Maine's New Conservation Proposal
The face of Maine conservation could change dramatically if federal officials embrace a proposal embodied in the Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative. The initiative was created by a Steering Committee of 23 individuals representing state agencies, landowners, and conservation groups and submitted to federal officials on August 18.
The proposal reacts to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “Treasured Landscapes and America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” designed to bring new thinking and collaboration to the effort to “protect the places that fuel our nation’s spirit and contribute to the health of its people and local economies.”
A companion measure, submitted to federal officials by a group called Keeping Maine’s Forest-Based Economy, will be the subject of this blog in the future.
Both proposals can be found at www.keepingmainesforests.org. And you can express your opinions on the proposals at that website.
Maine has a remarkable conservation story to brag about. Since 1998 more than two million acres have been permanently conserved. Fee ownership was purchased in twenty percent of those lands. Conservation easements were purchased on the remainder – generally to buy development rights and public access (although not all of the easements guarantee public access).
This was achieved by nonprofit groups including The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, and state and federal agencies. Over $280 million was raised for these projects with $180 million coming from private sources.
The Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative is timely, given the tremendous change that has occurred in forest ownership in Maine, with even greater changes in ownership and management expected over the next decade.
A total of 7.7 million acres of timberland was owned by industrial owners in 1988, while large non-industrial owners held 3.1 million acres. But within a decade and a half, those proportions were nearly reversed.
By 2004, industrial owners held just 3.2 million acres, and non-industrial owners owned 6.5 million acres. And more than half of the industrial ownership was held by a single company, Canadian-based Irving.
When paper companies owned the forest, it was managed almost exclusively for raw material for the mills. And the public was welcomed on all paper company land.
The new landowners – many of them investment companies - are looking for more profit from their forestland, and recreation is one place they can be expected to find it. Although Maine hasn’t had a tradition of private leasing of property for recreation – a common practice in most states – it has arrived in Maine where I expect it to grow exponentially in the next decade.
The KMF initiative builds on Maine’s previous success, substantially increases our conservation effort while testing new approaches, and offers two pilot projects, one in the Downeast Forest and one in the Western Mountains.
Driving it all is the realization that “historically, forest landowners have been asked to shoulder the primary responsibility for maintaining the many values of the forest which directly benefit the public, such as wildlife, pristine lakes and rivers, stored carbon, and recreational access.
“These are important public values and should be treated accordingly, rather than as liabilities which burden landownership. Keeping Maine’s Forests seeks to reframe that relationship so that the public supports the long-term ownership objectives of forest landowners and develops mechanisms to reward them for maintaining and enhancing forest values with demonstrable public benefits for future generations.”
In other words, landowners are saying, “Show us the money!”
The pilot projects will be used “to design a practical approach to compensate landowners for the benefits the public derives from their lands.” A total of $25 million in federal funding is sought – above what Maine has been receiving for land conservation and stewardship.
As the initiative progresses, the KMF Steering Committee has identified the following “challenges and issues that require its future attention:
1) assessing the impact of the Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative on wood supply;
2) reviewing, improving and, where possible, simplifying working forest conservation easement standards;
3) assessing the success of the Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative in protecting key ecological and recreational resources;
4) encouraging local and regional planning efforts that identify appropriate locations for future economic development and areas of high conservation need;
5) exploring forest conservation needs and opportunities in southern Maine;
6) creating an effective framework for programs that pay landowners for ecological services and societal benefits; and
7) monitoring development pressures in the Maine Woods.”
It’s clear to me that if we are to maintain our privileges on private property – not just in the north woods but statewide – we’re going to have to accommodate the needs and desires of private landowners, including the desire of some to be paid. That makes the Keeping Maine’s Forests initiative both ground-breaking and critical to the future of outdoor recreation in Maine.