We’re lucky to live in Maine. Whether we got here by birth or by choice, Mainers are surrounded by unparalleled natural resources that enrich our lives every day. Even better, Maine’s economy works together with its ecology in a way that is truly unique — an “eco/eco” partnership that sits at the heart of who we are.
Maine’s legacy of land conservation is a key part of why this partnership works. Protecting our wild places has long been a core, nonpartisan value in Maine. That’s why recent political attacks taking aim at land conservation are so troubling. While claiming land conservation imposes a financial burden on homeowners, these attacks ignore the many benefits conserved land provides to Maine people and communities — including substantial economic benefits we all share.
Take outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism, for example. The most recent analysis from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Census Bureau shows that in a single year, 1.1 million people participated in wildlife-related recreation in Maine, including residents and visitors. Of these, 341,000 fished, 181,000 hunted and 838,000 participated in wildlife-watching activities. Together, these nature-enthusiasts spent $1.4 billion on wildlife recreation in Maine.
Conserved land supports these nature-based activities and many more. Are you a hiker? According to data collected by the Maine Land Trust Network, you can trek for more than 1,260 miles on trails conserved by Maine land trusts. A snowmobiler? Land trusts support more than 570 miles of snowmobile trails. A hunter? More than 2.3 million acres of land trust conserved land is open to hunting. A boater? Cast off from more than 200 launch sites on conserved land around the state.
Conserved land supports Maine jobs, too. With more than 2.1 million acres of working forestlands, 36,000 acres of productive farmlands, and 65 access sites for marine fishermen, land conserved by Maine’s land trusts is deeply integrated into our forestry, farming and fishing industries. Conserved land also attracts businesses, which use things like acreage of open space to help determine where they want to set up shop or relocate.
And don’t forget the quality-of-life benefits: Beautiful country with scenic vistas, places to watch wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities make communities more desirable and attract new residents. Rather than being bad for homeowners, evidence shows that properties often become more valuable when conserved land is nearby. And with very little infrastructure, conserved land provides these benefits to communities while requiring little in the way of public services and expenses in return.
Finally, consider the vast “ecosystem benefits” of having conserved land in Maine. A recent study by the conservation science organization Manomet found that Maine receives $14.67 billion annually in uncounted benefits from its natural environment. This includes the many services we all receive from conserved land, such as drinking water, flood control, carbon storage, temperature moderation, filtration of pollutants by our wetlands, and the maintenance of productive soils for farming and forestry. Without conserved land, the cost to replicate these services would be staggering.
Critiques of land conservation that don’t account for these benefits simply aren’t telling the whole story. More importantly, they misunderstand the special relationship Maine’s economy and ecology have always enjoyed, working not in opposition but in concert, each relying on and benefiting from the vitality of the other. Maine’s unique “eco/eco” partnership is rare, and it is something to treasure.
The people of Maine understand this. It’s why they have repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported conservation initiatives like the Land for Maine’s Future program at the ballot box. It’s why so many take every opportunity to venture out to Maine’s forests, mountains, lakes and ocean, both to earn their livelihoods and to revel in the wonders of our incredible natural resources. They know that our state has always thrived not in spite of our legacy of safeguarding our land, water and wildlife, but because of it.
Andy Beahm is the executive director of Maine Audubon.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.