PORTLAND – With a new Legislature comes new blood and a new perspective, and that can be a good thing.

Our democracy works best when we put lots of ideas on the table and sort through them carefully and methodically as we develop policies that can work for everyone.

But sometimes the pendulum of change swings so far that we end up wasting significant time and resources rehashing issues for which common-sense solutions have already been found.

A case in point is the current proposal to significantly shrink wildlife habitat zones for vernal pools, shorebird, wading bird and waterfowl habitat.

More than 10 years ago, Maine lawmakers asked scientists and stakeholders to work together to craft rules for land development in Maine’s most valuable wildlife territory, also known as Significant Wildlife Habitat.

Working groups were formed and the process included field studies, scientific literature reviews, and analysis of aerial photographs from across the state.

It was an exhaustive effort and lawmakers went over the recommendations with a fine-tooth comb.

As a result of that careful process, the rules were passed almost unanimously by the full Legislature. The end product is a fair and flexible system that protects our most important areas without overburdening landowners.

The land designated as Significant Wildlife Habitat is the “cream of the crop” and represents only a fraction of the total acreage of these habitat types across the state — 181 areas for shorebirds, less than 25 percent of all vernal pools, and about 38 percent of wetlands in organized towns.

These lands are critical for the survival of many species and play a central role in the entire Maine ecosystem.

Studies document that shorebirds are particularly sensitive to human disturbance when nesting.

Development too close to sensitive waterfowl and wading bird nesting, feeding, and breeding areas puts these species at risk because most waterfowl species nest on the ground, then move their young to open water after they hatch.

Vernal pools are wet areas isolated from streams and are subject to periodic drying.

Over half of the state’s amphibian, turtle and snake species visit vernal pool habitat during their life cycle. Vernal pools also offer very rich feeding grounds for a wide variety of larger animals, like raccoon, fox, deer and bear.

Significant Wildlife Habitat protections work — for Maine people, for Maine businesses and for Maine’s wildlife.

The rules are not stopping development, but rather assuring that it proceeds in a way that protects some of our most important wildlife resources.

Since 2006, there have been 220 Natural Resources Protection Act permit applications where Significant Wildlife Habitat was a factor.

Of the 220 permit applications, all but four were approved. Significant Wildlife Habitat protections are not stopping development.

The bottom line is that the current 250-foot habitat zone is already a compromise, designed to capture much of the habitat needs for these wildlife species, but by no means capturing the entire territory they use for breeding, feeding, or nesting.

There is little scientific evidence supporting a 75-foot zone as adequate to protect the wildlife residing in Significant Wildlife Habitats. The vast majority of studies support protection areas much larger than 250 feet.

The habitat zone is not a “no-build” zone. The zone simply triggers a dialogue between landowners and the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure development minimizes harm.

As a Realtor, former geologist, longtime naturalist and investor here in Maine, I can say with surety that our economy and our local communities depend on strong protections for our water, land and wildlife.

I urge the Legislature to once again listen to the science, understand how important these critical protections are, and reject the proposals that would put our Significant Wildlife Habitat at risk.

We have already had this discussion. Let’s get back to the business of tackling the problems we haven’t already successfully solved.

– Special to The Press Herald