Eric Martin, 25, of Orono, and Morgan Cushing, 23, of Glenburn, fish from their canoe in 2017 on Branch Lake in Ellsworth. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

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Supporting the Land for Maine’s Future program is one of the best things that we can do for our environment, for our economy and for people.

Established in 1987 by a vote of the Maine people, LMF ensures that during a time of rapid development and change, special parts of our state are protected for public access. The program invests to protect farmland, docks and working waterfronts, deer yards and municipal parks.

LMF has conserved more than 600,000 acres of land and other valuable resources, including access to 62 water sites, 41 farms, 26 commercial working waterfront properties and 1,272 miles of shore. The program has also partnered with private landowners to protect 333,000 acres.

Last week Gov. Janet Mills released a proposal to bond $140 million. Included in her plan is $40 million for LMF, which is running out of money to continue its mission. It’s a worthy inclusion.

Voters love the Land for Maine’s Future program. They have supported this investment every time it’s made it to the ballot, including 1987, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

In the real world, support for LMF is broad and includes Republicans, Democrats and independents. The Legislature, however, is a different story.

In recent years, Republicans in Augusta have stuck together to block efforts to support LMF. For voters to get their say on new state borrowing, two-thirds of the Legislature has to agree to put the question on the ballot.

In 2019, Mills included $65 million in her borrowing proposal for the land conservation program. Republicans rejected that proposal during a special session that summer, agreeing only to borrow to fund transportation projects.

Now they have an opportunity to reconsider.

In announcing the program, Mills also honored George Smith, a former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine guide and outdoorsman, and prolific columnist and author. Smith, who wrote a column for the Bangor Daily News, died in February after a four-year battle with ALS.

“As we push full speed ahead on our economic recovery, now is the time to conserve in perpetuity the natural resources that form the backbone of our rural economy. In honor of George Smith, a friend to me and a friend to Maine, we are including in our bond package sufficient funds to carry on his beloved program to sustain our heritage — our farms, forests and working waterfronts, saving them from development and making sure they are forever available to fishermen, families and farmers of Maine,” Mills said in a press release on May 7.

Smith was a longtime – and effective – advocate for the Land for Maine’s Future, and passage of this bond would be another way to pay respect for his contributions to the state.

Land for Maine’s Future is about many things – conservation, the environment, the economy. But most importantly it’s about people.

Tim Glidden, the president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and a member of a broad coalition of organizations that support LMF, made that important point in advocating for the program.

“This past year record numbers of families headed outdoors seeking healthy activity at our State Parks, land trust preserves, and other conserved lands. Now real estate markets are accelerating, threatening public access to Maine woods and waters across the state.”

For the first time in almost a decade, he said, we have a chance to provide the funding “needed to secure public access to the outdoors for Mainers everywhere.”

Winning two-thirds support in the Legislature for any initiative is a challenge. We live in a time of extreme partisanship and when the differences between the two major political parties are greater than ever before.

The Land for Maine’s Future Program is popular, successful and touches every part of the state. If approved by the Legislature, there’s no question in my mind that voters will endorse this smart, forward-thinking investment.

Votes deserve the chance to be heard. Republican legislators shouldn’t stand in the way.

David Farmer, Opinion columnist

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist....