Good afternoon 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 support of LD 586, An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission to Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund.
This bill is a product of the hard, careful work of a legislatively created, bipartisan study commission comprised of legislators and leaders from the forest products and recreation industries. The Commission was a remarkable group that approached the issue with little bias and a strong commitment to reasonable recommendations based on forest science, the law, and the public good. NRCM was impressed with their process and supports this result.
A handful of initiatives in this bill rise to the top:
- The bill helps Maine’s rural communities by increasing recreation opportunities. LD 586 directs the State to establish priorities for investment in trails, bridges, trailheads, and other infrastructure that will bolster recreation opportunities on our public forests. Maine’s Public Reserved Lands—600,000 acres of publicly owned forests sprinkled across the state but largely located in the northern portion of the state—are notoriously under-utilized. Places like the Little Moose Unit outside of Greenville or Debouille west of Eagle Lake lack basic signs, trails, and trailhead parking needed to support regular visitation. Last summer, my husband and I spent a week in and around Greenville and had a heck of a time finding the trailhead for the Little Moose Unit – and advocating for these places is part of my job! If these units are easier to locate and have a decent trail network, increased visitation to the units and their surrounding communities will result.
- The bill takes simple steps to increase forest management transparency. Our Public Reserved Lands are owned by the people of Maine and the public is informed of the lands’ management through an annual report that is presented to this Committee. Currently, this report paints Public Reserved Lands forest management with a broad brush, reporting the annual cut across the entire land base. This bill calls for slightly more refined reporting: a breakdown of forest growth and harvest in each region (there are three) and the identification of units (there are about 30) where harvest has exceeded growth in the preceding fiscal year. This will provide the public with numbers they can actually wrap their heads around; it’s much easier to consider a single unit or region than the entirety of the Bureau’s extensive land base.
- The bill establishes a reasonable forest inventory timeline. LD 586 directs the Bureau to conduct a forest inventory every five years, based on the recommendations of forest industry professionals. The Commission agreed, as we do, that regular physical inventories will help Bureau foresters make informed management decisions. This initiative will also help keep the public informed about what’s happening in our public forests.
Thank you for this opportunity to address the Committee. We urge you to vote “Ought to Pass” on LD 586.