Good afternoon Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, and Members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, and Senator Davis, Representative Dunphy, and Members of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee. My name is Eliza Donoghue. I am here today on behalf of the 19,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to provisions of the 2018/19 Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Biennial Budget that relate to the Bureau of Parks and Lands (Bureau, BPL).
Maine is home to unparalleled natural resources, many of which are located within our public lands. Our public lands, which include 48 State Parks and Historic Sites and more than 600,000 acres of Public Reserved Lands, not only reflect and support Maine’s rich outdoor heritage and natural character, but attract millions of visitors. Tourism is Maine’s number one industry. The proposed 2018/19 budget would compromise our public lands’ profound and diverse values.
- In violation of the law, the budget eliminates oversight of Public Reserved Lands by the Director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands. By statute, the Director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands “administers all functions of the Bureau” including oversight of Public Reserved Lands. These lands are, by law, funded solely through a special revenue account. The proposed budget eliminates this funding source for the Director of the Bureau (see A-75), institutionalizing the current illegal practice of allowing an employee outside of the Bureau (the Director of the Maine Forest Service) to exercise authority and control over our Public Reserved Lands. The current funding structure for the Director of Parks and Public Lands position should remain the same, and oversight of Public Reserved Lands should be returned to the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
- The budget removes a position that is essential for the Bureau to effectively monitor and steward its land holdings and conservation easements. The proposed budget removes the position (Senior Planner, A-75) charged with conservation easement management, monitoring, and enforcement from the Bureau. As of FY 2015, the Bureau was legally responsible for overseeing nearly 400,000 acres of conservation and recreation easements, enforcing nearly 10,000 acres of Forest Legacy conservation easements delegated to the Bureau by the U.S. Forest Service, and serving as the back-up holder and overseer of nearly 400,000 acres of third-party conservation easements. Conservation easements are binding contracts; failing to adequately monitor, enforce, and otherwise meet the terms of the easements can be grounds for costly lawsuits. This Senior Planner position should be retained within the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
- In proposing to eliminate a top leadership position from the Bureau of Parks and Lands, the budget would weaken the Bureau’s overall effectiveness, efficiency, and mission. The budget eliminates a Public Service Manager III position (see A-74), also known as the Director of Operations. This position serves as the bridge between Parks and Public Lands, coordinating major projects, and prioritizing and coordinating resources. Traditionally, all top field positions report directly to the Director of Operations, including regional parks and Public Reserved Lands supervisors. Without this position, the Bureau would not be able to achieve its mission to protect and manage its natural resources, offer recreational opportunities, and provide environmental and economic benefits for present and future generations. This Director of Operations – Public Service Manager III position should be retained.
- The budget would degrade State Park visitors’ experience by cutting 24 positions. The budget proposes to eliminate 15 Assistant Park Ranger and nine Laborer positions (see A-92). Assistant Park Rangers and Laborers are the public face of Maine’s State Parks. Assistant Park Rangers interact directly with the public, providing information, handling emergencies, and taking care of our state’s most beloved resources. Laborers, in addition to their maintenance responsibilities, are trained in CPR and first aid, and assist in locating lost people. These responsibilities cannot be handed off to contractors, as the responsibilities often go beyond job description: crisis response, visitor concierge services, and parking management. These responsibilities must remain with those that often return yearly and who are committed to the mission and success of Maine’s State Parks. If these positions are eliminated, visitor experience and park facilities will deteriorate at a time when park attendance is at an all-time high. The 24 State Park positions should be retained.
- The budget eliminates the Historic Site Specialist position. Eliminating this position would fundamentally threaten the integrity of Maine historic sites. including Colonial Pemaquid, Fort Knox, and Popham Beach State Park (see A-92). This position is responsible for managing, interpreting, and restoring dozens of State-owned historic properties. Eliminating this position would compromise the State’s ability to preserve our state’s history. The Historic Site Specialist position should be retained.
Maine’s Public Reserved Lands have been well-managed and have provided high-quality timber, wildlife habitat, and recreation experiences for decades. Likewise, Maine’s State Parks preserve our natural and cultural heritage and are major tourism destinations. We urge you to reject the above listed proposals, as well as the following other budget initiatives that would compromise Maine’s natural resources, including:
- The elimination of a Land for Maine’s Future planner position. This position moves grant applications and projects forward. Eliminating this position would disrupt the program’s ability to meet the public’s and applicant’s expectations and the program’s effectiveness (see A-72). This LMF Planner position should be retained.
- The proposed reallocation of 17 Forest Ranger positions from the Division of Forest Protection program to the Forest Health and Monitoring program. This proposal could result in a drastic change in Forest Ranger responsibilities, including a diminished emphasis on natural resource law enforcement (see A-54). 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. We are concerned that if Forest Rangers’ responsibilities are drastically changed, Maine’s woods and waters would not be adequately protected, and illegal timber harvests and polluted lakes, rivers, and streams would result.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committees and for your consideration of these comments.