As I sat in the East Room of the White House earlier this month listening to President Barack Obama ask all of us to think of conservation as “something more than politics,” I was proud to call myself a Mainer.
Here in Maine, we’ve long understood the need to work together, putting aside party labels when it comes to protecting our natural resources — for the sake of wildlife and recreation, but also for the farming, fishing and forestry industries that have been the core of our state’s economy.
I went to Washington to represent The Nature Conservancy as government, business and conservation leaders unveiled a plan for how to secure America’s most important lands and waters. Called America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, this plan has been informed by hundreds of thousands of public comments, many from listening sessions such as the one held in Bangor a few months ago.
I was particularly pleased to hear President Obama cite cooperation to protect our privately owned working forests for a variety of uses, an approach that is really a tradition here in Maine. For example, in Grand Lake Stream, the local community is working to secure their timber and outdoor recreation economy by conserving their lake shores, forests and wildlife habitats.
This cooperation — across the full range of government agencies that work on conservation and with countless community groups — makes the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative special. This isn’t a top-down government program. It’s a chance for people to secure funds to save the places that touch their lives, be they remote areas or city parks.
I believe the initiative is charting a better course for us and for future generations. One of the most important investments the federal government can make in local conservation is the full and dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that the Obama Administration called for in its 2012 budget proposal.
In Maine, the working forests and waterfronts that help support both tourism and our traditional industries rely upon research and conservation efforts. Innovative partnerships such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which seeks to restore native fish while generating clean energy, have earned federal support. Famous destinations such as Acadia National Park and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway have benefited from the fund.
Maine’s quarter-million miles of coast and tens of millions of acres of forest have made it a place where people want to live, work and recreate. We’re lucky to have leaders who have supported this important program. Some members of Congress want to cut investments in programs that protect clean water and keep land productive and healthy. That doesn’t make sense. In the long run, this will cost Americans far more than protection now.
The fund’s goal is to balance the loss of one natural resource — offshore oil and gas — by using a portion of drilling fees to protect important land and water elsewhere. But despite an increase in energy production, funding for land and water protection has been low and unpredictable. The program is authorized to receive a small percentage of offshore oil and gas fee revenue — up to $900 million a year — but most of these funds have been diverted elsewhere.
Congress has an opportunity to fix that. If fully funded at the amount promised more than 30 years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund can help protect a future for our children, with clean drinking water, good jobs and the same opportunities for outdoor recreation that we’ve enjoyed.
Americans want to keep our waters and lands healthy, but it is great to see that our efforts to do so in Maine is the right approach — through partnership and collaboration we succeed. I am pleased that Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and our Congressional Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree also understand that when our nation invests in its greatest treasure — our natural resources — it is the wisest of investments.
Jean Scudder of Readfield is a trustee of The Nature Conservancy in Maine who represented the conservation group at the announcement of the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.