Good morning Senators Breen and Dill, Representatives Gattine and Hickman, and members of both the Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committees. My name is Cathy Johnson. I live in Alna. I am here today on behalf of the 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak about the conservation and forestry portions of the budget proposed for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, LD 1001.
The conservation and forestry bureaus within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry are responsible for the management and oversight of forests, public reserved lands, and state parks across the state and for land use planning and zoning in the half of the state that has no local municipal government. These lands are the backbone of Maine’s forestry and forest-based recreation and tourism economies, and they provide wildlife habitat, clean water, outdoor recreation opportunities, and places for solitude and nature exploration for Maine people and visitors alike.
With a few exceptions, the proposed budget appears to essentially flat-fund these bureaus. We urge the committees to take a deeper look at these programs. In recent years, we have had significant concerns about the elimination or alteration of a number of positions within these bureaus, including the loss of staff needed to effectively manage our public reserved lands and state parks, and pursue land conservation opportunities. Similarly, the Land Use Planning Commission needs additional funds if it is to fulfill its responsibility for sound land use planning and zoning. Restoring these bureaus to at least previous staffing and funding levels is essential if they are to fulfill their missions and avoid staff burnout.
We are particularly concerned about the budget for Public Reserved Lands. We are aware that the public lands system has changed the way it accounts for wood cut and sold from public reserved lands, but we encourage you to seek additional information about the road and bridge building allocations of $11 million and $2.5 million on page A-59, and the effect of the language changes in Part Z. As the recently released Land Conservation Task Force report noted, the Bureau of Parks and Lands only has six seasonal ranger positions for over 600,000 acres and no staff to manage recreation on large forest ownerships where BPL holds conservation easements. Allocating more of BPL’s dedicated funds to recreation could provide multiple benefits of Maine people. We look forward to working with new leadership at the Bureau of Parks and Lands to ensure that both on-the-ground and financial management of our public lands is transparent and achieves all the multiple use goals of our public reserved lands system.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.