Governor Paul LePage’s attack on land trusts, including his complaint that they do not pay property taxes, turned out to be very helpful. In response to the governor’s attack, the land trust community has stepped up to provide lots of information which demonstrates all that they contribute to Mainers and our economy.
For example, taxes are being paid by land trusts on 94.5% of the conservation lands. In response to the governor’s complaints, the legislature enacted a bill asking land trusts for information and directing the agriculture conservation and forestry committee to gather information and report back to the legislature in February.
On October 12, the ACF committee conducted its first session receiving lots of great information from the conservation community including The Nature Conservancy and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, as well as others including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Maine Tourism Association. It’s going to take several columns to share with you all of the information that was provided to the committee.
Ironically, the governor refused to send anyone to participate in the meeting and collection of information.
One problem was raised by the land trust community. The governor, in issuing the information request to land trusts, vastly increased what the legislature asked for, including very confusing and sometimes impossible to answer questions. The ACF committee decided to send the governor a letter complaining about this and asking that it be straightened out.
Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy and Jeff Romano of Maine Coast Heritage Trust presented the committee with lots of great information that the Maine Land Trust Network collected in a survey of land trusts. And even I was surprised by how much these trusts are providing to us and our economy.
For example they provide 1260 miles of hiking and walking trails, 270 miles of mountain biking trails, 570 miles of snowmobile trails, and 345 miles of ATV trails. They provide us with 203 boat launch sites, 62 on the coast and 141 in freshwater along with 210 beaches and swimming areas. Those of us who hunt have to appreciate that land trusts provide more than 2.34 million acres for us to hunt on – that’s more than 90% of all the acres conserved by land trusts.
Toward the end of the committee’s meeting, members of the public were invited to speak. So of course I had to get up and say a few things.
I told the committee that my wife Linda and I, in our weekly travel columns, often include information about trails and conservation lands owned by local land trusts. The previous week we had been in Lubec and hiked two spectacular oceanside trails provided by the Maine Coast Heritage trust. I noted that access to one of those trailheads was across a beautiful piece of privately owned land, a good example of how land trusts work with private landowners.
We also have a camp in the north woods on Sourdnahunk Lake. The Nature Conservancy purchased an easement on the undeveloped lands surrounding the lake. And that actually increased the value of our camp. I think people may be unaware that conservation lands actually increase the value of privately owned lands nearby.
I told the committee that they were sitting 20 minutes from the spectacular 6000 acres of the Kennebec Highlands where I hunt and fish a lot. The Highlands are state lands but they are managed by a local conservation group.
I also reminded the committee that we have no legal access to moving water in Maine, our brooks streams and rivers, so we depend on access provided by private landowners, land trusts, and state agencies.
I said the governor was way off base in his criticism of land trusts and that I hoped the information gathered by the committee will find its way into our newspapers and TV news shows so that everyone can appreciate what these land trusts and conservation lands do to enhance our lives and our economy.
I finished by reminding them that there are no taxes paid on state owned lands and we often have to pay to access those lands even though we own them. I suggested that committee might want to recommend that state lands be transferred to land trusts so we can access them for free and perhaps collect taxes on them.
That got a good laugh from committee members and the audience.
PHOTO: Maine Coast Heritage Trust trail in Cutler.