I’m old enough to remember the meaning of the axiom “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” It meant that we had a knack for picking presidents. It also meant, as I was taught in a central Maine grade school, that independent-thinking Mainers prided themselves on using common sense by not always voting the party line.

As the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee debates the future of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), legislators need to ask themselves “What’s in the overall best interests of Maine?”

Of course, each legislator represents a region and its constituents, but collectively as a governing body, they represent all of us. The LURC issue is much too important to tolerate angry partisan outbursts and finger pointing. Shame on us and legislators if we choose party allegiance ahead of Maine’s best interests.

Two of the panel’s final recommendations are very troubling. A county opt-out clause will result in inconsistent application of land use regulations. Secondly, reserving six seats for county commissioners on the proposed new LURC board empowers them to appease county constituents by advocating for unsound projects and by default, gives them power to override the interests of the vast majority of the citizens who live outside LURC jurisdiction. A stronger LURC is needed to protect a statewide vision of 10.4 million acres under its jurisdiction.

If these two panel recommendations are adopted by the full Legislature, the biggest winners will be LURC panel member McPherson, real estate developers and financial investment groups who now own 3.8 million acres or 33 percent of the Maine woods. As the LURC debate heats up, legislators should also ask themselves, “Do the CEOs of publicly traded companies care about the Maine woods or our traditional way of life?”

If LURC is crippled, the biggest losers will be the majority of Maine citizens, who rely on LURC to be their sole voice in protecting the public’s vast interests in northern Maine — wildlife habitat protection (e.g. deer wintering areas) and clean water, to name two. With investment companies sitting on millions of dollars worth of undeveloped shorefront properties on magnificent lakes and rivers, I fear for the future of the Maine woods if LURC is rendered spineless.

As a wildlife biologist, I’ve worked with LURC and landowners since 1977. Corporate landowners have attempted to torpedo LURC since its formation in 1970. For four decades, landowner complaints about LURC have been listened to and dismissed by six governors, including Republican Governor John R. McKernan Jr. Were those governors wrong to reject landowner objections to land use planning?

I’m hopeful the Legislature will demonstrate wisdom, vision and courage by rejecting two of the panel’s most troubling recommendations. The future of our beloved Maine woods is at stake, along with our reputation as independent-minded citizens working together for the betterment of our state and its unparallel natural resources.

Waterville native Ron Joseph retired after a 33-year career as a state and federal wildlife biologist in Maine. He’s worked and lived in Ashland, Greenville, Orono and Camden.

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