The state has acquired a 21,000 acre easement in and around Grand Lake Stream, preserving the land in perpetuity and preventing it from being developed. Credit: Courtesy of Downeast Lakes Land Trust

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Rob Bryan of Harpswell is a board member of New England Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Jeff McEvoy is the owner of Weatherby’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream and a Master Maine Guide.

Mainers are lucky to have many places to hunt and fish, though some spots are more coveted than others and some shall remain a secret. The Grand Lake Stream region has some of the best landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass fishing in the state, along with excellent hunting for grouse, woodcock, deer, and other game species. The scenery is stunning and the traditional recreation opportunities are top-notch largely because thousands of acres of upland forest and many miles of lake and stream shoreline have been protected, in part thanks to the Land for Maine’s Future program.

In the 1990s, a paper company that owned land on Grand Lake Stream proposed a subdivision at one of the most popular areas to fish in Maine. The community rallied and raised funds from Land for Maine’s Future and other sources to protect the land. As timber companies began selling off more land, Land for Maine’s Future and other partners helped protect additional lake frontage and upland forest, now known as the Downeast Lakes Community Forest. Public access to the shorelines and forest backcountry is guaranteed in perpetuity. Tree-lined shores keep the water clear and cool, perfect for salmon and brook trout, and the forests provide habitat for species like moose, black bear and deer along with myriad other non-game species.

Protecting forests, streams and lakes also benefits local businesses, like Weatherby’s Lodge, which is a premier destination in Down East Maine for hunters and anglers. Small, rural businesses like Weatherby’s and independent guides and outfitters rely on Maine’s natural beauty, abundant fish and wildlife populations, and access to these areas to attract visitors from around the world. It’s why people return year after year. The protected forests also continue to support the local forest products economy and jobs through sustainable forest management.

Since 1989, Land for Maine’s Future has helped protect thousands of acres and provide access for hunters, anglers, and other recreational users in every Maine county. Land for Maine’s Future has also supported working farms and working waterfront access for commercial fishing operations. As fans of Land for Maine’s Future, we are concerned that Maine people haven’t been given a chance to vote for a new Land for Maine’s Future bond in eight years. The program has run out of money and needs to be replenished.

It’s not a given that remote places in Maine will stay the same forever. Development, climate change and pollution threaten the health of Maine’s rivers and woods. Land preservation is one common sense way of sequestering carbon pollution and reducing our climate impact while also protecting our outdoor heritage and supporting the outdoor economy.

This month, Congress showed that funding conservation is a bipartisan issue and that supporting outdoor access is in-step with helping the country recover from the pandemic. On August 4, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law, providing $900 million annually for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, plus additional resources for national parks, with full support from Maine’s congressional delegation.

The Maine Legislature should do the same by supporting a long-overdue Land for Maine’s Future bond. When the Legislature returns, in the weeks ahead or in early 2021, lawmakers should endorse a new Land for Maine’s Future bond that can be used as matching dollars for federal funds, which would further conservation investments and help protect the natural character of Maine. It’s critical that we have matching funds to access federal conservation dollars.

For the sake of our shared pastimes and rural businesses, Maine needs to continue to invest in protecting its land and waters. The state has many competing funding needs, but we believe that restoring funding for Land for Maine’s Future remains an important priority and investment in Maine’s future.