Testimony in Support of LD 1246, An Act to Include Endangered and Threatened Species Habitat in the Definition of “Significant Wildlife Habitat” Under Natural Resources Protection Act
Senator Brenner, Representative Gramlich, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, I am Melanie Sturm, the Forests and Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and I appreciate the opportunity to provide testimony in support of LD 1246.
LD 1246 would help protect threatened and endangered species habitat from development. Currently, most proposed development reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not include consideration of endangered and threatened species habitat impacts. This bill seeks to close that gap by modifying the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) to ensure threatened and endangered species habitat is treated as “significant wildlife habitat,” requiring DEP to review endangered and threatened species impacts in consultation with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. We understand the sponsor’s amendment changes the exact circumstances under which DEP would be required to do this consultation, and we are supportive of that amendment.
Habitat loss and habitat degradation are leading threats to wildlife species, and development is one of the root causes of these issues. Maine is experiencing immense development pressure, especially in the southern part of the state, on the coast, and in rural areas, such as in the Rangeley Lakes and Moosehead Lake regions. For that reason, species declines and biodiversity loss are not something that is only happening elsewhere in the world, they are an acute problem occurring in our state right now. The decline and loss of species often happens slowly as habitat becomes fragmented and degraded over time, which is why the approach in LD 1246 of addressing development permits is a practical one. Small changes can add up to have a big impact. Simply changing when and how a project is developed – an example of what may change should this bill become law – can make a difference for species protection. Because wildlife means so much to Mainers throughout the state for recreational, cultural, and economic reasons, this bill would have a positive impact beyond its ecological benefits.
At its core, we believe this bill is forward-looking and would help the state better balance conservation of cherished species with economic and population growth, all of which are important to the future of Maine and its people.
I respectfully urge the Committee to vote Ought to Pass on LD 1246. Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.