AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s administration wants to use public dollars to protect a sugar maple plantation.

Maine Public (http://bit.ly/2fevPmQ ) reports Maine’s agriculture department is the lead applicant for a 23,600-acre stretch of timberland along the Maine-Quebec border. The department is applying for a $1.2 million conservation easement through the Land for Maine’s Future.

The LMF board is set to make funding decisions in November. LePage has criticized such conservation funding for benefiting rich landowners.

Paul Fortin, the timberlands’ landowner, is a LePage donor but he denied he’s getting preferential treatment. Fortin says leases to maple sugar producers aren’t enough to pay back the bank loan for the property.

The timberland accounts for about a quarter of the state’s maple syrup output. Most of the production is done by Canadian companies.