AUGUSTA — A coalition of organizations with ties to Maine’s “outdoor economy” is recommending a $75 million bond package for the Land for Maine’s Future program as well as state-owned parks and lands.

After meeting for more than six months, the 20 members of the Task Force to Shape the Next Generation of Maine Land Conservation released a list this month of draft recommendations for public review. Once finalized, the recommendations will be sent by the nongovernmental task force to the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills next month as lawmakers begin developing a new two-year budget plus any bond proposals to send to voters.

The task force included representatives of a diverse set of organizations, ranging from conservation groups such as Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Maine Farmland Trust to ATV Maine, the Maine Tourism Association and the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.

Co-chairman David Trahan, who is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said there were no limits or preset outcomes for the diverse group as it discussed conservation challenges and opportunities in Maine.

“We all came from different perspectives but came to the same place at the end, that conservation is a good thing and that Maine people support it,” said Trahan, a former state lawmaker.

A draft report from the task includes these recommendations:

A $10 million bond proposal to finance infrastructure improvement and capital projects at Maine’s state parks.

Hire additional recreation management staff for Maine’s public lands.

A $65 million bond proposal to replenish the coffers of the Land for Maine’s Future program, which provides matching funding to conserve working forests, coastal areas, farms and working waterfronts.

Change Land for Maine’s Future criteria to prioritize “community projects” that conserve lands located near where people live and/or work as well as areas of cultural significance to Maine’s American Indian tribes.

Strengthen state-run landowner relations programs, including hiring five additional deputy wardens to work with landowners that allow public recreation on their properties.

Encourage land trusts to work with communities to cushion financial impacts of removing land from the tax rolls.

“There is a lesson to be learned here that with all of the political noise we hear every day, people with diverse political positions can come together and have a good conversation,” Trahan said in an interview.

Mills, a Democrat, is expected to have a much friendlier disposition toward land conservation than did Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Throughout his tenure, LePage downplayed or dismissed the economic importance of preserving land in Maine while accusing conservationists of using taxpayer-backed LMF funds to benefit wealthy landowners. LePage also tried repeatedly – but unsuccessfully – to change state law to allow towns to collect property taxes from nonprofit conservation organizations.

Mills is expected to announce her nominee for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry later this week. In a speech to the 78th annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta on Tuesday, Mills told the crowd that she intends to nominate a commissioner who will work with bureau chiefs and other staffers to represent the diverse interests of Maine’s farming, forestry and conservation communities.

“In no way will I allow state government to neglect our stewardship of public lands, or fall down on our responsibility to market and support our commodities to the fullest extent, or fail to manage our forests economically, appropriately and responsibly,” Mills said.

Mills also reiterated her strong support for the LMF program on Tuesday.

“I think they’ve been somewhat neglected in recent years,” Mills said after her trade show speech. “I hope to reinvigorate that program and to help them focus as well on waterfront properties. They are allowed, and I would encourage them to support … getting more easements on waterfront properties to help preserve our working waterfronts.”

The Task Force to Shape the Next Generation of Maine Land Conservation is requesting public feedback on the recommendations through Jan. 23 before finalizing the report. To read the full report or to comment, go to: www.maineconservationtaskforce.com/

 

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