(The Center Square) – Maine is soliciting proposals for land conservation projects aimed at preserving the state's farms, forests, working waterfronts and outdoor recreation.
The state is making at least $40 million available for projects under the Land for Maine's Future program, a decades-old initiative that was revived by lawmakers in the previous legislative session.
Gov. Janet Mills said the program will help to sustain farms, forests and working waterfronts, "saving them from development and making sure they are forever available to fishermen, families and farmers."
"As we push full speed ahead on our economic recovery, now is the time to conserve in perpetuity the natural resources that form the backbone of our rural economy," Mills said in a statement.
The program was created in 1987 after a citizen-led initiative authorized the state to take out a $35 million bond to begin making land purchases.
Since then, the Land for Maine's Future program has conserved more than 600,000 acres. according to the Mills administration.
The list of properties preserved under the program includes 41 working farms, 9,755 acres of farmland, and 26 commercial waterfront properties. The program has also protected more than 1,200 miles of rivers, lakes and ponds, 58 miles of coastline and 158 miles of former railroad corridors, many of which have been converted into recreational trails.
But the program had become nearly depleted under the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage, who frequently criticized the state's borrowing for land preservation.
LePage blocked funding the program, which he argued drove up the cost of land purchases and prevented lumber companies from harvesting and preserved areas.
Lawmakers revived the initiative in the most recent legislative session and pumped $40 million into the program – the largest cash infusion in the history of the program.
"The LMF Program has a lengthy history of protecting Maine's natural resources, and with this new infusion of funding, will continue advancing its important work on behalf of the people of Maine," Amanda Beal, commissioner for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. "This call for proposals will bring forth the next generation of land conservation, including supporting our state climate objectives."
The Mills administration said the state plans to leverage federal funding through The Great American Outdoors Act, which was approved by Congress in 2020.
The new federal law, signed by former President Donald Trump, is expected to make available tens of millions of dollars for state protection and conservation efforts.
The deadline to submit applications for projects is Dec. 30.