Maine towns to take responsibility for their conservation future

Maine towns to take responsibility for their conservation future

Development impacts on critical fish and wildlife habitat dominate the list of threats identified within state wildlife action plans, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. Conservationists understand that there never will be sufficient funding to protect every acre that is important and that, instead, protection must stem from society's recognition of the value of wild places. Maine's solution to rapid development pressures in southern and central parts of the state integrates New England's strong sense of land stewardship into the traditional form of independent town governments. The blending forms an effective form of habitat protection by keeping decisions at the local level and by appealing to citizens to ponder their quality of life at build-out.

Maine's "Beginning with Habitat" program's goal is to maintain sufficient habitat to support all native plant and animal species currently breeding in Maine by providing each Maine town with a collection of maps and accompanying information depicting and describing various habitats of statewide and national significance found in the town. The maps depict riparian habitat, high-value plant and animal habitats, large habitat blocks, wetlands and interior forest blocks. Program staff is available to consult with town officials, assist in interpretation, and help define future options for designing a landscape that accommodates needed development, but maximizes resource conservation for wildlife.

The program provides town leaders with information necessary to enjoin citizens in far-reaching discussions to identify areas suitable for growth and those that may be better reserved as wild lands. The program's message?"We hope the data, maps, written material and suggestions for local conservation strategies will help inform and guide your town's growth in such a way that, 50 years from now, those who want to can still fish, hunt, photograph or watch wildlife and otherwise enjoy the wealth of a rich and diverse outdoor heritage"?makes it clear that local desires will define decisions. The role of state agency personnel is merely to provide information to help guide local decisions. The program is a cooperative, not a regulatory approach. To achieve the landscape, it relies on all available approaches, such as acquisition, property tax incentives and some zoning goals.

The biological model for the program was developed by the University of Maine's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, under the direction of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The Department began consultation with towns in 2000. To date, more than 150 towns and 35 land trusts and regional planning commissions have received instruction. At least two-thirds of these municipalities have used the information to form their local comprehensive growth plans, and most others have indicated that they will use it in the near future. An interactive website was developed to provide efficient access to "Beginning with Habitat" information (

May 13, 2006