Through a spokesperson, Gov. LePage last week announced to the Land for Maine’s Future board of directors that he is “not interested in selling more bonds at this time.”
This news was very hard to hear in our Sebago Lake-area communities. We had taken the governor at his word in June 2013 when, after delaying LMF bond funds approved by voters in 2010 and 2012 over an unrelated political issue, he finally said in a written statement: “As a measure of good faith, I am hereby directing the State Treasurer to begin to prepare those bonds for my signature on an expedited basis.”
The governor’s latest delay – again, over an unrelated political issue – jeopardizes more than 36 active projects representing 50,000 acres of conservation, recreation, forest and agricultural land in more than three dozen communities and 13 counties across the state.
One of those is our community’s Crooked River Forests Project, which will protect 791 acres of privately owned forestland and 3.5 miles of the Crooked River in Harrison and Otisfield.
Maybe you haven’t heard of the Crooked River or Harrison or Otisfield. Well, the Crooked River is the largest tributary into Sebago Lake, Maine’s second largest lake and the primary source of clean drinking water for 200,000 people who live or work in 11 communities in the Portland area.
The Crooked River is also critical to the rural economies of our local communities to the north and south of Sebago Lake. Tourism and fishing are the largest drivers of economic activity. Last year, the area saw 35,000 angler trips.
One of the reasons for all of those fishing trips to the Sebago Lake area is our world-renowned, indigenous landlocked salmon population. The 3.5 miles of the Crooked River protected by this project contain twists, turns and oxbows that provide important spawning and juvenile habitat for those salmon.
That is why members of our community have come together over the past few years, participating in public meetings and agreeing on a plan that protects the privately owned land, guaranteeing public access to miles of trails, canoeing and kayaking and access for sportsmen and sportswomen.
All of that work is at risk because of the governor’s changing his mind, again, about moving forward with voter-approved bonds. LMF funds are essential to our ability to close on the Crooked River Forests purchase in the coming months.
As justification for putting all of these projects at risk, we have heard that Maine “already has 800,000 acres of public lands” and that LMF-supported lands are not actively managed or commercially harvested forests.
Here are three facts:
• Land for Maine’s Future does not manage Maine’s public lands. LMF has been a leader in helping fund the protection of commercial forestlands and has helped preserve over 250,000 acres of sustainably managed, commercially harvested land.
• Our project does not add one acre to state-owned public lands.
• Our management plans allow for continued sustainable timber harvesting on these working forestlands.
In fact, Fred Huntress, renowned Maine forester and the New England Forestry Foundation’s 2012 “Distinguished Forester of the Year” award winner, is the longtime steward of these privately owned lands.
He has been a driving force behind several years of hard work to ensure that these special river properties remain a vital part of our community and the Sebago Lake-area economy for generations to come.
Fred spoke for many in these communities recently when he wrote to Gov. LePage that he was “surprised and disappointed” in the decision to withhold bonds and jeopardizing all of the community’s work and effort.
Mr. Huntress said that the governor’s actions amount to hurting “common ordinary working people” and asked: “Is that the result you had in mind when you held back the bond funds? Did you intend to hurt them and others like them for political gain?”
Twists, turns and oxbows are great for growing healthy landlocked salmon populations. They are not helpful traits for state government when economic development requires working with local business, conservation and community organizations in a rational, professional and predictable way.