While Maine is rightfully proud of our land conservation initiatives in the past, it is time to look ahead to the next generation of land conservation in our state. I am very pleased that a new task force of 20 diverse groups and individuals is now working on a new conservation plan. And it’s time for you to let them know your thoughts about this.

I know many of the members of the task force and I can tell you it’s an impressive group, starting with the chairman, David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Tim Glidden of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. From the Maine Professional Guides Association to Coastal Enterprises Inc. to Maine Farmland Trust to the Maine Tourism Association and Grow Smart Maine, these folks bring a lot of experience to the table.

The task force has embraced an ambitious agenda, including the following issues: identifying land conservation initiatives that reflect the evolving priorities of Maine people and communities; improving public access to existing conservation lands; enhancing collaboration between economic development organizations, recreational groups, community groups, public health advocates, land trusts, municipalities, businesses and other civic organizations; maximizing ways in which land and water conservation activities benefit local and regional economies; and proposing funding, strategies and policy options to support the task force’s recommendations.

The task force plans to deliver a report to our new governor and Legislature early next year. They’ll be meeting throughout November and December to work on the plan, and all their meetings are open to the public, if you’d like to attend and get more involved in this important project. Their next meeting is Nov. 1, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Augusta office of the Sportsman’s Alliance.

Today I’m going to share with you questions they have posed, hoping you will join me in submitting your responses to the task force, which you can do at their website, www.maineconservationtaskforce.com.

Here are the questions:

1. Maine, through a strong combination of public and private initiatives, has achieved great success in conserving lands across the state over the past generation. Would you like to see these efforts continue? Or have we already conserved enough land?

2. What are your priorities and vision for future land conservation efforts? Consider: particular geographies or regions, lands that meet certain needs (e.g., recreation, agriculture, wildlife habitat, etc.); lands that can be more inclusive and accessible, particularly to youth, the disabled, new Mainers, people of color, seniors, and others; lands that address local community needs; lands close to where you live and work in the more remote reaches of Maine.

3. What are your experiences utilizing public and private conservation lands? Do they meet your needs? Are they being well-managed? What barriers are preventing you or others in your community from accessing them?

4. Few other states demonstrate the breadth of private land stewardship that is found in Maine including free public recreational access. Should incentives be considered to encourage and reward landowners for engaging in sustainable land management and providing public access?

5. Is land conservation creating any challenges (eg. Lost property tax revenue) that need to be addressed either at the state or local level?

6. Are you supportive of providing additional public funding for land conservation in the future? If so, should it be in the form of a new Land for Maine’s Future bond issue or do you have other ideas (other states use a variety of taxes and fees)?

Several land trusts are on the task force, a recognition of their importance in conserving and making accessible many of Maine’s very best places. It’s important to recognize them, while we celebrate our achievements at the state level. Any new plan and initiative must include all of our wonderful local and regional land trusts.

Next week I will share with you my responses to the questions posed by the task force, but please don’t wait for that before submitting your own responses. They need to hear from you now.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected] com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www. georgesmithmaine. com.

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