It’s mostly reruns of environmental issues this year at the Maine legislature, including another stab at two major issues that sharply divided the last session: mining and lake protection. Insiders expect another attempt on the part of the administration to increase wood harvests on public lands, a proposal that failed last session largely because of the size of the harvests and the fact the governor wanted to divert the money away from public lands.
It’s the rumors that are always most interesting. I’ve heard from several good sources that Governor LePage will try to move state parks out of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, to the Tourism Commission in the Department of Economic and Community Development. Public lands would remain in the Ag Department.
If parks are to move, they match up better with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which also owns and manages state land. Montana, for example, has a very good Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. But I’m not sure sportsmen would support this move, fearing more involvement by nonsportsmen in “their” agency. Of course, DIF&W serves all the people of Maine and has many nongame initiatives and programs.
And after hearing rumors to the contrary, I’m now told that all of LePage’s natural resource commissioners will remain on the job. In fact, later this month, the Governor plans to meet with those commissioners to get a better handle on the Land for Maine’s Future Program and let them know the types of conservation projects he can support.
LMF will get a new director soon, as Ed Meadows has retired. And the program is running out of money, so a top priority of both sportsmen and environmentalists this session will be a new $20 million LMF bond issue. We’re unlikely to get that much money, but some funding is needed if LMF is to continue to be a player in the land conservation arena. The proposal includes money for LMF programs to protect deer yards and farmland, as well as the usual funding for land conservation around the state.
We owe a debt of gratitude to former Senator Pat Flood, who, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, was able to direct a portion of money generated by the new state liquor contract to the Land for Maine’s Future program.
There is also a lot of interest in the distribution of a newly authorized $10 million bond. $5.4 million will go to upgrades of culverts on town and city roads. You can be proud of the effort that’s been made to achieve this goal, important to upstream passage of fish and other species. A coalition of groups including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Audubon, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and The Nature Conservancy, has worked for years both inside and outside the legislature to improve culvert installations, and I give Pat Sirois at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative a lot of credit too. Pat has traveled the state, teaching everyone from engineers to loggers how to properly install culverts and temporary bridges.
The biggest problem has been the increased costs of doing culvert installation right, so the LMF money is an important step in that direction. I am particularly pleased that the criteria for awarding the $5.4 million will focus on upstream habitat. If there is only a few hundred yards beyond the culvert, there is not much sense in spending a lot of money to improve the culvert. If there is a few miles of habitat upstream, absolutely!
$4.2 million of the bond money will go to wastewater treatment – bricks and motor – a small but important drop in that big bucket. Maine will get $21 million in federal matching funds for these projects. $400,000 of the bond money will go to wetland restoration projects.
I expect there will also be some interest and scrutiny on the part of legislators to any state plan to protect public lands and wildlife management areas from the expected spruce budworm epidemic. I am on that trail now and will have a report for you sometime soon.