Animal rights activists put Land for State in peril
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David Trahan: Animal rights activists put Land for Maine’s Future program in peril
Limiting access to hunting and fishing could upset a delicate political balance and cause the popular program to lose support.
On June 17, 54 people demanded the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee limit hunting, fishing and trapping on public lands purchased through the Land for Maine’s Future program, leaving many in the room surprised and shocked.
Fifteen, mostly from conservation groups, testified in favor of the same bill, L.D. 911, An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access and Outdoor Recreation. L.D. 911 got caught up in political wrangling and, as a result, did not garner enough votes. While the Legislature carried the bill over to be resolved in 2020, passage of this critically important conservation bond is not guaranteed and remains elusive.
I recognized many of the testifiers from past animal rights battles, but to the Appropriations Committee members this public hearing looked like a massive grassroots uprising. These activists claimed that allowing hunting was unsafe, trapping was cruel and unnecessary, and special interests like sportsmen and women should be limited on our public lands.
First a little history. Thirty-two years ago, and just after the devastating outbreak of spruce budworm that destroyed spruce and fir forests throughout northern Maine, the Legislature started the now popular Land for Maine’s Future program. Among other goals, the program was designed to compete with individuals and groups buying hundreds of thousands of acres of cheap land that could then be closed off to public access. For the average person who could not afford to own their own land for recreation, the program became a tool to protect traditional outdoor recreation, including places with access to hunting and fishing that went back generations.
Over the past three decades, Land for Maine’s Future has “assisted in the protection of 54 water access sites, 40 farms totaling more than 9,700 acres, 24 commercial working waterfront properties, more than 1,200 miles of shore lands, 58 miles of former railroad corridors for recreational trails and over 570,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands including 332,000 acres of working lands with permanent conservation easements.”
Recently, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine was successful in amending the program to encourage the conservation of critical deer yards and trout-spawning habitat. This change has led to the protection of more than 5,000 acres of critical deer wintering areas and miles of trout-spawning habitat.
Through decades of partnership between diverse stakeholders, Land for Maine’s Future enjoys broad support. Key to maintaining the program’s success is a provision that ensures “hunting, fishing, trapping and public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds, except to the extent of applicable state, local or federal laws, rules and regulations and except for working waterfront projects and farmland protection projects.”
This longstanding policy, passionately defended by groups like the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and supported by our partners in the conservation community, guarantees that the traditional uses of hunting, fishing and trapping on Land for Maine’s Future lands can continue, and because of it the program garners support from rural and suburban conservative voters and legislators.
The reason this is important is because, according to the state constitution, a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is necessary before a general fund bond can be placed on the ballot for voter approval. It is this provision that guarantees compromise between the political parties and insures the Land for Maine’s Future program serves all users and all regions of Maine.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from sportsmen and women is how difficult it is to find places to hunt, fish and trap. It doesn’t take long when traveling in Maine to see places with the bright yellow and orange “No Hunting Allowed” signs. They often go on for what seems like miles. Many ex-hunters cite this lack of access as the reason they gave up hunting. Public lands not only preserve rural jobs and traditions, but they also enable lower-income Mainers access to lakes and ponds often bought up and posted by non-residents and others.
Many of the 54 people who testified used the same language and nearly identical testimony, undoubtedly a coordinated effort. Their testimony was meant to scare those that hike and recreate on public trails.
First, hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities in Maine. In addition, there is a state law that makes firearm discharge illegal 300 feet on either side of any public, marked hiking trail and another that bans the discharge of firearms within 300 feet of any building — hunting is already banned on these public, marked trails.
Also, many trails in southern Maine, where these same anti-hunting animal rights activists recreate are within Municipal Urban Compacts areas – where, again, no discharge is allowed.
Although these individuals have every right to express their opinions, I would caution them to be careful what they ask for. The Land for Maine’s Future program needs support from skeptical Republicans and rural Democrats to sustain a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. Banning hunting, fishing and trapping on the program’s public property would destroy decades of hard work and compromise — and at the same time end one of the most effective and popular conservation programs in the history of this state.
There is more than enough space for hunters, hikers, snowmobilers, birdwatchers and others to enjoy these incredible places now available to all of us thanks to Land for Maine’s Future.
David Trahan of Waldoboro, a former state legislator, is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of that organization.