by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney
Good afternoon Sen. Sherman, Rep. Edgecomb and members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am here today on behalf of the 12,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to LD 1830, An Act to Establish the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
The Department of Conservation carries out a variety of activities related to the state’s natural resources. Some of those activities, like promoting the forest products industry and providing appropriate locations for development, have economic development as their primary focus.
Many other activities of the Department of Conservation (DOC), like the management of state parks and public lands and ensuring the sustainability of our forest ecosystems, provide economic benefits to the state, but their primary purpose is much broader than economic development. Some of those activities may, in fact, include foregoing short-term economic return in order to ensure long-term sustainability and economic opportunities.
Finally, some activities of the Department, like the activities of the Bureau of Geology and Natural Areas, and habitat protection, may have little or no measurable economic benefit. But they provide other important values to the state, such as clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and research and information.
We oppose LD 1830 for five principle reasons:
1. Primary focus on economic development is too limited: LD 1830 would dramatically change the guiding principles of the Department of Conservation. While the current mission of DOC includes the directive to “preserve, protect and enhance the land resources of the State,” the guiding principle of this new department would be focused primarily on economic development and on the economic benefit that our natural resources provide.
Maine’s natural resources provide a wide variety of benefits for the people of Maine â some of those benefits can be measured in economic terms. But some of the benefits cannot be easily measured in dollars and cents. Having beautiful, low-cost places for families to recreate is a primary, critical function of our state park system. Having undeveloped forestland where Maine residents can hunt, fish, hike, and camp is a critical aspect of our public lands system. Protecting our undeveloped lakes and rivers, providing places for spiritual renewal for Maine citizens, keeping the headwaters of our major river systems clean and unpolluted, ensuring the protection of habitat for all species, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of our forest ecosystem, are all primary goals for the DOC. Some of these activities generate economic activity for the state, but that is not their primary purpose.
We think it is inappropriate to move these non-economic activities into a department primarily focused economic development.
2. No high level focus on the non-economic values of the state’s natural resources: We are also concerned that the two deputies proposed for this new department would be focused only on organization and administration, and on economic development. As with the guiding principles, we think there is an over-emphasis on economic development to the detriment of the other parts of DOC’s mission. The other parts of DOC’s activities are equally important and should be elevated to the deputy level.
3. Unlimited power granted to the new Commissioner: NRCM is also concerned about the increased power being granted to the new Commissioner. Unlike the more limited grant of specific powers under which the DOC Commissioner currently operates, the new Commissioner is being granted unlimited powers. What additional powers are these and why does this new Commissioner need greater powers than the existing Commissioners of Agriculture and Conservation?
4. No legislative oversight: We are also concerned with the way this merger would take place. There is no required report back to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Comiittee, and all rules would be minor technical rules, not requiring Legislative review. The result will be a Commissioner with increased power and no legislative oversight.
5. No stated mission for new Division of Land Use Planning, Permitting and Compliance: Finally, we are concerned about the proposed “Division of Land Use Planning, Permitting and Compliance.” This is the only proposed division which does not correspond to existing bureaus in DOC. It is unclear what the mission of this new division will be and there does not seem to be any transition paragraph for the Land Use Regulation Commission.
This proposed merger would cause great disruption in the work of the existing departments, and would not save any money. We urge you to reject this proposed merger and vote ONTP on LD 1830.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.