The Maine Brand

By Bridie McGreavy

Maine: The way life should be. Maine: The pine tree state. Maine: Vacationland. These three slogans accurately capture the Maine brand, a state known for its quality places, stunning scenery and great recreational opportunities. People visit Maine on their vacations to experience the way life should be among the pines and other trees that line our lakes, ponds and wetlands and cover our landscape. And in the process, these visitors pump approximately $15 billion (that’s billion) dollars into the State’s economy every year, making tourism Maine’s number one industry.

Maine’s brand and the specific strategies to maintain and enhance it were clearly mapped out in the 2006 Brookings Report, Charting Maine’s Future: An action plan for promoting sustainable prosperity and quality places. When this report was released, it became the talk of the town in many Maine communities. I call attention to it now to remind us, in this time of legislative upheaval, what this nonpartisan group said about our best strategies to sustain and improve our quality of life in the next century. If Mainers want to grow the economy, we need to invest in initiatives to protect accessible natural areas and country farms, walkable and authentic Main Streets, and working waterfronts (note: allowing McDonald’s and other chains was not mentioned as a strategy to enhance authenticity). Further, we should devote funds to research and development in industries related to forest products, agriculture and organic farming, marine resources, and outdoor recreation and tourism. Nowhere in the report does it recommend we remove decades of legislative effort to create environmental regulations based on the best available science. Quite the opposite, in fact.

While we certainly need to grow industries beyond tourism, it makes no economic sense to dismantle regulations that support the most important sector of our Maine economy. Yet, that is exactly what is happening in the State legislature. Since the first weeks of this current administration, important environmental regulations to protect our land and water resources have come under attack, including efforts to reduce protection for lakes, ponds, and wetlands by removing critical buffer and habitat areas. I am not going to list all the current proposals, as the Natural Resources Council of Maine provides an accurate summary of each legislative bill. I encourage you to visit their website for the status of these proposals: www.nrcm.org

The good news is that on April 25, the Natural Resource Committee, in an 11-2 vote, sent a clear message to the administration that the citizens of Maine do not support cuts to our natural resource regulations. This message was also supported by a recent Critical Insights’ survey, which found that 90 percent of Maine voters believe that the protection of the environment should be a priority of the legislature. I could ramble on with more statistics from this survey, all of which are available online and all of which demonstrate that Mainers value the natural environment.

The bottom line is that our elected officials need to hear from us that we do not support measures to reduce the shoreland zone, significant wildlife habitat, Land For Maine’s Future, or Environmental Board oversight. While the Natural Resource Committee sent a strong signal, these and other bills will likely still make their way to the House and Senate for debate and votes.

Years of scientific and legislative work informed the development of our natural resource regulations. It will take years more to get them back if they are removed. While our state and national economies need to become stronger through diversification, destroying our environment will similarly destroy our chances of ever meeting that goal. Write letters, call your representatives, send e-mails, go to the hearings. If you need a reminder of why you might want to take these kinds of actions, I encourage you to drive South on I-95. Keep going until billboards start popping up, litter lines the highway, and every other sign advertises the exact same five or six corporations. If we don’t do something now, that trip on I-95 will be your drive into the future of Maine…the way life should be?

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