The projects that have protected some of Maine’s most cherished areas are the result of complex work that can take years. The one assurance through long negotiations and tedious legal work is that, in Maine, funding will always be available for the most meaningful projects.
However, the LePage administration, in a few short years, has ended that assurance, first by withholding voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future Program, then, most recently, by opting not to apply for funding from the federal Forest Legacy program.
By all but halting state involvement in conservation, Gov. Paul LePage has injected uncertainty into a process that requires reliability and consistency, and put at risk the framework that has made Maine’s efforts the envy of the nation.
It will be the first time in at least 15 years that Maine doesn’t apply to the Forest Legacy Program, which has provided for Maine more than $75 million in 25 years, helping to protect more than 750,000 acres.
Often, the money — which is funded not through taxpayer dollars, but proceeds from offshore gas and oil drilling — is used as the required match for Land’s for Maine Future projects, and vice versa, a symbiosis that has led to some of the largest and most worthwhile conservation projects in the state.
This year, though, it will go to other projects in other states.
More than that, the decision to take at least a year off, along with the governor’s antipathy toward LMF and conservation in general, tells landowners deciding between conservation and development that conservation is a bad bet, and makes it difficult for the organizations that broker these deals to reach out to landowners with any sort of legitimacy.
In time, that will kill worthwhile projects that provide land access to all Mainers, and protect jobs in the forest and outdoor recreation industries.
A state spokesman said the decision was made to focus on three already approved Forest Legacy projects, a curious statement given that at least two depend on the LMF funds the governor is holding hostage.
More likely, it is the result of the administration’s strange opposition to conservation, which LePage has inaccurately argued only benefits the wealthy.
In addition to holding back the LMF bonds, it appears positions have been left empty at the Bureau of Public Lands, which helps guide and process conservation projects, and the committee that reviews Forest Legacy projects has not met since September 2014.
That seems like a concerted effort to put a halt to conservation, and unfortunately it is well on its way to working.