Lack of transparency, unfair special treatment and undermining of local control are all part of the Land for Maine’s Future bills – L.D. 687, L.D. 983 and L.D. 1702 – which have been heard by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, with no work sessions yet held, no votes taken, both to happen soon.

Knight’s Pond is a popular 300-acre Land for Maine’s Future preserve in Cumberland. Mainers who favor local control over whether to allow hunting, fishing and trapping on properties under consideration for conservation are urged to contact the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

Even if we’re not troubled by the $140 million tax burden of the latest bill (L.D. 1702), it, like the other two, has a largely concealed critical requirement. It’s found deep in the fine print (nine pages long) and is shown here.

“Hunting, fishing, trapping and public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds, except to the extent of applicable state, local or federal laws, rules and regulations and except for working waterfront projects and farmland protection projects.”

Hunting, fishing and trapping are coupled with public access but are very different concepts. “Public” means everyone and is a given with conserved land; the three activities mean only those, and they must be allowed on “land acquired with bond proceeds,” even though all Mainers – not just those who engage in the above activities – must borrow LMF funds and repay it with interest through their taxes.

The special treatment accorded one group of citizens above all others raises questions. Why are some interests mandated while others are not? Since all Mainers will be financially obligated if the bond is approved, why isn’t there a level playing field for all activities, not just the elevation of a select few?

The concealed requirement is found nowhere else – not in the bill’s summary, not on the ballot that Mainers will see if the bond comes to a vote. So unless people accidentally come across it, transparency is undermined and we are deprived of some very basic information that we should know before we agree to borrow a very large amount of money.

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Finally, there is another consequence of the hidden language – it undermines the concept of local control, a core value that most of us regard as a tradition to be maintained, not weakened or sidetracked. It’s the role most often involved in deciding what activities are appropriate to protect not only conserved land but also the safety of the people who use it.  The special treatment accorded in the language of LMF legislation severely restricts the freedom of choice that local land managers need to determine what’s best for the properties in their care.

For instance, if a child or family pet is injured in a trap on conservation land, managers accepting LMF monies have no immediate way to stop this activity, even temporarily. In another example, if a visitor or dog is attacked by hunting hounds in pursuit of prey, what power do trust managers have to prevent a similar incident without going through a lengthy ordinance approval process that may or may not be successful?

So how do we fix what’s flawed? Consider the following amended language:

Hunting, fishing, trapping and Public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds, except to the extent of applicable state, local or federal laws, rules and regulations and except for working waterfront projects and farmland protection projects.”

Contrary perhaps to appearance, this version doesn’t take away anything. Instead, here’s what it adds:

A return to transparency – no hidden clauses.

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• An end to the special treatment of mandated activities but consideration for all.

• Restoration to local managers of the full range of options to protect conserved land.

There is, however, one thing that the suggested amendment does not do:

It does not ban hunting, fishing or trapping on conserved land. Such activities could be allowed at the local level on an individual basis – which, by the way, has historically been the case. No mandated activities should be attached to the public funding process, because they work against the true concept of conservation and interfere with the responsibilities and the flexibility that comprise good stewardship.

If you agree, contact the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee members (especially if your legislator is one of them) and suggest they consider the amended language proposed here. There’s still enough time to make a difference. The committee can be contacted at legislature.maine.gov/committee/#Committees/AFA.


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