SHAPLEIGH – For the past 44 years, Maine citizens have consistently voted for bonds related to conservation: for land, lakes, wetlands, rivers, forests, groundwater, public water and treatment systems, even dam removals for fish survival.

Since 1996, tax dollars voted were $339.8 million. This money leveraged an additional $770 million in state, federal and private funding, for a grand total surpassing $1 billion. Add the interest paid on those bonds — at 3.5 percent or more — and the total moves beyond $1.5 billion.

Even in the most recent election, during a severe financial recession, Mainers once again approved still another bond for water protection.

One of newly elected Gov. Paul LePage’s first moves, however, was to demand reductions in various environmental protections, all added into L.D. 1.

The governor has clearly stated that he is concerned about and will speak for the people. Well, here we are, and many thousands of others like us are the people, and we have spoken with our money and our commitments for 44 years, from the time the governor was a teenager.

To read the 25-page secretary of state’s report on bond issues is to acquire a basic understanding of the multitude of changes in Maine since 1951, and not just on environmental issues.

Votes to protect the environment started in 1966 when Mainers voted for the protection of the Allagash Waterway.

Mainers then voted time and again for water and sewage treatment, pollution abatement facilities, resource conservation, clean-up of hazardous waste sites, acquisition of land for coastal access, acquisition of wildlife habitat and land for outdoor recreation, clean up and/or closing of solid waste landfills, reduction of groundwater pollution, purchase of recycling equipment, development of a comprehensive protection program, and the purchase of both lands and easements for conservation.

We have willingly voted for public access to water as well as for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing. Citizens also voted for wildlife and fish habitat protection and for the renovation of pollution control facilities on Maine farms, the renovation of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s fish-rearing facilities, for natural resources infrastructure, and for the preservation of state parks and land conservation, including working waterfront conservation.

These vast public funds — that also engaged private funds — do not include other wildlife-, forest- and water-related purchases, including services and funding by the Maine Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and conservation, restoration and reserves financed by non-profit regional, statewide, national and other numerous local community organizations.

Nor does it include lands given freely by civic-minded generous citizens for permanent easements and to be open to and used by the public.

Nor does it include all the voluntary efforts by individuals to protect our environment. Add those all in and we are moving close to $1.5 billion.

Every one of those gifts, every one of those dollars, every voluntary effort by every citizen, represents the strong conservation values of Mainers. Maine is recognized as a leader in conservation, and one of the reasons visitors come to Maine is because of its natural beauty and its history of protection of this vast resource.

If these long-term conservation efforts are going to be severely minimized or destroyed, then the governor will have to change the signs posted on the state highways for visitors as they drive into our state. They now say: “Maine: The way life should be.” Change them to say: “Maine: See it more clearly — we just cut down all the trees.”

If the governor is determined to diminish or destroy this multitude of conservation accomplishments, he not only fails to listen to the people, but he shows appalling disrespect for both the people and for the environment, and he will essentially waste the millions of dollars Mainers have voted to protect this land.

Furthermore, he will be on the wrong side of history in Maine. Mainers should now call their legislators and demand continued environmental protection.

– Special to the Press Herald