The Maine Conservation Recreation Forum was a forum in the true sense – an opportunity for a very lively debate on everything from “amenities” in the Maine woods, to “foraging” on private property, to alewives in the St. Croix.
“I think it’s good to get industry and environmental groups and government agencies all in the same room to bat ideas back and forth,” said Jim Robbins of Robbins Lumber. “Even if we don’t agree on everything. It doesn’t hurt to hear the other side.”
Robbins represented MFPC at the forum, which attracted about 40 participants from across the state to our conference room. The forum was co-sponsored by MFPC and the Maine Conservation Alliance and funded by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. George Smith, a journalist and former director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, organized and moderated the event.
“We had some really great, challenging statements made – people didn’t hold back from expressing their conflicts and unhappiness with this and that,” Smith said. “And that’s exactly what never happens at the State House.”
The Conservation Recreation Forum was a key recommendation of Gov. John Baldacci’s Task Force on Public Lands. The Forum consists of organizations representing environmentalists, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, and landowners. It meets from time to time to help participants learn about key issues, reduce areas of conflict, and find new ways to collaborate.
“I was very pleased by the diversity of participation and by the enthusiasm and engagement by the people who came,” said Maureen Drouin, executive director of the Maine Conservation Alliance.
The featured speaker was Carolann Ouellette, Maine director of tourism, who led a very lively discussion as she presented statistics about “Maine’s Outdoor Recreation Economy – Past, Present, and Future.” Her presentation, which included research on tourism in the Maine woods, travel trends and marketing strategies, provoked many questions and much debate.
“That was really worthwhile, said Barry Burgason of Huber Resources.
“Yes,” agreed Sarah Medina of Seven Islands. “Carolann could probably have talked for another hour to explain some of the things that her office looks at and does and how they determine their marketing because it really is a well-coordinated effort that they do. They really do try hard to spend their $9 million in the most appropriate places.”
Sen. Angus King also had planned to speak federal actions affecting Maine’s key natural resources and outdoor recreation issues, but a scheduling conflict kept him in Washington, so he sent a taped message. Edith Smith, his chief of staff in Maine, was on hand to answer questions.
“I think the biggest value in anything like this is networking,” Medina said. “And I think this was a good opportunity for that. There was a good mix of people here.
She and Burgason were especially pleased that the landowners’ point of view was central to many of the discussions.
“It is important to have landowners here and I think George did a good job of pointing out that the recreation industry is based on private land and that people need to be aware of that,” Burgason said. “When groups are lobbying, they need to consider what the implications are.”
Smith hoped the success of Friday’s forum would lead to similar events in the future.
“We only have money for this one forum, but everybody was so enthused I hope we can raise money for future forums,” he said. “I think we had forgotten how much fun this is and how successful.”