Our license plate rightly declares that Maine is Vacationland.

Tourism is one of our major industries, and the future of that industry depends on maintaining the health, integrity and beauty of the coast and the great North Woods, two regions unique to Maine that draw visitors, not only from the Northeast but also from throughout the nation and from abroad.

When the members of a legislative research committee wrote their “Report on the Wildlands” in 1969, they recognized that Maine’s managed timberlands no longer constituted wilderness, but they also recognized that much wildness still remained in the state’s unorganized territories. That wildness was part of the appeal and mystique of Maine’s North Woods.

Scenic beauty, peace and quiet, a sense of remoteness — qualities it is impossible to assign a dollar value to — are as important to the tourist industry and to Maine residents as a sustainable wood supply is to the forest-products industry.

The committee recognized, too, that careful regulation of development in the unorganized territories was needed if these two mainstays of Maine’s economy were to continue to flourish in the future,

The Legislature’s response to this report was to found the Land Use Regulation Commission in 1971.

In the 40 years of its existence, LURC largely has done an excellent job of balancing the economic interests of private landowners with protecting the public values found in Maine’s forests and mountains and on the lakes and rivers throughout its jurisdiction.

If Maine’s North Woods as we know them today are to survive, that balance has to be maintained in an evenhanded way across the entire jurisdiction. A strong, centralized LURC, applying uniform standards of planning, zoning and permitting is the only way to accomplish that.

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee should reject out of hand the LURC reform proposal contained in LD 1798, “An Act To Reform Land Use Planning in the Unorganized Territories,” that would allow county commissioners to appoint themselves or their designees as LURC commissioners, without the normal process of legislative approval.

This would open the door to local political pressure and patchwork development that would spell the end of the last great northeastern forest.

Another reform proposal in LD 1798 would allow counties to withdraw from LURC altogether, effectively dismantling the commission one county at a time.

The counties have neither adequate funding nor adequate personnel trained in resource management to take on LURC’s role. Again, the results would be inefficiency, inconsistency in standards from county to county, and fragmentation of Maine’s North Woods.

The way to deal with complaints of delays in processing permits and lack of communication with citizens of the unorganized territories is not to break up LURC but rather to increase its staff and funding. These increases would allow LURC to process applications more quickly and work more closely with regional entities in applying its Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

“Maine has always been proud of its wildlands,” the Legislature’s research committee wrote in 1969.

“There is spruce and fir, moose and beaver, lake and mountain and whitewater enough to satisfy generations of Americans. More and more, as the northeastern U.S. develops, the Maine woods are becoming an almost unparalleled resource, both for tree production and for recreational opportunity. But who is to come forward to say that this resource must not be squandered?”

Forty years ago, the Maine Legislature came forward in a bipartisan effort and created LURC to protect the wildlife, the waterways and the beauty of the North Woods for all Mainers and all Americans. Now, it is up to the current Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and Legislature to reaffirm that role for LURC and ensure that the North Woods will not be torn apart by free-for-all development.

I strongly urge the committee to eliminate the county opt-out provision in LD 1798 and the provision allowing country commissioners to appoint themselves to LURC.

Maine citizens who share my concerns about these and other provisions in LD 1798 can voice them at a work session the committee will hold at 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 206 in the Cross Building.

Robert Kimber of Temple is a writer whose works have appeared in Audubon, DownEast, Field & Stream, and other publications. He has been hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking in the Maine woods for more than 50 years.