Last week I told you about a new task force of 20 diverse groups and individuals working on a new conservation plan. And I encouraged you to let them know your thoughts about this. Today I’m going to share my responses to their six questions. Here they are.

Question: 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?

These efforts must continue, focused on our most important lands. I would like to see even more cooperation between the state and regional and local land trusts. As you know, a lot more public land is provided by land trusts than by the state. It would be good to be more proactive, rather than reactive, in identifying our best lands for public purchase and protection.

Question: 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.

I feel that the changing climate is going to demand some focus on retaining and enhancing habitat for some of our more important and popular critters, including moose and deer. We have no legal access to moving water, and I think that needs to be a higher priority for purchases and easements. We also lack legal access sites to a lot of lakes and ponds, especially for watercraft.

Because of my illness, ALS, I have been researching accessible trails and public lands, and have been surprised that so many offer no access to disabled folks and others who are feeble of foot. In a state with so many elderly residents, it seems like this should be a high priority. We could also use a central place for information on accessible places.

Question: 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?

I think all of us who hunt and fish spend more time on public and private conservation lands than we did in the past. Especially in the north woods, I find signage to be very poor. I don’t think we provide very good directions to our public lands. I know I have driven by some and been astonished that there were no signs at all. I also think we could do a much better job of managing our public lands (and making them more accessible), but lack of staff and funding has hindered that.

Question: 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?

I would be cautious about offering financial incentives to private landowners who allow the public to enjoy their property. This could turn out to be a financial disaster, with many more private landowners demanding that kind of support from the state. I believe it’s up to each and every one of us to work with those who own the private lands we enjoy. I don’t hunt anymore on any land without permission, even if that land is not posted.

Question: Is land conservation creating any challenges (e.g., lost property tax revenue) that need to be addressed either at the state or local level?

If the governor and Legislature would provide state funding for municipalities that was promised, including state revenue sharing and school funding, there would be no issue over lost property taxes on public lands. Public lands provide many benefits for both Mainers and tourists, so we should not expect them to contribute more than they already are in property taxes.

Question: 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)?

Response: The Land for Maine’s Future program should always be well-funded — bonds are the best way to do that — and the place where we focus our effort at the state level on obtaining new property. I’ve been impressed with the funding available to land trusts for their purchases, including private contributors and foundations and nonprofits.

If you have not sent in your own answers to these questions, you can still do that at

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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