Testimony in Support of LD 1995, An Act To Make Supplemental Appropriations and Allocations for the Expenditures of State Government, General Fund and Other Funds and To Change Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2022 and June 30, 2023
Senator Breen, Representative Pierce, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, I am Melanie Sturm, Forests & Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I am writing in support of certain provisions in LD 1995 for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) and the Baxter State Park Authority.
State parks, historic sites, forests, and reserved lands are treasured places for recreation and rejuvenation and are woven into the fabric of the culture of Maine. Though highly regarded, our public lands have been chronically underfunded, limiting the state’s ability to keep them in good working order and adequately prepared for the millions of people who visit our public lands annually, a number that has steadily grown in recent years. Maine State Parks and public lands throughout the pandemic and continuing today have faced heavy levels of use. The demand demonstrates the need for more investment in these lands. Addressing standard maintenance and infrastructure improvements, sufficiently staffing the Department, and compensating State employees well are critical to keeping our public lands safe, beautiful, and accessible.
For similar reasons, we are encouraged to see funding dedicated to hiring staff for the Land for Maine’s Future program (LMF). LMF is Maine’s primary funding source for conserving recreation areas, farmland, working waterfronts, coastlines, and working forestlands, and for three decades has leveraged millions of dollars in federal and private funding to assist in the acquisition of more than 300 projects that protect more than 600,000 acres spanning all 16 Maine counties. Funding for new employees will help better manage current acquisitions and new projects, improve the experience for applicants applying to LMF, and move funds more efficiently.
In the Maine forestlands where natural resource management and land use practices are among the most important drivers of forest health and sustainability, we believe that the proposed funds for new and updated equipment in addition to new staff positions are reasonable and necessary. Climate change, forest fires, pests, and disease are immediate threats to Maine’s forests and the wildlife inhabiting the region. Monitoring such an expansive area requires the proper equipment and staff capacity to maintain the extraordinary social, ecological, and economic values of Maine’s forests. We are also encouraged to see new positions that will help landowners implement carbon-enhancing forest management practices on their land.
Development pressure is another lead threat to the health of Maine’s environment. The Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) has been processing unprecedented levels of building permits, and the number of enforcements issues is up. We recognize the LUPC needs additional staff and resources to be effective, and we support the proposed budget items to allow the agency to balance conservation and development in the Unorganized Territories and ensure compliance with rules and regulations.
We also support new positions in the Parks Division and Office of the Commissioner to manage federal grants that will help the state tap funding made available by the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). Signed into law in 2020, the GAOA fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. Maine can take advantage of those resources but needs staff time and capacity to apply to and manage funding opportunities, which proposed new positions will make possible.
Lastly, we support funding for staff and initiatives to address PFAS contamination across the state of Maine. “Forever chemicals,” such as PFAS, are a widespread environmental hazard and pose a serious threat to the health of Maine people and natural resource-based businesses. The funding in the supplemental budget is a good start to tackle what is a pervasive, expensive problem.
In summary, the DACF budget items that we support in the Governor’s Recommended General Fund Supplemental Budget 2022-2023 (Part A) include:
- Establishes several positions and makes one position permanent in the Bureau of Agriculture to focus on managing PFAS and related concerns. A-11 – A-13
- Provides one-time funding to abate, clean up and mitigate threats or hazards posed by PFAS contamination affecting the agricultural sector, provide support to affected farms, support critical PFAS research, and allow the Department to respond to PFAS concerns strategically and effectively. A-12
- Establishes several positions in the Forest Resource Management Division to provide training and education to landowners on climate-friendly forest management practices and manage pest, insect, and disease-related issues. A-15
- Establishes one limited-period Senior Planner position for the implementation of Maine Won’t Wait. A-18
- Provides funding for general operating expenses for the Maine Natural Areas Program to maintain a statewide inventory of at-risk species and habitats to help with landowner and land manager outreach. A-22
- Establishes new full-time and seasonal positions in the Parks Division to assist with grant management and operational needs, respectively. A-28
- Establishes Senior Planner and Paralegal Assistant positions to assist with meeting the goals of the Land for Maine’s Future program. A-19
- Establishes several positions at the Land Use Planning Commission to enhance planning and improve connections with stakeholders in the Unorganized Territories, investigate enforcement issues, and provide mapping and database support. A-21
- Provides funding for lengthening seasonal positions and establishes new limited-term and seasonal positions at Baxter State Park. A-35 – A-36
- Provides funding for important equipment acquisition and upgrades for the Division of Forest Protection, Land for Maine’s Future program, and Parks Division. A-14, A-19, A-28
- Establishes several positions in the Office of the Commissioner to effectively execute Land for Maine’s Future goals, manage federal grants, address PFAS contamination and mitigation, and train and educate landowners on climate-friendly forest management practices. A-23 – A-27
I urge you to support these important budget items in the governor’s proposed supplemental budget, LD 1995. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony.