The Maine Voices column by Jerome A. Collins, “Land Trusts’ practices raise unanswered questions (Dec. 21),” is an unfortunate example of rehashed and inaccurate criticisms of land conservation debunked as recently as 2018, when Maine land trusts worked with then-Gov. LePage and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to initiate a study of “Conserved Lands Owned by Nonprofit Conservation Organizations.” The data collected was quite revealing and tells a far different story than what was portrayed in the recent opinion piece.

The Maine Legislature’s study looked closely at the issue of Maine land trusts and property taxes. What they found was just the opposite of the common assumption shared by many critics. In the real world, more than 98 percent of all lands conserved by land trusts in Maine contribute to the local property tax base, supporting municipal governments at the same tax rates as small woodlot owners, farmers, and commercial forest landowners. No matter how often the contrary claim is made, the fact is that most Maine land trust conserved lands remain on municipal property tax rolls.

The bipartisan legislative study also addressed the assertion that land trust parcels are largely unmanaged. Once again, legislators found the opposite to be true, and in a big way. The study reported that 85 percent of the acres land trusts have conserved (2.14 million acres) are productive working forestlands; another 36,000 acres are working farmlands; and more than five dozen properties provide guaranteed water access to clammers, wormers, and other marine fishermen.

Above all, what the legislative study captured was the diverse network of outdoor recreational areas that are now available to all of us, thanks to Maine’s eighty-plus land trusts. Together, these properties feature scenic landscapes, recreational trails, community parks, and outdoor experiences that rival those offered at state and federal parks, and, with few exceptions, also invite the public for free. Maine families have seen this benefit firsthand over the past two years, as they have ventured to land trust preserves in record numbers to maintain physical and mental health during the pandemic.

What have they encountered? Hikers have discovered more than 1,250 miles of trails. Those who enjoy the outdoors on a mountain bike or the back of a snowmobile have explored hundreds of miles of terrain. Families drawn to the water have visited dozens of beaches offering opportunities to swim, picnic, and observe wildlife, while kayakers, canoeists, and anglers have taken advantage of hundreds of boat launch sites across the state. And true to long tradition, hunters have found more than 90% of these lands open to sportsmen and women.

This recent attack does not represent the supportive view held by an overwhelming majority of Maine people and municipalities. What one sees most often, if taking the time to look, are land trusts, citizens, and local communities joining together to make Maine a better state in which to live, work, and raise a family. We look forward to continuing this work in the upcoming year and beyond.

— Special to the Press Herald

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