Maine sportsmen, scientists, businesses and environmentalists protest Republican proposals

By Ramona du Houx - March 23rd, 2011 · 

At a statehouse news conference today, sportsmen, lake advocates, and experts on wildlife, water quality and fisheries decried legislative attacks on Maine’s natural heritage.

“There is an all-out assault on Maine’s water quality and wildlife in the state Legislature this year,” said Maggie Shannon, Executive Director of Maine Congress of Lake Associations.

If certain bills are passed they would increase pollution from development, running into our lakes, streams, rivers and coastal waters; shrink forested buffers around our lakes that help keep water clean; allow development to encroach on places where loons, ducks and other waterfowl nest and moose feed; and gut protections for vernal pools that are important habitat for turtles, salamanders, and frogs. The proposed bills would reduce property values for lakefront property owners, cut jobs in the tourism, recreation, hunting and fishing industries; and weaken Maine’s economy.

Peter Kallin, Executive Director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance said, “Lake use pours $1.8 billion into Maine’s economy every year and supports more than 52,000 jobs. We need to do everything we can to preserve and improve these wonderful resources, not gut the laws that protect them. The current shoreland zoning laws are based on solid science, have been protecting Maine Lakes for 40 years, and have been responsible for creating thousands of jobs. To undo these protections would be a huge step backwards and a lasting mistake.”

This unique coalition of groups has environmentalists voice concerns along with sportsmen and business.

“Wildlife related activity brings more than $1 billion to Maine every year, and a big part of that is hunting and fishing,” said Matt Dunlap, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. “Fish, especially Maine’s iconic brook trout and landlocked salmon, need clean water. Waterfowl need wetlands and vernal pools to nest in and feed, and hunters and fisherman need access to shorelands to hunt and fish. If Maine allows vastly increased development in these areas, as these proposed bills would, hunting and fishing as we know it in Maine will be harmed.”

Maine is known for succulent clam chowder. The life of a clammer is hard under normal circumstances, these proposals could end their traditional way of life.

“Without excellent water quality, 2,000 Maine clammers are out of business,” said Walter Coffin of the Maine Clammers Association. “Excellent water quality starts in the lakes, ponds, and streams hundreds of miles inland, and ends at the coast. Clamming is critically tied to a healthy environment. We are concerned about threats to the water quality in our industry if the state somehow loses sight of what we have gained in the last decade through new legislation that has helped to clean up and improve the water quality of our coastal waters.”

“Keeping Maine’s lakes clean is essential for our economy, as a key study from the University of Maine has shown,” said Peter Lowell, Executive Director of Lakes Environmental Association. “A study in the late 1990’s showed 191 lakes in Maine suffered from impaired water quality which reduced lake property values from 256 to 512 million dollars. Reductions in property values have profound economic implications for Maine’s towns. Since that study, Maine now has 76 more threatened or impaired lakes. Science and economics have shown that forested buffers and reduced impervious areas around lakes keep them clear, protect habitat, maintain property values, and foster tourism. A study cited by the Vermont DEP found that where lakeshore standards were lacking, 96% of the trees were being cut. The Legislature should reject the proposals put forth this year that would gut the laws that protect forested buffers and reduce polluted runoff. These laws are the reason why Maine’s lakes are such significant economic and natural resources today.”

“Maine people love their birds and bird watching. Waterfowl hunting and other wildlife oriented activities bring an astonishing amount of money into the state, into our local communities, and that gives Maine a marketing edge in developing its future ecotourism model,” said Jeff Wells, Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, Visiting Fellow, lifelong Mainer and Gardiner resident. “The Legislature wisely passed a fair and balanced law that protects the highest-quality wetlands that are important habitat for wading birds and waterfowl, but applies common sense to ensure that development is done in a way that is good for people and wildlife. Just as with vernal pools, the current law does not prohibit development in these areas, but assures development is done in the best way possible for both people and wildlife. In fact, since 2006, DEP has approved 174 permit applications seeking to build in or near moderate and high value wading bird and waterfowl habitat. They have denied only two permits in five years. The Legislature should reject proposed bills that would roll back these laws.”

“Vernal pools may be among the most productive aquatic habitats in Maine,” said Aram Calhoun, Professor of Wetlands Ecology at the University of Maine at Orono. “They support numerous species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects. They also provide essential food to other animals that feed at vernal pools throughout the year, from ducks to turkey to deer and even moose and bear.”

“Only the highest-quality, or significant, vernal pools, about 25% of the total vernal pools in the state, are protected by Maine’s Significant Habitat Law,” said Calhoun. “And contrary to popular belief, current law does not eliminate development in the 250-foot area around significant vernal pools; it just ensures development’s harm is minimized. In the last five years, there have been sixteen permit applications to build near significant vernal pools, and every permit has been approved. The Legislature should not change the current law. It is working in a balanced way for Maine’s people and its wildlife.”

The bills that would gut protections that keep our lakes and rivers clean, provide critical habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, support Maine’s hunting and fishing heritage and Maine’s #1 industry, Tourism, include:
LD 1 , 156 , 159 , 219 , 341 , 434 , 872 , 888 , 1022 and 1031 ].