Good afternoon Sen. Edgecomb, Rep. Hickman, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Eliza Donoghue. I am here today on behalf of the 16,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in support of LD 39, a Resolve, To Require a Review of the Merger That Resulted in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.
NRCM had and continues to have significant concerns that the merger would lead and is leading to significant adverse changes in the former Department of Conservation programs and funding. However, we were assured that the programs that our members and supporters value – the Bureau of Parks and Lands, the Land for Maine’s Future program, and the Maine Forest Service, for example – would continue to be good stewards of Maine’s natural resources. Furthermore, we were assured during the transition that the merger was for the purpose of increasing efficiency and not as a cost-cutting measure.
We believe that creating a task force is a good idea. The task force could determine whether the merged department has provided, at the same or better level, the protection and management of our natural resources and public lands formerly provided by the Department of Conservation. We support such legislative oversight and applaud this initiative to make sure that promises are being kept.
This task force is timely. The Governor’s 2016/17 Budget proposes to significantly decrease enforcement of essential environmental laws and regulations and threatens Maine’s Public Lands – the very types of actions we were concerned that this merger would lead to.
The budget will cut the enforcement capability of the Maine Forest Service by 90%. This means that laws such as the Forest Practices Act and water quality standards will be enforced by 7 positions across the state instead of today’s 74. There could not be a clearer example of decreasing a service.
Furthermore, the budget proposes to move Public Lands to the Bureau of Forestry. The bureaus’ missions are radically different: Public Lands’ mission is to manage our public trust lands for multiple uses, including recreation, wildlife habitat, and high quality timber. The Bureau of Forestry’s focus is protecting the entire state’s forests from fires and insects, promoting forest products, and providing education and assistance to forest landowners. This reorganization would minimize the emphasis on recreation and wildlife habitat management. It will decrease a service formerly provided by the Department of Conservation.
The merger was a drastic change in the way programs that our members and this Committee care about are managed. It is fitting that this Committee review this change and see that the promises made 125th and 126th Legislatures are upheld. We urge you to vote OTP on LD 39.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.