This summer, $40 million was added to the state budget for the Land for Maine’s Future program, normally funded by a bond submitted to voters. No reason was given by the legislature for this change, but recent history may have been a guide.
In 2019, a similar LMF bond was considered by the legislature’s appropriations committee. Legislators carried it over and mixed it in with other legislation and by November of 2020 declared it legislatively dead.
One action they would not take is reject the bill based on the overwhelming opposition of those who testified, mostly private citizens who volunteered their time and effort to express their views, actions one would think would merit consideration in a democracy.
Note that while hunting and fishing are mentioned, trapping is not…
One way to avoid the bothersome influence of public opinion was to do what our public servants did in June—revise the bill so its focus was on transportation while moving LMF funding to the budget, out of reach of those who might still oppose it.
However, support for LMF would have been universal if the following hidden mandate had been removed, a suggestion made countless times and ignored by the committee. Here’s that requirement:
“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.”
Until recently, LMF has been widely covered by the media but most people haven’t heard of this hidden mandate. Except for occasional opinions pieces written by concerned Mainers, not a single newspaper has published the above requirement which stipulates that public money must be used to support the special interests of a select group while denying that treatment to everyone else.
The hidden mandate is aptly named because it’s hard to find. In the most recent version, it was buried in the middle of nine pages of fine print. When LMF was moved to the state budget, the mandate was buried even deeper, on page 242.
And if LMF had gone to bond, here’s the language voters would have seen on the ballot:
“Do you favor a $40 million bond issue to invest in land conservation, water access, wildlife and fish habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting and fishing, working farmlands and working waterfronts, to be matched by at least $40 million in private and public contributions?”
Note that while hunting and fishing are mentioned, trapping is not, and there’s not a word about these three activities being permitted on LMF conserved land.
A close reading of the mandate also reveals a linguistic juggling act: “Hunting, fishing, trapping may not be prohibited” suggests that they are prohibited now, whereas the only time these activities are not permitted on conserved land is when they are inconsistent with the preservation of the land in question and the safety of those who use it, and this is done on a case-by-case basis by local property managers, not as blanket policy.
“May not be prohibited” is a back-door way of saying “must be allowed” even though they’re already allowed now.
The result of all this manipulation is a new form of voter suppression. Because it’s no longer a bond, the decision to determine LMF’s fate has been taken from voters. The people’s traditional right to decide has been subverted, and LMF, which was never intended to provide preferential treatment for any special interests or to impose undemocratic mandates on everyone else, has made a simple walk in the woods a risky venture.
Trapping must now be allowed on any land conserved with LMF funds. As you and your pet stroll along new LMF property, you’d better be careful because trappers—who are exempt from animal cruelty laws—are also not required to post warning signs or indicate where traps have been placed.
And if your local land manager doesn’t like it, that’s too bad because traditional local control has been undermined by the hidden mandate. You may also have to dodge a bullet because hunting (including baiting and hounding) must be allowed as well.
We have not only lost our right to decide, but we are also less safe on conserved land where the quiet pleasures of nature can be enjoyed free from gunshots and the cries of trapped animals.
Don Loprieno is a published author and former manager of conserved properties for the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission in New York’s Hudson Valley. He lives in Bristol.