April 29 was a sad day for this Republican. Sen. Roger Katz, of Augusta, also a Republican, was attacked for defending the projects and integrity of the Land for Maine’s Future program. Katz has proposed legislation requiring the governor to issue voter-approved bonds, including the LMF bonds the governor is holding hostage to his demand that more of the public’s trees be cut on public lands to fund a home heating program.

Gov. Paul LePage, said Katz, “should be more concerned with keeping low-income Mainers warm than grandstanding for TV cameras.” House Republican Leader Ken Fredette said the governor “doesn’t care about scoring political points like Senator Katz.”

Given the awful reaction of the governor and Fredette, Katz’s comments are especially meaningful. “When the people of Maine have spoken at the ballot box, no one person — even a governor — should be able to veto that decision. Politics is rough enough around here these days but we should not add to the meanness by holding innocent bystanders hostages.” Rough doesn’t’ begin to describe it.

I am ashamed of my party’s leaders for abandoning our long-standing commitment to conservation and the environment. We’re the party of Teddy Roosevelt who, during his presidency, conserved 84,000 acres per day, created 150 national forests, five national parks, four national game preserves, 19 national monuments (including the Grand Canyon where there was strong resistance to creating a national park), 24 reclamation projects and 51 federal bird reserves.

In a 1907 speech at the Deep Water Convention in Memphis, Roosevelt noted, “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all the others.” And he didn’t just talk the talk. Roosevelt achieved the most remarkable conservation record of all of our presidents.

Let me stop right here and tell you that I am very proud of the four Republican senators who stand with Katz on this issue: Sens. Tom Saviello of Wilton, Rod Whittemore of Skowhegan, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and Ronald Collins of York.

I am also proud of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the organization I served for nearly two decades. SAM’s executive director, Dave Trahan, himself a former Republican senator, has taken the lead in criticizing the governor on this issue and aligning SAM with the state’s environmental groups.

The governor’s inappropriate action jeopardizes some great projects, including three of special interest to me: the Kimball Pond project in Vienna (offering western access to the 6,000-acre Kennebec Highlands just 10 minutes from my Mount Vernon home), the Central Maine Sportsman Access project and the Cold Stream Forest project.

The only access to the west side of the Kennebec Highlands is over private land. This purchase would provide access on the west side including Kimball Pond, a popular trout fishery, and was a partnership with Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and The Nature Conservancy.

The Cold Stream project protects 8,153 acres, including more than 3,000 acres of deer wintering area habitat north of The Forks. It includes 30 miles of streams on a major tributary to the Kennebec River, and conserves more wild brook trout pond habitat than in the rest of Northern New England.

The 2,883 acres in the Central Maine Sportsman Access project, located in the towns of Burnham, Cambridge, Detroit, Emden and Ripley, would protect 880 acres of deer wintering habitat, 4,000 feet of pond shoreline, wetland complexes and rare plants and animals. The project increases access in the area of the state with the lowest concentration of land protected for public access coupled with the highest documented outdoor use.

The governor launched the state’s Maine Game Plan for Deer three years ago with great fanfare. A focus of that plan is the protection of deer wintering habitat. He has now turned his back on that plan and goal.

I don’t call myself a Republican conservationist because I think the word Republican should — and certainly used to — convey support for conservation and the wise use of our natural resources. I have been an active conservationist for my entire adult life, even appearing in ads for the Land for Maine’s Future program. So this fight is personal and painful for me.

But I stand proudly today with Katz, Saviello, Langley, Whittemore and Collins, as well as Trahan and my friends in the environmental community. And I am not grandstanding for the TV cameras or trying to score political points. Rather, I am standing up for my Republican Party, lest you think LePage and Fredette represent it. They do not.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.