A message from Maine’s wood frogs

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It is that time of year again. The snow has melted, the air is warmer, and the spring peepers and wood frogs have begun their raucous calling.

These boisterous frogs and the vernal pools they inhabit are a sure sign of spring, and part of what makes Maine’s wildlife, woods and waters so special and beloved by all of us.

Maine’s environment is central to our economy and our way of life. Protecting it is an investment in our families, our communities, and our future prosperity. That’s why it is so distressing and disappointing to see the many short-sighted proposals being considered by the Legislature that would threaten our natural resources and the core values we hold so dear.

There is a lesson to be learned from those little frogs and the places they call home. Vernal pools are a nursery, a food source, and a resting area for many important species. From salamanders to deer and frogs to bear, vernal pools play a critical role in the circle of woodland life. These pools come and go throughout the year, but they are some of the most important aquatic habitats in Maine.

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Yet lawmakers are debating several proposals that would put Maine’s vernal pools, the frogs that live there, and the circle of life they support at great risk.

Like many other bills that are threatening Maine’s natural resources this year, the opposition to vernal pool protection seems to rely on old-school logic that says we have to choose between a clean and healthy environment and good jobs.

It is time to put that false choice to rest once and for all.

We know from economic data, and from the experiences we all have living and working here in Maine, that nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Maine’s current policies that protect our water, land and wildlife offer a balanced, common-sense approach forged by Maine lawmakers, scientists and stakeholders during the course of several decades.

In the late 1980s, the Maine Legislature designated a wide range of important natural resources as being particularly important to our quality of life and our economic prosperity. They designated these special places as “significant wildlife habitat” and developed policies that would most efficiently identify and protect these key areas, including vernal pools, without overburdening landowners.

The laws in place passed overwhelmingly and they are working. Harm has been minimized and not one permit to build near a significant vernal pool has been denied since the protections went into effect.

Since 2007, research has shown that only 20 percent of vernal pools meet the biological threshold to require permits. In this same four years there have been more than 13,500 housing starts statewide, but less than 1 percent have needed a permit. And of the 75 permits that have been issued, 63 were issued in 14 days — a speedy turnaround by any standard.

The governor has stated that he wants environmental standards that are based on sound-science, support our economy, and are administered fairly and efficiently. Clearly, Maine’s efforts to protect our very best wildlife habitat, including our most significant vernal pools, are an excellent example of environmental standards at their best. Basing decisions on good science and good economics is reasonable, responsible and smart, and it’s the foundation for building good jobs and a high quality of life for our children and grandchildren.

It’s time to end the scare tactics, the misinformation, and the fretting and fussing over mud puddles and skidder tracks. No one would disagree that we need to create more good jobs and opportunities for Maine businesses to grow and prosper. But eliminating protections for our best vernal pools will do nothing to get us there.

Maine’s environment is what sets the state apart — it’s our biggest competitive advantage. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and our ears open to the rowdy little frogs that are sending us a message loud and clear from Maine’s woods and waters: a clean environment, healthy people and wildlife, vibrant communities, and a strong and growing economy all go hand in hand — we don’t have to choose one over the other.

Lynne Lewis is a professor of economics at Bates College.

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