In the early years, Maine dominated the federal program, getting nearly all the funding, until other states began to take notice and joined us in applying for funding. Since that time, Maine has usually won at least one major grant from the Forest Legacy Program each year, and often had the top-rated conservation project. We’ve conserved more acres of forest, using more than $75 million in Forest Legacy Program funding, than any other state, a total of 750,000 acres. That is about 1/3 of all the land the Legacy Program has conserved nationwide.
And now we’ve walked away from that outstanding record of conservation, for no apparent reason than the Governor’s strong opposition to land conservation. He’s been quoted as saying these projects only serve the rich, when in reality, rich people have their own lands. The rest of us depend on conservation lands, parks, public lands, and wildlife management units, for our recreational opportunities.
The Forest Legacy Program focuses on projects that are important to forest industry jobs, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation. Many key projects in our state have been blessed with Forest Legacy funding, including 329,000 acres along the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and forests surrounding West Grand Lake in Downeast Maine. Forest Legacy projects often also receive money from the Land for Maine’s Future, a program now in deep deep trouble because the Governor refuses to allow LMF bonds, approved by the public, from being sold and used to complete projects already approved by the LMF Board. More sadness. More shame.