Energy & Environment

Reisman: State finally coughs up public lands info, and it’s bad news for rural Maine

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The legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee recently held a public hearing on LD 324, “An Act to Limit Public Land Ownership in Maine.” I testified that the vast majority of public land acquisitions over the last 20 years were in the Second Congressional District (specifically Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Penobscot, Somerset, Oxford, Franklin and Aroostook counties, where the need was lowest), while the southern Maine counties of York, Cumberland, Lincoln, Kennebec, Androscoggin and Waldo were below the state median in public ownership and had the greatest need of land conservation.

I reminded the committee that Maine set a 10% goal for (state) public ownership in the 90s and had likely met it, but no official accounting had been done to my knowledge. Finally, ACF bureaucrats informed the committee that one of the primary recommendations of Gov. Mills’ Climate Council was to increase public ownership to 30% of the State by 2030.

The ACF Committee asked the ACF Department to provide updated information for the March 16th work session, and the chart offered by the department is reproduced below. It should make the leaders of the three most economically challenged (as in poorest) counties in Maine – Piscataquis, Washington and Somerset – extremely worried.

Source: Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, submitted 3/16/21 in opposition to LD 324

Those three counties have already lost nearly 30% of their tax base and development opportunities to the green Goddess Gaia (that is twice the overall state average of just under 15%). If the State successfully increases public ownership to 30% and the current political power and acquisition pattern continues, we can expect 2/3 of these rural Maine counties to be cordoned off in less than a decade.

The numbers for Southern Maine counties refute claims that the Land for Maine’s Future Program and public lands acquisitions are “statewide” programs. The data show token purchases and expenditures in Southern Maine while the lion’s share of acquisitions and the majority of expenditures are in the Second District (and significantly not in the one county in the Second District most in need of public land, Androscoggin).

This tells a tale of special interest and bureaucratic collusion to damage rural Maine’s economy and prospects while pretending it’s for the greater public good. When 30% of York and Cumberland County is removed from the tax rolls and put off limits to development, I will believe it.

The ACF Committee made no comment on the distribution of public lands in Maine and voted 9-1, with 3 absence,  “Ought Not To Pass” on LD 324, creating the likelihood that the whole bill and chart will be swept under the rug without a roll call vote. Meanwhile, the 30% public lands goal to avert the climate apocalypse (it will not) will become state policy without a legislative vote or an examination of our land acquisition policies.

Electing climate alarmists and empowering the environmental left has consequences, and they are particularly bad for rural Maine.

Update: Following the original publication of this article, the ACF committee revisited the bill on March 23 without notifying the bill sponsor. Rep. Scott Landry, the lone “Ought to Pass” vote, changed his vote to “Ought Not to Pass” resulting in a unanimous “Ought Not to Pass” vote out of committee. This virtually guarantees there will be no roll call vote or floor debates on the distribution of public lands in Maine this legislative session.

About Jonathan Reisman

Jon Reisman is an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias. His views are his own.

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