By Eliza Townsend, Maine Conservation Policy Director
The Maine legislature adjourned in March as the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak became clear. At that time, there was an expectation that lawmakers would return to address unfinished business, including a bond question to recapitalize the popular Land for Maine’s Future program and to invest in infrastructure at Maine’s state parks. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of access to places to get outside, stretch our muscles and soothe our minds.
Unfortunately, at this point there is no clear date for the legislature to return, and we cannot be confident that the bond question will be placed on the ballot, leaving both LMF and our state parks without investment once again. I encourage you to reach out to your legislators to express your support for Land for Maine’s Future and much-needed investments at our state parks.
The news is better at the federal level, where the Great American Outdoors Act has been scheduled to come to the Senate floor the week of June 8. The GAOA combines full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and funding to address maintenance of federal properties, including national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. The LWCF funds a wide range of recreational opportunities including local parks and trails, even playgrounds and ball fields. Its component fund, the Forest Legacy program, supports the conservation of working forests, and provided critical funding for our Maine Woods Initiative. The bill has bipartisan support, including from all members of Maine’s congressional delegation, and is expected to pass.
Meanwhile, the governor’s 39-member Maine Climate Council is moving forward. Subgroups will report back on their priorities in June, with a goal of a full set of recommendations made to the next legislature in December. The Natural & Working Lands subgroup’s recommendations include creating a dedicated and sustained funding source to conserve working forests, agricultural, and natural lands; and the creation of a voluntary forest carbon program for small landowners. AMC has advocated to expand that program to all landowners and for bold, specific targets on land conservation. We’ll keep you informed as the Climate Council makes its recommendations and the legislature considers them. There is no question that climate change is affecting Maine now, with extreme weather events, changing habitat, and negative impacts on wildlife. For example, AMC’s scientists have tracked the shortening of our winters and the phenomenon they call “Winter Whiplash.” We must act now to slow and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In May, the Maine DEP issued a permit for the New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile transmission line from the Canadian border to Lewiston, including 53 miles of new corridor cut through the woods north and west of Caratunk. AMC intervened in that process, opposing the project on the grounds that fragmenting Maine’s forests will negatively impact forests and the wildlife that depends on them. The project is proposed to help Massachusetts meet its clean energy goals by purchasing electricity generated in Quebec.
Have you signed up for AMC’s Conservation Action Network? You can follow issues across the region and take action on them at www.outdoors.org/conservation.