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Land for Maine’s Future in danger despite importance, broad support

By Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town

September 16, 2015

For nearly 30 years, the Land for Maine’s Future Program has been conserving land for the benefit of Maine people.

The program has enjoyed broad public support and for good reason. Land for Maine’s Future has completed projects in all 16 counties, preserving a total of 570,000 acres of working waterfronts and farmland, beloved recreational areas and crucial wildlife habitat. For every dollar the program invests in protecting our natural resources-based economy and quality of life, our state leverages three additional dollars for the purpose of land conservation from federal and private sources.

Mainers recognize that protecting our natural resources is critical to our economy as well as our way of life. Repeatedly, voters have overwhelmingly approved Land for Maine’s Future bond funds at the ballot box. In fact, 60 percent of Maine voters in 2010 and 2012 voted to invest these funds in conservation through the program.

Despite the strong support of Maine voters and lawmakers alike, the Land for Maine’s Future Program remains in danger for purely political reasons.

During recent months, the program has been in the news because of the governor’s decision to withhold $11 million worth of voter-approved bond funds. Worse yet, the funds are set to expire in November. It is possible to extend the lifespan of the bonds through Legislative action when lawmakers reconvene next year, but in the meantime, the work of the program remains in limbo despite the support of the people of Maine.

These funds should be supporting conservation projects across the state, including the Caribou Bog Conservation Area locally. Made possible in partnership with the Orono Land Trust, the University of Maine and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Caribou Bog Conservation Area project is a great example of the collaborative work Land for Maine’s Future does. Protecting this area in our community means preserving important wetland habitat as well as public access to hiking and biking trails.

Instead of supporting projects like the Caribou Bog Conservation Area, the voter-approved bond funds are being used as leverage by the administration in an unrelated political dispute, putting projects slated to receive funding in jeopardy.

Worse yet, news broke just this past week that the governor has frozen operational spending within the program, effectively crippling its ability to function and carry out its mission.

Despite lawmakers’ attempts this past session to save the program, its projects remain hamstrung by the administration and the program’s future remains uncertain. I remain hopeful that we will come to a resolution when the Legislature reconvenes in January, because the Land for Maine’s Future program is just too important to our heritage and our economy to lose.

We need the Land for Maine’s Future program to protect from development the working forests, waterfronts and farmlands Mainers love and rely on to make a living. We need the program to provide public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and snowmobiling. And we need to respect the will of Maine’s voters, who have spoken decisively on this issue.

Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, is serving her first term in the Maine House and is a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. She represents Old Town and Penobscot Indian Island.