Tanya Swain has suggested that towns in the high peaks region may want to consider the use of conservation commissions. This is an initial discussion of the concept. Thank you, Tanya.
Conservation Commissions: A Local Nexus for Conservation Planning
Nearly every community in Maine at one time or another has faced the loss of a local property that was highly valued by area citizens. Whether through posting, conversion to other uses or environmental degradation we have all experienced the loss of favored swimming holes, hunting grounds, fishing access, hiking and snowmobile trails, productive forest and farmlands and more. Too often, citizens rally to react to the threat at the eleventh hour, unprepared with adequate resources or time to reverse the loss. Municipalities can prepare for this scenario by establishing Conservation Commissions capable of promoting conservation that is both responsive to community interests and which has local buy-in.
The roles of local Conservation Commissions can be diverse and range from land and water quality preservation to economic development from working forests and farmlands. One example of a conservation commission in action is Lovell, Maine.
In March of 2006, the Town of Lovell was the first Town in Maine to adopt a warrant article dedicating penalties received from the removal of land from Tree Growth or Open Space assessment. These penalties were directed to a dedicated land conservation account to help offset the loss of forest and farmlands to development.
In the first fiscal year, the account reached $68,000 and currently stands at approximately $70,000. One might argue that such funds are not significant enough to make a difference. In many cases, penalties paid from one acre are not enough to purchase an interest in an equal acre. These funds can, however, serve as leverage to obtain matching foundation support and access to other public and private funds. The availability of dedicated cash reserves permits towns to promptly enter into sale agreements when needed.
Perhaps the most significant benefit is the community commitment to conservation. Town leaders know they have citizen support to pursue conservation projects and partnerships, and have a cash tool to take action. Commissions can build effective private/public partnerships with local land trusts and together they can protect the beaches, water holes, trails and other locally valued resources that matter most to communities.
For more information on Conservation Commissions, visit www.meacc.net.
Excerpted with permission from a Letter to Municipal and Regional Policy Makers by Tom Henderson, Greater Lovell Land Trust, and reprinted in the Western Mountains Alliance newsletter, “The Advocate”.