As a large forest landowner that has worked with both the Land for Maine’s Future Program and the Forest Legacy Program, we would like to respond to the May 8 article regarding the LePage administration’s decision to accept $1.7 million from the Forest Legacy Program. This grant would provide partial funding of the Gulf Hagas-Whitecap conservation project. This is good news and helps set the stage for completion of this important project.

A key fact that was not 100 percent clear in that article is that while the governor chose to accept the federal Forest Legacy funds, they are separate from the Land for Maine’s Future state bond funds that he has refused to distribute.

Though sometimes these two distinct funds are used together to protect forestlands in Maine, the LePage administration’s acceptance of the federal Forest Legacy funding does not indicate whether or when Land for Maine’s Future funds will be released.

The Forest Legacy Program, which will be providing funds for the Gulf Hagas-Whitecap project, supports conservation of forestlands across the United States. It’s run by the U.S. Forest Service, with a 25-year history of success in Maine and beyond.

The program originated in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. It was so successful that it’s now been adopted by 49 states. Forest Legacy projects are highly competitive, and only the best projects receive funding.

Forest Legacy is a great fit for Maine because virtually all the land conserved by the program continues to support active forestry, and is also permanently available to Maine residents and our many visitors for hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, paddling and other outdoor activities.

The Forest Legacy Program is funded through the 50-year-old federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports land conservation and outdoor recreation across the nation. Forest Legacy and the Land and Water Conservation Fund aren’t funded from taxpayer dollars – they get a small portion of proceeds from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Maine has a track record of success securing Forest Legacy Program funding, for not only the Gulf Hagas-Whitecap project, but also for such noteworthy investments as the Orbeton Stream project in the High Peaks region, the Little W project and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Katahdin Iron Works project in the Moosehead Lake region, Grafton Notch in the Bethel area and many more.

These projects have been critical to securing the long-term viability of the forest products industry in Maine by ensuring that our state will always be among the most forested in the nation, and also guaranteeing public access and the protection of natural resources.

We sometimes take these benefits for granted, but we should not. Long-term shifts in the forestry industry, generational changes in ownership, and the pressure of residential development are all part of a grave threat to Maine’s forestlands.

It’s important that we have a diversity of tools to keep our forests as forests. Forest Legacy is critically important, but it can’t function alone. The state’s Land for Maine’s Future Program is an important tool that leverages funds from other sources. In fact, every $1 from LMF attracts an additional $4 from other sources.

For good reason, a great deal of attention is being paid to the current uncertainty around the LMF program. But Mainers should be aware that the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds the Forest Legacy Program, will expire on Sept. 30. The Land and Water Conservation Fund must be reauthorized by Congress to ensure that Forest Legacy funds can continue to support our very best forestlands.

Thankfully, Maine’s congressional delegation has historically been among the strongest proponents of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have co-sponsored legislation to reauthorize the fund and have worked to ensure both the fund and the Forest Legacy Program are as strong as possible.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has also worked tirelessly to gain funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the House. We hope that our newest representative, Bruce Poliquin, will join this great bipartisan Maine tradition and become an advocate for reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program.

The long-term vitality of Maine’s forests rests in part on the outcome of Land for Maine’s Future and the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Forest Legacy Program. While they operate separately, distinct from one another, together they ensure a strong future for our state’s forest resources.

— Special to the Press Herald