Credit: George Danby

In Maine, our natural resources are the foundation of our culture, our heritage, and passion — and for many of us, the reason for choosing to live here. Likewise, the land base that supports our farming and fishing industries brings innumerable benefits to our everyday lives and our economy.

For over 30 years, the Land for Maine’s Future Program has ensured that those who live in and visit Maine will always be able to enjoy the outdoors and to maintain those opportunities, LMF is more critical than ever.

Currently, there is a bond proposal before the Legislature that will provide even more opportunities to protect and enjoy Maine’s outdoor heritage. LMF is the state’s primary funding vehicle for conserving land for its natural and recreational value, protecting farmland, working forestland, and our working waterfronts.

We are fortunate to have so many champions for LMF, including Gov. Janet Mills, who understand how important this program is to the people of Maine and who are committed to ensuring there are funds available for LMF to continue protecting and conserving lands to safeguard recreational and working traditions. These lands serve as the foundation for our natural-resource based economy and grow forests, fiber, and food for our people.

A bond will help build on LMF’s longstanding record of protecting Maine’s natural treasures, providing increasing opportunities to fish, hunt, wildlife watch, hike, snowmobile, ride ATVs, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, and provide access to Maine’s bays, lakes, rivers, and ponds.

For 33 years, Mainers have overwhelmingly voted to fund this program again and again. LMF utilized the funds to complete projects in all of Maine’s 16 counties, including protecting: 59 water access sites; 41 farms totaling more than 9,755 acres; 333,425 acres of working forestlands; 25 commercial working waterfront properties; more than 1,200 miles of shorelands; 58 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails; and over 600,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands.

For the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the funding proposed in this bill is crucial to conserve productive land and will enable working farms, working forests, and our State Parks and Public Lands to survive and thrive. In addition to providing support for LMF, the bond bill includes funding to address infrastructure needs in our State Parks, which had just under 3 million visitors in 2019, and each year contributes an estimated $100 million to our state’s economy. Because our parks are so popular, they are showing the signs of that affection and have a backlog of critically needed maintenance.

For the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, LMF is critical to providing outdoor opportunities, as funds from LMF have protected over 22,000 acres for wildlife and fisheries habitat, creating or adding land to 24 different Wildlife Management areas. LMF funds were essential in establishing 21 water access sites and has provided funds that allowed MDIFW to work with conservation partners like local land trusts to protect sites like the Mount Agamenticus and Jamie’s Pond Wildlife Management Areas, providing thousands of acres for outdoor recreation near Maine’s population centers.

For the Department of Marine Resources, LMF funds protect vital access to Maine’s waterfront for commercial fishing and aquaculture operations. Maine’s coastline is facing continued development pressure, which can be incompatible with our marine economy. But LMF funds, provided through the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program, have ensured access for fishermen and aquaculturists from York to Eastport. Access, and the significant economic opportunity it represents, has been protected for 1,200 Maine fishing families at ten co-ops, nine private buying stations, three municipal wharves, and three public trust parcels.

We hope the Legislature can reach agreement on and pass a bond so the people of Maine will have an opportunity to vote and approve additional funding for LMF. It would provide critical funding to the LMF program, as well as additional funding to maintain our parks, public lands, and historic sites. These funds would also have the potential to go even further as matching funds are available from additional private and public contributions.

The LMF program has not been allocated any new funding since 2012, and though some opportunities perhaps were lost, many more lie ahead.

The LMF Program has a long line of successes, yet there is still so much to do. It is why, as commissioners, we fully endorse a bond so that not only will Maine continue to exemplify the way life should be, but our heritage will endure for generations to come. Your support for the LMF Program will help make this a reality.

Amanda Beal is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Judy Camuso is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. Patrick Keliher is commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.