Good afternoon Senator Hamper, Representative Rotundo, and Members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, and Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman, and Members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Cathy Johnson. I am here today on behalf of the 16,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to those provisions of the 2016/17 Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Biennial Budget that relate to the Bureau of Parks and Lands and to the Maine Forest Service.
NRCM has significant concerns about several aspects of the proposed budget. Today I will discuss two of those concerns, which would negatively impact Maine’s forests, lakes, rivers, and streams.
The first is the proposal to abolish the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) and move the management of our Public Lands to the Bureau of Forestry, commonly known as the Maine Forest Service (MFS). Maine’s 600,000 acres of Public Lands are prized by Maine people. They include the iconic Bigelow Preserve, Kennebec Highlands not far from Augusta, and the breathtaking Cutler Coast among many others. By law, Public Lands are managed for multiple uses: public recreation, wildlife habitat, and high quality sustainable forestry. Since the 1970s, our Public Land managers in the Bureau of Parks and Lands (formerly called the Bureau of Public Lands) have done an exemplary job managing Public Lands for all of these uses.
Moving Public Lands to the Maine Forest Service would threaten the integrity of BPL land management. The MFS’s objectives are radically different than BPL’s; the MFS serves private landowners whose principle objective is often to get the most financial return from their forest lands. If Public Lands were to be housed within the Bureau of Forestry, there would be pressure to manage for maximum financial return, not for preserving multiple public values.
There is no doubt that this proposed change is part of a larger effort by the Administration to increase cutting on Public Lands and use the funding for unrelated purposes. Last year, the Legislature rejected a similar attempt. Maine’s Public Lands are not an ATM. BPL is self-funded; the money generated from harvesting pays for all of the BPL’s activities and programs. We urge you to retain the Bureau of Parks and Lands, and to keep management of our Public Lands within that Bureau in order to maintain the integrity of our Public Lands system and continue the decades-long exemplary management of those lands.
Our second major concern is the proposal to dramatically cut the number of Forest Rangers in our state and to strip law enforcement authority from the remaining Forest Rangers. Maine Forest Rangers enforce many important environmental laws that protect our forests and waters. They are the boots on the ground, inspecting timber harvests for compliance with the Forest Practices Act and water quality standards. In 2014, Forest Rangers performed more than 5,000 compliance inspections.
The budget proposes to reduce the number of positions that can enforce essential environmental laws from 74 to 7. This is a 90% decrease. Maine’s woods and waters would not be adequately protected, and illegal timber harvests and polluted lakes, rivers, and streams would result.
Maine’s Public Lands have been well managed, financially self-supporting, and have provided high-quality timber, wildlife habitat, and recreation experiences for Maine people for decades. Likewise, Maine Forest Rangers have provided important protections for Maine’s forests, lakes, rivers, and streams. We urge you to reject these two proposals included in the proposed Biennial Budget.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.