An energetic and inquisitive crowd gathered in the conference room of the Maine Forest Products Council on Friday, March 1, for a meeting of the Conservation Recreation Forum cohosted by the MFPC and the Maine Conservation Alliance.
With my help, the Alliance obtained a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to organize a Forum conference focused on the natural resource economy including outdoor recreation and key issues at the legislature.
The creation of the Conservation Recreation Forum was a key recommendation of Governor John Baldacci’s Task Force on Public Lands. The Forum consists of organizations representing environmentalists, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, and landowners, that is supposed to meet a couple of times each year to learn about key issues, reduce areas of conflict, and find new ways to collaborate.
The initial Forum conferences were well attended and very successful, but the initiative stalled out two years ago. The Forest Products Council and Maine Conservation Alliance believe the Forum can – and should – continue to bring all of these interests together.
If the March 1 conference is any indication, I think the Forum now has all the energy and interest necessary to continue well into the future. I organized the March 1 Forum conference for MCA and MFPC and was very pleased by both the turnout (more than 50 participants) and the high level of participation by those who were there. Comments from participants after the Forum were very positive.
I give a lot of credit to Carolann Ouellette, Director of the Maine Office of Tourism, who kicked off the conference with a very informative presentation on Maine’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy. Members of the audience began peppering Carolann with questions and comments almost immediately after she began speaking, and her speech turned into a dialogue that went on almost an hour longer than expected.
We sent participants on their way with a homework assignment, asking them to tell us what three things can and should be done to boost our natural resources economy. I will compile those suggestions into a report for the legislature.
Following Carolann’s presentation we went around the room, giving members from each group a chance to tell us what their key legislative issue or bill is this session. A panel started the discussion with information from each sector.
Don Kleiner, lobbyist for the Maine Professional Guides Association, spoke about sportsmen’s issues. Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, spoke about landowner issues. And Beth Ahearn, lobbyist for the Maine Conservation Alliance, spoke about issues of prime concern to environmentalists.
During this part of the morning’s discussion, several issues deserving of collaboration between all of the groups were identified. Those will probably be the focus of follow-up CRF meetings at the legislature as the session progresses.
After a scrumptious lunch provided by the Olde Post Office Café in Mount Vernon, Edie Smith, State Director for U.S. Senator Angus King, presented a video message from Angus, who was prevented from attending in person due to the DC dust-up over the sequester. I told participants that the first sequester cut turned out to be Angus’s speech to us!