The disaster in Texas has put the threats from climate change in the headlines, but Mainers need not look that far for their evidence. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, threatening an ecosystem that contributes $600 million to our economy annually. Last summer, every Maine county experienced drought, and the Maine Forest Service put out a record 1,100 fires. Climate change threatens our health and safety, our food supply, our physical infrastructure and our economy. We must act now.

Wes Doane of Cape Elizabeth buries his son Gus, 5, in the sand during a visit to Higgins Beach last August. To enhance public access to the Scarborough beach, the Land for Maine’s Future Board supported the acquisition of 1.5 acres of land in 2010. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Among President Biden’s most visionary goals is conserving 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by the year 2030.  This is the minimum amount that scientists tell us is needed to slow the loss of natural buffer against the impacts of climate change. Here at home, Maine’s Climate Action Plan, developed by a 39-member Maine Climate Council with input from thousands of Mainers over 14 months, sets the same goal.

Why is saving our lands and waters so urgent? There are many reasons. First is the need to absorb and store carbon pollution, which forests, soils and coastal ecosystems do with great efficiency. Our forest alone captures 60 percent of Maine’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions, even as we lose an estimated 10,000 acres of forestland per year to development and sprawl.

Next is the imperative to protect Earth’s biodiversity. Intact ecosystems are the foundation of all life on Earth. They clean the air and water on which all life depends, and are critical for food production. Yet, in just one example, the North American bird population has plummeted in the last 50 years, with habitat loss a major factor. Up to two-thirds of Maine’s plants and animals are vulnerable to climate change.

Fortunately, we have the tools at hand to act swiftly and effectively in these matters. Since 1987 the Land for Maine’s Future program has helped protect more than 600,000 acres all across the state, safeguarding critical wildlife habitat and ensuring permanent public access. Land for Maine’s Future has saved a wide variety of landscapes, including 333,000 acres of private, working forest, 41 farms of almost 10,000 acres, and 26 commercial working waterfront properties along the coast. Today Land for Maine’s Future is virtually out of funds, at the very moment when the COVID-19 pandemic creates unprecedented demand for both Maine real estate and outdoor recreation access.

Congress has recognized the increased demand for recreational access by fully and permanently funding the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which invests royalties from offshore drilling and funds the Forest Legacy program. This could bring millions per year to conserve Maine’s working forests, help stabilize our forest products industry and protect our land and water habitat.

The pandemic reminds us of the physical and mental health benefits of time spent out-of-doors, and has placed extraordinary pressure on existing resources. Maine stands to draw $5 million per year from the Land and Water Conservation Fund stateside program to fund local outdoor recreation infrastructure, including local parks, playgrounds and ball fields, as well as long-delayed investment in our state parks.

We do not all have the same access to nature’s benefits. Low-income communities, especially communities of color, are far less likely to have access to close-to-home parks and trails, and to the fresh air, clean water and the cooling shade that trees provide. This is especially true for non-white parents and children. All children need access to nature to thrive. As we work to conserve 30 percent of Maine’s land and waters, and to create outdoor recreation opportunities, we must ensure that everyone benefits.

Let’s act boldly to fight climate change. Let’s bring much-needed federal Land and Water Conservation funds to Maine, invest in our local communities, improve our quality of life, protect our healthy ecosystems, support our forestry, agriculture, marine and tourism industries and advance the well-being of all Mainers. Let’s pass a bond to reinvest in Land for Maine’s Future and our well-loved state parks.

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