By Russell Black, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Early winter is just about my favorite time of year to be in the woods. The leaves are off the hardwoods, a few apples cling to the old orchard trees, a crunchy layer of snow is (usually) on the ground and, if I’m lucky, next year’s firewood is already seasoning. During these crisp mornings I often think how fortunate we are to live in Maine and how fortunate we are Maine voters have made a commitment to protect public access. We’ve made it six times since 1987 by voting for funding for the Land for Maine’s Future program.
Here in Franklin County, that has meant places such as Mount Blue, the Rangeley River, Crocker Mountain and Orbeton Stream are forever protected and available for the public to enjoy. Not only are these areas important for recreation, tourism and wildlife, but, in the case of Crocker and Orbeton, they ensure sustainable forest management and well-paying jobs. LMF is strongly supported here. Both the 2012 and 2010 LMF bonds were overwhelming approved in Franklin County, with 67 percent and 72 percent of the vote, respectively.
I can’t think of a more popular state-run program than LMF. It is truly nonpartisan and succeeds in large part because it is designed to be inclusive, drawing on the creativity and problem-solving skills of Maine residents all over the state who are working for a better future in their communities. The projects represent partnerships with local sporting groups, towns, land trusts, state agencies and many others.
Despite its popularity and the good work the program has helped fund, for the past 18 months, LMF has been tied up in Augusta politics. That seems to be shifting with Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement he will release some $5 million in LMF bonds. This is good news and will enable the state to make good on the commitments LMF has made to more than 30 landowners. I appreciate the governor’s change of heart.
The reality is that LMF is about people and helping Mainers by providing investments in our natural resource-based economy. What does LMF mean for our region of the state? Look no further than The Forks and Cold Stream. This 8,153-acre project includes more than 3,000 acres of deer wintering habitat, 30 miles of wild native brook trout habitat and is a major tributary to the Kennebec River. The lands have attracted generations of hunters, hikers and fly fishermen and women. The acreage would be managed for wildlife, traditional public access and continued timber supply to local mills, supporting jobs, wood supply and outdoor recreation uses, all supporting Maine’s economy.
We in the Legislature aren’t done with LMF yet.
When we return to work in early January, my colleagues and I will have the opportunity to honor the wishes of Maine voters by reauthorizing some $6.47 million of LMF funds approved by voters in 2010. As we head into the new year, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join with me to vote to reauthorize the 2010 LMF bond as soon as the legislative session opens. It’s a simple way we can honor the will of voters across the state and help conserve Maine’s heritage and our rural economy.
Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, represents House District 114. He is serving his third term and serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.