By Ramona du Houx

April 26, 2021

People representing a wide range of interests, from farming and commercial fishing to real estate and small businesses, have come together to ask the Maine Legislature to approve a bond to fund the Land for Maine’s Future program (LMF) and provide sorely need funding for State Park maintenance. LMF protects land it operates in from development or abuse, preserving it for the people of Maine.

During the Le Page administration bonds were held back and not issued hurting the state and our public lands. Currently, interest rates are at a historic low, making bonding viable and a viable mechanism to grow the economy.

“LMF and Maine State Parks have created economic opportunities for communities in Franklin County and have helped make it an attractive place to do business,” said Charlie Woodworth, Executive Director of Greater Franklin Development Council. “There are about 30 LMF projects in our region and two State Parks. Public lands benefit our businesses by drawing visitors and residents to the area for its high quality of life and access to the outdoors.”

The bipartisan legislation, LD 983 introduced by Democratic Senator Cathy Breen of Cumberland County and LD 687 introduced by Republican Representative Patrick Corey of Windham would provide $80 million and $35 million in bond funding for LMF and Maine State Parks, respectively.

“Agriculture is a key component of Maine’s economy and way of life, but farmland – the foundation of Maine’s farm businesses – is a precious and limited resource,” said Ellen Griswold, Policy and Research Director at Maine Farmland Trust. “The LMF program is an important source of public funding for protecting Maine’s farmlands.”

LMF is Maine’s most successful land conservation program, supporting a wide range of activities, such as fishing and hunting, hiking and birding, and snowmobiling and ATV riding. Since 1987, LMF has helped to protect more than 600,000 acres in all of Maine’s 16 counties, including 24 coastal working waterfront sites; 64 access sites to rivers, lakes, and ponds; 9,700 acres of farmland; and 315,000 acres of working forest.

Despite widespread, bipartisan support, LMF has not gotten new funding since 2012. Here is an interactive map of LMF properties or visit the State of Maine’s LMF program webpage.

“One of the only tools we have in our toolbox to protect working waterfront properties in Maine comes from LMF,” said Ben Martens, Executive Director of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “LMF buys up development rights for working waterfronts, which gives a much-needed injection of capital into the property, while also ensuring that the working waterfront is not sold away for condos, houses, or hotels.”

LMF destinations belong to all Mainers and visitors, and every dollar of LMF funding is matched by other funds, historically attracting more than $3 in matching funds for every dollar invested by the State. Additionally, Maine could draw more than $40 million per year to leverage LMF dollars through federal funding programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“By protecting habitat, the LMF program supports populations of fish and wildlife that guides seek and prevents development from displacing the areas where we guide,” said Jeanne Christie, President of Maine Wilderness Guides Organization. “Public lands are vitally important to us, and access to forests, ponds, rivers, streams, and the ocean enables us to stay in business while helping create high-quality, memorable experiences for our clients.”

The groups say there has never been a better time to reinvest in LMF. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Mainers and visitors to flock to the outdoors in record numbers, creating demand for recreational infrastructure like trails, parks, and boat launches. And as demand for Maine real estate grows, there is increasing urgency to secure public conserved land and to strengthen natural resource-based businesses that are critical to our economy.

“Public access to local conserved lands is a key selling point we often hear from our clients. As private property prices in Maine increase, the LMF program is more critical than ever. This is especially true as Maine’s natural character and quality of life attract people to relocate to Maine,” said Washington County realtor Georgie Kendall in a letter she submitted from 27 realtors across the state.

Conserving forests, open spaces, and farmlands as part of LMF would also be a critical strategy to help Maine communities adapt to future uncertainties and employ nature-based climate solutions, as called for in Maine’s new statewide Climate Action Plan.

Maine State Parks are in critical need of investment as well. They have accrued $50 million of deferred maintenance and have not been able to install new infrastructure in decades, despite State Parks being more popular than ever, surpassing three million visitors in 2020.

“Mainers rely heavily on parks and open space for mental and physical health benefits, especially during the pandemic, but Maine doesn’t have nearly enough publicly accessible land to meet our needs. More than 65 percent of the Maine population is further than a 10-minute walk from a park, and 23 percent of the population is further than a 10-minute drive from public open space,” said Betsy Cook, Maine State Director of The Trust for Public Land. “Funding the LMF program is one of the only ways to ensure all Mainers can have access to our outdoors.”

If approved by the Legislature, the LMF and State Parks bond would appear on the November 2021 ballot.

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