Governor misinformed on land trusts

Dear Editor:

Perhaps emboldened by the Trump administration’s war on the nation’s public land, Governor LePage has decided to really step up his rhetoric against Maine’s land trusts. His State of the State speech Feb. 13 was rife with misinformation, cherry-picked “facts” and important omissions from recent studies, as he called on these nonprofits to “pay their fair share” of taxes and laid the blame for the state’s financial woes at their feet.

LePage is all for land conservation, he claimed more than once (really?), but wonders why Democrats have given him such pushback when he’s simply trying to require that land trusts contribute to the tax rolls. Among several other spurious claims, LePage stated that Maine’s land trusts have taken the equivalent of the state of Connecticut and made it tax-exempt.

A conserved lands registry expanded by the state last year, as well as a 2017 survey of Maine land trusts, tells the real story. Land trusts own 600,000 acres in the state of Maine; 94.5 percent of that land is on the tax rolls. Another 1.9 million acres in Maine (mostly working forests) are protected by conservation easements, privately held, and all on the tax rolls. Because land trusts are nonprofits — like colleges, churches and others — the land they own could technically be tax-exempt (and deserves to be), but most of it is not.

Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, for example (full disclosure, I am the former executive director), pays tree growth taxes on its Orland property, and open space taxes on its Bucksport land. These options are open to any Maine landowners who qualify. The land trust is also forced to pay commercial forest excise tax on harvestable acreage. These payments are no small potatoes for a small nonprofit.

LePage’s biggest falsehood was that land trusts are “preserving land with no benefit to the taxpayer.” The IRS does not allow that; all land trust conserved lands must pass a public benefit test. Conservation lands, which are tax-exempt, have good reason to be. When conserved land meets the goals of a town’s comprehensive plan, or protects state-designated critical wildlife habitat, the benefit is clear. Maine land trusts also provide free to the public: 1,260 miles of hiking trails, 570 miles of snowmobile trails and 345 miles of ATV trails, plus 203 boat launches, 210 beaches and swimming areas and 2.34 million acres open for hunting. Clearly, when Maine people approve Land for Maine’s Future bonds time and again, we are showing that we value conserved land and are willing to pay more taxes to enjoy it.

Oddly, LePage began his remarks with a quote from John Marshall, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” He would clearly like to destroy Maine’s land trusts. I thank our legislators, our municipalities, the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Tourism Association and others around the state who have testified for the hard work that Maine people do through our land trusts to benefit everyone in the State of Maine. For more info, go to and download the Land Trusts Work for Maine report.

Cheri Domina