A Private Sector Answer to Meet Public Needs
Maine boasts more than 80 land trusts, community-supported, non-profits that have permanently conserved more than 2.5 million acres–12% of the state.
This network of privately-owned properties offers many of the benefits people have come to enjoy on Maine’s public lands, including access to the outdoors for traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and wildlife observation, but that’s just the beginning.
Land trusts also maintain more than a thousand miles of recreational trails; provide land for sustainably managed working forests, farms, and waterfronts; protect valuable wildlife habitats; and present community programming that enhances the lives of families throughout Maine.
Maine Has Very Little Public Land
One reason Maine has such an active land trust community is because Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands among all states in our region. At 6.5%, it is also one of the lowest percentages in the country, lower than 36 other states.
Most states rely heavily on government, at all levels, to acquire and manage public lands to meet the needs and desires of their citizens to secure public access to the outdoors, support natural resource-based industries, protect wildlife habitat and safeguard public drinking water supplies. In Maine, where government land ownership is low, land trusts have stepped up to meet these public goals by acquiring many conservation lands without government support and by partnering with government to purchase and manage new and existing protected properties.
Maine land trusts are also national leaders in the use of conservation easements. When public conservation benefits are secured with easements, protected properties remain privately-owned and on the tax rolls. Easements are the tool used to protect more than 75% of the land conserved by Maine land trusts.
In many parts of the country, the burden of public access to the outdoors is mostly the responsibility of government and taxpayers. In Maine, our more modest network of public lands are complimented by a privately-funded land trust system that provides many additional places where we can hunt, hike, fish, snowmobile, ATV, picnic, birdwatch, walk our dogs, and enjoy nature–usually for free.
Percent of Public Land, by State
Maine ranks last in New England
- New Hampshire — 20.2%
- Massachusetts — 14.8%
- Vermont — 14.4%
- Rhode Island — 11.1%
- Connecticut — 10.4%
- Maine 6.5%
Based on numbers from “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data” a 2017 Congressional Report and information collected from state websites, including individual State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans. Public lands are defined as conservation properties owned by Federal, State, or local governments.
Maine has one of the most active land trust communities in the nation, with more land trusts per capita than any other state.
Collectively, Maine’s 80+ land conservation organizations have conserved a little more than 2.5 million acres of the state.
- 1,900,000 acres: privately-owned lands with legal agreements that limit development and protect natural resources. Most are managed as working forests, available to the public for hiking, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
- 600,000 acres: lands owned by land trusts as natural areas, scenic landscapes, working lands, and destinations available to the public for traditional outdoor recreation.
Most Lands Remain on Tax Rolls
All public land in Maine, the more than 1.3 million acres of conservation areas owned by Federal, state, and local governments, is exempt from paying property taxes. Since Maine land trusts provide similar public benefits as those enjoyed on government-owned properties, many land trust conserved lands are also eligible for property tax exemption. However, Maine’s land trusts keep nearly 95% of the 2.5 million acres they have collectively conserved on the local property tax rolls.
Land Trusts represent a small percentage of the value of all tax-exempt real estate in Maine municipalities.
Source: 2016 Municipal Valuation Return Statistical Summary Report, Maine Bureau of Revenue Services; 2017 MLTN Survey; and Governor LePage’s February 2018 report on Maine’s land trusts and non-profits
To learn more and find a land trust near you, go to mltn.org/trusts