The future of the federal Land and Water Conservation Program that has helped fund $183 million worth of projects in Maine since 1965 is once again uncertain, caught up in ongoing discussions over President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
Hundreds of park and forest projects across the state have been helped by the Land and Water Conservation Fund programs. Rangeley State Park, the Bigelow Preserve and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway are among the beneficiaries.
Kaitlyn Bernard with the Appalachian Mountain Club says a good example of how the program protects a broad range of interests is the Cold Stream project in western Maine.
“It included hunting and fishing and ATV access, included some sustainable harvesting, tree harvesting. But also a big recreation component, traditional recreation, hiking and biking. You name it, it had it,” she says.
Trump has proposed slashing funding for the program from $400 million a year to $64 million. And Bernard says that would stifle efforts to expand and improve public lands in the state.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine agrees.
“This is an important program. It provides recreation projects, facilities, it helps states and towns acquire recreational lands. It’s one that over many years has supported lots of projects in Maine,” he says.
King says the state and local communities would be hard-pressed to make up the loss of the federal funding. He serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, where members of both parties have expressed concerns about the proposal.
“We restored some of the money but it still had a cut of over 30 percent. There is definitely bipartisan support for restoring that money,” says Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee that has voted to restore some of the money.
The House committee vote was for a funding level of $275 million. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says that is not enough, but she’s confident the Senate will support a higher funding level.
“I think it is much more likely that it will either be flat-funded at the level of last year or will receive only a very minor decrease,” she says.
Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District also opposes deep cuts to the program. He’s co-sponsoring an amendment to restore funding to last year’s levels.
The House and Senate will have to iron out the differences by the end of September.