No More Land for Maine's Future?

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A modest $5 million bond issue for the out-of-money Land for Maine’s Future program is in jeopardy. Here’s the situation.

Governor Paul LePage’s antipathy to bonding is well known. His opposition is a big problem. But the Appropriations Committee proceeded without the governor’s participation, and put together a group of bonds totaling $98 million.

The LMF bond is the smallest, just $5 million. In response to the good work of Dave Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the bond includes language strengthening the focus of LMF on the purchase and protection of deer wintering yards.

Many are unaware that potential LMF funded projects are already rated higher if they include deeryards, and LMF has already purchased 15,000 acres of deeryards.

While we await the LMF bond language, I can tell you that it’s going to be difficult to describe what is needed for deer habitat. No landowner is going to sell the state a stand-alone deeryard. Nor is the deeryard sufficient to sustain deer – surrounding habitat is also important.

I asked the House Chair of Appropriations, Pat Flood, to provide me with the LMF bond language as soon as it’s available. Pat told me today that the bond is not limited to deeryards, but will contain some language encouraging the purchase and protection of them.

The Appropriations Committee crafted each bond to be a stand-alone bill, rather than packaging bonds together as they’ve often done in the past. This means that the LMF bond, by itself, will have to win a 2/3 vote in the House and the Senate, get the governor’s approval and signature, and be endorsed by Maine voters in November.

That’s a long and difficult trail!

Democratic legislators, I am told, are solidly for the bonds, including the LMF bond. But many Republicans – particularly in the House - are sticking with the governor, and are unlikely to support any bonds unless and until a satisfactory supplemental budget is completed and enacted to deal with the state’s $89 million budget gap.

Surprisingly, given the importance of deer and deer hunting in the rural areas of Maine, a lot of House Republicans seem to be opposed to the LMF bond in particular. That needs to change.

Maine has led the nation in land conservation and the LMF program is one key reason. Since it was created in 1987, LMF has conserved 550,000 acres, using an average of $4.78 million annually in state funding, for an average cost of just $113 per acre.

A recent economic analysis by The Trust for Public Land found that every $1 invested in land conservation through LMF returned an astonishing $11 in natural goods and services to the Maine economy. And that return increases every year.

And I don’t have to tell any Maine deer hunter that the protection of more deeryards is a key component of the Maine Game Plan for Deer, created by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to rebuild our state’s population of deer.

Sportsmen – and anyone who depends on deer and deer hunters to make their living – should get into gear and make sure this LMF bond makes it to the end of this arduous trail. We need it!

PHOTO: Governor Paul LePage created a lot of excitement when he hosted a press conference to kick off the Maine Game Plan for Deer. Since then, he's done absolutely nothing to advance the plan.

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