Good afternoon Senator Dill, Representative Hickman, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I live in Alna. I am here today on behalf of the 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
I commend Rep. Skolfield for bringing this issue to the fore. I also just saw Chairman Hickman’s bill, LD 796, that raises related issues. I think a discussion about the future of the bureaus that made up the former Department of Conservation is an important conversation to have. Those agencies, the Bureau of Parks and Lands, the Maine Forest Service, the Land Use Planning Commission, the Land for Maine’s Future, and other programs are responsible for some of Maine’s most valuable natural resources – resources that support our forestry and outdoor recreation economies, that are important for protecting wildlife habitat and water quality, and that help define Maine’s “brand” and the quality of life for Maine people.
I am aware that many concerns have been raised about how the bureaus formerly in the Department of Conservation are functioning since the merger of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Conservation in 2012.
These concerns fall into three separate categories:
1. Management concerns;
2. Mission concerns; and
3. Financial concerns
Examples of management concerns include:
• The Bureaus that were formerly part of DOC are not receiving the priority attention they deserve and seem to have been relegated to second class status.
• Similarly, the Commissioner of the Department does not seem to have been able to focus on both agriculture and conservation issues.
Examples of mission concerns include:
• The Public Reserved Lands System is not meeting its multiple use mandate to focus on protection of wildlife habitat and provision of outdoor recreation opportunities as well as on timber harvesting.
• Also, people are concerned that the State Park System is losing its ability to interact with visitors to provide a positive visitor experience.
Examples of financial concerns include:
• State Parks continue to be inadequately funded.
• Accountability for the Public Reserved Lands dedicated funding account is not transparent.
• And the Land Use Planning Commission is inadequately funded so planning staff are forced to do their work without adequate data.
Whether the solution to these concerns is structural realignment of agencies, new management attention, or increased financial resources NRCM can’t say at this point. It might well be that Maine needs a combination of these approaches. We encourage you to keep this bill on the table, and continue to focus on these issues as Chairman Hickman’s bill and any other similar bills come before the committee. And we encourage you to work with the new Administration to figure out the best path forward. We look forward to participating in that conversation in whatever way would be helpful.