Despite Governor LePage’s ugly language and complaints about the Land for Maine’s Future Program and its Board, which he called corrupt, the Governor’s aide, Jonathon LaBonte, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Analysis, has issued a very favorable report on the program. The report was ordered up by the Governor and is now available on the LMF website.
Several items in the report jumped out at me. First, the terms of all but one LMF Commissioner are expired or will expire at the end of January, 2016. Ben Emory’s term expired on November 13, 2014, and Bill Vail’s on November 13, 2015. The terms of Jim Gorman and Jim Norris will expire on January 31, 2016. Given that the Governor is refusing to reappoint lots of folks serving on boards like this, or appoint new members to fill vacancies, we’re lucky that LMF Commissioners continue to serve until reappointed or replaced. Please join me in urging Ben, Bill, and the two Jims to continue serving.
The Governor has repeatedly said that LMF conservation lands benefit only the rich (in one recent letter to legislators he charged them with only being interested in “preserving scenic views for wealthy Mainers”), it’s particularly interesting to read this in the LMF report, titled “Constituencies Served”:
The Land for Maine’s Program serves a wide range of constituencies. Along with the general public, the program has specific constituencies that include: landowners, woodland owners, farmers, commercial fishermen, and other private citizens; hunters, anglers, boaters, motorized and nonmotorized outdoor recreation enthusiasts and other recreationists; guides, outfitters, trappers and a wide range of other citizens working in the tourism industry whose livelihood benefits from access to conserved land; local land trusts and nonprofit conservation organizations; city, town, and county governments, and state agencies.
Wow! Don’t we wish we were all wealthy!
While the current LMF program allocates funds to a number of specific projects including farmland, working waterfronts, water access, and deer wintering areas, in addition to its larger focus on conservation and recreation, it’s good to remind ourselves of the original purpose, spelled out in the first $35 million LMF bond approved by Mainers in 1987: To purchase lands of state significance for “recreation, hunting and fishing, conservation, wildlife habitat, vital ecological functions, and scenic beauty of the state, as the public’s trustee (with a) responsibility and duty… to assure that this Maine heritage is passed on to future generations.”
More from the Report
I took special note of the “Emerging Issues” identified by the LMF Board through multiple workshops during the summer. Here’s how those issues are described in the report:
- Improving technology so the program can provide more data and information to Commissioners and the public.
- Assessment of scoring & project evaluation. A workgroup on scoring has developed recommendations for the full LMF Board, and action on that is pending. While the workgroup spent significant time attempting to simplify the scoring process, to ease the burden on the board, staff and the applicant community, a broader issue likely needs to be addressed and that is to define the state’s conservation strategy and priorities.
- Improve public awareness and use of public lands acquired with LMF money. While there is a requirement for sign posting at LMF supported lands, and the state does maintain a GIS portal to identify project locations, these are not successful strategies to raise public awareness and encourage public use of these lands in a 21st century world.
Setting priorities for state spending on conservation programs, public lands, parks, and wildlife management areas, has been identified for years as a problem throughout state government. The Public Lands Commission, which recently issued its final report, spent quite a bit of time discussing the lack of signage and other needs on our public lands, and offered a recommendation to improve that by prioritizing the most important improvements on our public lands each year.
Senator Tom Saviello
Senator Tom Saviello of Wilton recently discussed the LMF program on the Ric Tyler and George Hale morning show. He did a great job of explaining some key issues. You can listen to that show here.