Down East 2013 ©
The state’s primary vehicle for buying conservation lands and easements, the Land for Maine’s Future Fund, is broke. To make matters worse, federal conservation dollars that have fueled much of our state’s two decades of conservation projects are scheduled for significant reductions over the next several years.
That makes the decision of Maine’s voters on an LMF bond issue on the November 2 ballot particularly important.
Question 3 includes $6.5 million for LMF (including 10 percent for water access), $1,750,000 for working waterfront projects, $1 million for farmland conservation, and $500,000 for state parks and other land managed by the Department of Conservation.
You should be aware that a good chunk of our economy is served by the lands and projects funded by this bond. It’s all about the economy this year, and this bond issue is critical to that economy.
Here’s why it’s important to me:
A six-year-old boy sits in the front seat of the old aluminum canoe and casts a jig toward shore, working it back as skillfully as a professional bass angler, while his grandfather watches with a mixture of love, pride, and anticipation.
There! An eager smallmouth grabs the jig, the boy lifts the rod, the fish is on, the fish is up and out of the water!
“That’s a huge fish, Addison!” I exclaim. His smile tells me that the public purchase of the land surrounding this remote pond in the Kennebec Highlands was a very wise decision.
The Highlands is now not only a place where we shared a special time, but an important part of grandson Addison Mellor’s outdoor heritage, guaranteed to deliver the same experiences to grandsons and grandfathers into the future.
The pond sits in the midst of an astonishing 6,000-acre tract of mountains, blueberry barrens, remote ponds full of bass and brook trout, birds, beaver, and even bears, and trails for ATVs, snowmobiles, hikers, and bikers, all just fifteen miles from the state Capitol, purchased with money from the Land for Maine’s Future Fund.
Typical for LMF purchases, the project was led by a land trust, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which raised the matching funds from federal and private sources. Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands now owns and manages the Highlands.
Later that morning, Addison and I watch an osprey dive into the pond for its lunch, all the entertainment we need after a special morning when the catching was as good as the fishing.
I once hunted and fished this area when it was privately owned, and saw no need for it to be purchased by the public. But the days when we enjoyed unfettered access to private land in Maine are over.
For the last decade, an epidemic of posted signs has squeezed sportsmen into smaller and smaller parcels. Recreational leasing of private lands has also established a foothold in Maine, and will expand as it has in every other state. Public lands will be increasingly important if Mainers without money – and that’s most of us – are to have places to hunt and fish.
As an avid angler, I’m also well aware that we have no rights of access to moving water: rivers, streams, and brooks. Ten percent of LMF’s money is dedicated to water access, and almost every LMF project includes frontage on some body of water.
Collectively, we’ve been smart to support the LMF program and to aggressively access federal funds, including Forest Legacy and Land and Water Conservation, to protect wildlife habitat and secure rights of access. The nonprofit community, led by the Nature Conservancy, has played a huge role in this conservation era in Maine, and I’m proud of the supporting role sportsmen have played.
A week after I fished with Addison, wife Linda and I were birding on the sandbar in South Lubec, another fabulous LMF purchase led by TNC. This place is very special to me because my mom grew up within sight of it. It may be the best place in Maine to see migrating shore birds.
As a group of Semipalmated Sandpipers sat down in front of us, I thanked God that this gorgeous place – a place that defines our state and makes it special – will be protected and handed on to future generations.