Senator Breen, Representative Pierce, and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, I am Melanie Sturm, the Forests and Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and I appreciate the opportunity to provide testimony in support of LD 1702 and its provisions pertaining to the Land for Maine’s Future program (LMF).
NRCM thanks Governor Mills for calling for new bond funding for LMF as well as for including new opportunities for community projects and elevating climate change as a priority issue in LD 1702.
LMF is Maine’s most effective land conservation program. Over the past three decades, the program has helped fund more than 300 projects and protect more than 600,000 acres spanning all 16 Maine counties. LMF supports conservation and recreation projects for activities ranging from biking to birding, fly casting to cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling to swimming. LMF also provides one of the few funding options available for land conservation, often in the form of conservation easements, to conserve working farmland, working timberlands, and commercial fishing operations that depend on working waterfronts. LMF projects are diverse and benefit all Mainers, as well as many natural resource- based businesses.
Maine people have consistently shown their strong support for land conservation at the ballot box, passing six ballot measures to fund LMF since 1987.
Despite its success and public support, the last LMF bond passed in 2012, and the program has essentially run out of money. Without additional funding, many important conservation opportunities will be lost that would help protect fish and wildlife habitat and natural resources, sequester and store carbon, enhance and expand recreational access, and provide economic benefits to communities both from tourism and from lands managed for timber, agriculture, and marine resources.
Funding LMF is a smart investment for the state. Virtually every significant land conservation project in recent decades has required funding from multiple sources, including state, federal, and private funds. However, most of the time funds from one source need to be matched with funds from other sources. LMF funding plays a critical role in leveraging federal and private funds that can make land conservation projects possible. Every $1 spent by the State of Maine using LMF funds is matched, approximately, by $3 of private and federal funds.
We believe that a multi-year bond will be a more effective strategy than a single year of funding for the type of work that LMF supports, because many land conservation projects take multiple years to complete. Many landowners and organizations are reluctant to invest the time and money in putting together a land conservation project if they do not know that there will be public funding available in the future.
Now is a particularly good time to fund LMF because it can serve as match for federal programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF was fully and permanently funded last year and provides grants for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. Maine stands to draw an estimated $40 million per year in federal funds from federal programs, such as LWCF, to conserve working forests and ensure public access to the outdoors if we have matching funds, which LMF can provide.
Though the state and cooperating entities have made a great deal of progress on land conservation in recent years, there is much left to do as demand continues to increase for Maine real estate, pressures mount on natural resource-based businesses in the state, and climate change among other threats test our natural systems. NRCM strongly supports a significant land bond to enable LMF to continue its great conservation work.
When reviewing all LMF funding proposals before you, we respectfully urge the Committee to pass a robust LMF bond bill in order to send a bond question to voters on the November ballot. Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.