by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director and Staff Attorney
Good afternoon Senator Rosen, Senator Sherman, Rep. Flood, Rep. Edgecomb and members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs, and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committees.
My name is Cathy Johnson. I am a resident of Alna. I am here today on behalf of the 12,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine where I have worked as the North Woods Project Director for over 20 years.
The Department of Conservation provides a myriad of services to Maine people:
The Maine Forest Service oversees our forests and our forest products industry. It helps ensure that the forest products industry continues to be a vital part of Maine’s economy. It also enforces Maine’s forest practices and liquidation harvesting acts to ensure that Maine’s forests are managed sustainably for the long term so that they can continue to be the backbone of the state’s economy indefinitely into the future.
The Bureau of Parks and Lands manages our state parks and public lands. The lands are the foundation of our tourism economy. Visitors come from all over the country and the world to paddle and fish Maine’s rivers and streams, to hike Maine’s mountains, to hunt wildlife in Maine’s forests, to recreate on Maine’s beaches and rocky coastline, and to watch Mine’s special wildlife – including moose, loons, and migrating song birds. But not only do the parks and public lands play an important part in Maine’s economy, they also play a critically important role in the lives of Maine people – particularly during these difficult economic times. State parks and public lands provide a low cost vacation option for Maine families so that even the least wealthy among us can enjoy some of the best that Maine has to offer – on the coast, on lakes and rivers, in the forests, and on the mountains.
The Land Use Regulation Commission oversees the state’s undeveloped townships which constitute the largest undeveloped area in the eastern U.S. Only about 12,000 people live in this 10 million acre area. The purpose of LURC, since it was established, is to protect this area primarily for forest management and forest based recreation – both important for the state’s economy. The Legislature directed LURC to guide any development to appropriate areas, so as not to interfere with the primary forestry and recreation purposes of the region. Just since 2007 LURC has permitted nearly $1 billion worth of commercial and residential development projects while maintaining and protecting the most important natural resources of the region.
Finally, the Bureau of Geology, including the Natural Areas Program, provides Maine citizens, landowners and developers with important information about the natural resources of the state, from rocks and minerals, to water to important plant communities. This information helps people make good decisions when they are planning development of any type.
The budget proposed for year 1 is generally the same as last year – as it needs to be, at a minimum, because over the last two decades DOC has had to cut and cut and cut its budget until there is absolutely no fat left in it to cut. We do have some concerns about the unallocated $25 million gap in year 2 and whether DOC will have to absorb additional cuts as a share of that. We urge that it not.
We do have one major concern with the budget, however. As we understand the proposed changes in retirement for state employees, we are very concerned that the result will be a disproportionally large number of retirements at DOC, given the age of their workforce. DOC has many employees who have extensive expertise and knowledge about the state’s natural resources developed over an entire career. Sudden retirement of all these people would represent a huge, sudden brain drain from the department and the loss of years of institutional expertise and memory. It would create chaos and confusion, slow down permitting, and put the state’s natural resources at risk as newer employees struggle to recreate that body of knowledge. We urge you to think through, very carefully, the substantive impacts of those proposed changes, not just on the employees, but also on the state’s natural resources and forest-based economy, and on Maine families that use and depend on those resources.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today.