Maine People See Water and Wildlife as Key to Economy

By a margin of 9 to 1, Maine voters say that nature is essential to their quality of life.  And most of these same voters see Maine’s environment as the foundation for the state’s economy – at a time when public funding for conservation is reaching historic lows and when Maine is at risk of losing tens of millions of dollars in state and federal conservation funding.

“Maine voters are nearly unanimous in their belief that our natural resources are a vital to keeping the economy strong,” said Kate Dempsey, of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “Despite fiscal challenges we read about every day, voters believe that ongoing investment in conservation makes good sense.”

Among the key findings in survey data released today by The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land:

  • 78% say conserving land is good for the economy.
  • 88% say clean water, natural areas and wildlife are important to their quality of life.
  • 70% say funding land and water conservation is important even when budgets are tight.
  • 84 % say it’s important to protect sources of drinking water.
  • 73% say it’s important to protect forests.
  • 73% say it’s important to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

“When a significant majority of Maine voters say they agree there is a link between public investments in land conservation and healthy local economies, we need to make that a priority,” said Wolfe Tone, The Trust for Public Land’s Maine state director:

Maine faces substantial funding losses. For example:

The US House of Representatives is proposing drastic cuts to conservation programs in its federal budget this week. It would cut the Forest Legacy Program from the $135 million requested in FY12 to $3 million nationally – less than Maine alone receives in an average year. The program has helped to ensure that more than 680,000 forested acres in Maine are maintained as sustainable working forests. Projects in Maine to secure forests in the Rangley Peaks area would be in jeopardy without  funding this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stands to lose a half-billion dollars in funding that supports all marine restoration work in the United States and specifically benefits  the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ work on Atlantic salmon restoration and many other migratory species.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which comes from lease payments from offshore drilling, could receive 86% less funding than last year, stalling efforts like land acquisitions within the boundary of Acadia National Park.

And state biologists, whose salaries come from federal wildlife grants, could face budget reductions at a time when staffing is already tight – Maine no longer has a dedicated moose biologist to monitor the iconic species which attracts visitors to the state.

“Maine people see the link between state’s environment and the economy and for our future. Congress should not turn its back on this legacy,” Dempsey said.

The examples above, along with all the federal natural resource and environmental programs, comprise less than one percent of the total overall budget, yet resource agencies are facing disproportionate cuts that decimate their programs.

Meanwhile, an effort to secure state funds for fish and wildlife conservation was recently defeated by Maine lawmakers, making the federal funds ever more important. And the popular Land for Maine’s Future grant program, which has supported countless working forest, working waterfront and habitat conservation projects since it was created in 1987, exhausted it most recent funding this week.