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Susan Collins

Preserving Maine’s Forests and Open Spaces
By Senator Susan M. Collins
Apr 13, 2007 - 7:15:44 PM

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Sen. Susan M. Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.
The people of Maine have always been faithful stewards of the forest because we understand its tremendous value to our economy and to our way of life.  From the vast tracts of undeveloped land in the north to the small woodlots in the south, forest land has helped to shape the character of our entire state.

While our commitment to stewardship has preserved the forest for generations, a threat to Maine’s working landscape requires a fresh approach. This threat is suburban sprawl, which has already consumed tens of thousands of acres of forest land in southern Maine. Sprawl occurs because the economic value of forest or farm land cannot compete with the value of developed land.

Sprawl threatens our environment and our quality of life. It destroys eco-systems, increasing the risk of flooding and other environmental hazards. It burdens the infrastructure of the affected communities, increases traffic on neighborhood streets, and leads to the fragmentation of woodlots, reducing the economic viability of the remaining working forests.

No state is immune from the dangers of sprawl. In Maine alone, suburban sprawl has already consumed tens of thousands of acres of forest and farm land. The problem is particularly acute in southern Maine where a 108 percent increase in urbanized land over the past two decades has resulted in the labeling of greater Portland as the "sprawl capital of the Northeast."

I am particularly alarmed by the amount of working forest and farm land and open space in southern and coastal Maine that has given way to strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Once these forests, farms, and meadows are lost to development, they are lost forever.

Our state is trying to respond to this challenge. The people of Maine continue to contribute their time and money to preserve important lands and to support our State’s 88 land trusts. It is time for the federal government to help support these state and community-based efforts.

For these reasons, I have introduced the Suburban and Community Forestry and Open Space Program Act. This bill, which was drafted with the advice of land owners and conservation groups, establishes a $50 million grant program within the U.S. Forest Service to support locally driven land conservation projects that preserve working forests. Local government and nonprofit organizations would compete for funds to purchase land or access to land to protect working landscapes threatened by development.

Projects funded under this initiative must be targeted at lands located in parts of the country that are threatened by sprawl. In addition, my bill requires that federal grant funds be matched dollar-for-dollar by state, local, or private resources.

Rather than preserving our working forests, farmland and open spaces by zoning or other government regulation, this program would provide resources to allow a landowner who wishes to keep his or her land as a working woodlot to do so.

My legislation also protects the rights of property owners with the inclusion of a "willing-seller" provision, which requires the consent of a landowner if a parcel of land is to participate in the program.

The $50 million that would be authorized by my bill would help achieve stewardship objectives:

First, this bill would help prevent forest fragmentation and preserve working forests, helping to maintain the supply of timber that fuels Maine’s most significant industry.

Second, these resources would be a valuable tool for communities that are struggling to manage growth and prevent sprawl.

Third, the bill would help to preserve open space and family farms.
Currently, if the town of Gorham, Maine, or another community trying to cope with the effects of sprawl turned to the federal government for assistance, none would be found. My bill will change that by making the federal government an active partner in preserving forest and farm land and managing sprawl, while leaving decision-making at the state and local level where it belongs.

There is great work being done on the local level to protect working landscapes for the next generation. By enacting the Suburban and Community Forestry and Open Space Act, Congress can provide an additional avenue of support for these conservation initiatives, help prevent sprawl, and help sustain the vitality of natural resource-based industries.

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