With Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree’s introduction of a bond bill to preserve working waterfront and farmland, the state can continue the process of rethinking how we preserve public land that began with working waterfront preservation started in 2005.

Pingree’s bill (LD 894) includes $5.5 million for the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program, $5.5 million to create a new fund to preserve agricultural land and $5 million to help establish food processing for the fishing and agriculture industries.

Land preservation should no longer be limited to saving open spaces that have exceptional natural or recreational value. We now need to use state funds to protect the equally valuable land used by farmers and fishermen.

These traditional industries, and those who work in them, have shaped the rural landscape and the coast and are part of why this state is so unique. More importantly, these industries provide jobs and income to thousands of residents. And without this kind of bond money, the land used by farmers and fishermen can end up developed as homes or shopping malls.

Despite the recession, the state’s coastline is still vulnerable to non-maritime development. Of the Maine’s 5,300-mile coast, all that is left for working waterfront is 20 miles, according to the Island Institute’s report “The Last 20: Mapping Maine’s Working Waterfront,” published in 2007.

The working waterfront program got the state started in this new direction. In November 2005, a $12 million bond issue was placed on the ballot to preserve land for conservation, wildlife and fish habitat and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing. That ballot question also included $2 million for a brand-new Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program, run by the state Department of Marine Resources and the Land for Maine Future’s Board of Directors.

That ballot question passed overwhelmingly. Since it began in 2006, the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program has helped permanently save 14 properties for fishing use that handle $38 million in annual landings and support over 700 fishing families. And the bond funds have leveraged an additional $7.2 million from other sources toward working waterfront projects.

This type of combined program has already been successful in Vermont. In 1987, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund Act was passed. The program linked land conservation and historic preservation with the creation of affordable housing. Since then, more than 8,500 units of affordable housing have been created and 368,500 acres of agricultural lands have been preserved in Vermont.

By including processing in the bill, Pingree’s bill recognizes that these industries need more than just the land in order to succeed. Right now, the state’s lobster industry is looking at ways to better market the Maine brand and get more money for lobstermen. With lobstermen sending much of their catch to Canadian processing plants, encouraging more processing in state, which would retain the Maine brand, can only help. For groundfishermen, the ability to process fish locally gives them the chance to make more money from the fish they catch. On March 20, the Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative opened a small plant to process and sell the fish that they catch (see “Co-op opens fish processing plant in Port Clyde by David A. Tyler). It is precisely this kind of processing that can help Maine fishermen market fish and lobster both to local residents and nationwide. And with more processing for both agriculture and farming, state residents are assured that they can eat local fish and produce, helping their producer-neighbors and making sure they know where their food comes from.

When it comes to land preservation, we should now look at exceptional recreational landscapes, and communities, as an integrated whole. And rather than pit conservationists against those seeking to create jobs, everyone can work together to preserve Maine’s traditional industries-and the land which they use-so that this state retains its farming and fishing heritage.