By Patrick Strauch, Executive Director
This week the ACF committee held a work session on LD 834, in which the Council and other members of the Natural Resource Network presented our concept of a restructured department (see organizational chart).
We think our version, based on bureaus for Agriculture, Forestry, Parks and Lands and Planning, captures the core functions of a combined department and establishes a strong cabinet from which the commissioner can operate the department. (See our testimony.) The Council is now working hard to bring this change about by working with the ACF Committee to address concerns and shape a bill that makes sense and has broad support. We will keep you posted as this effort continues and request your support as we work with the committee.
In other legislative action:
- LD 987 is an ACF technical change bill that the Natural Resource Council of Maine (NRCM) testified should be the vehicle to eliminate county commissioners serving as commissioners on the Land Use Planning Commission in the unorganized territory. NRCM has recently worked to block several commissioner nominations, undermining broad support to bring governance of the UT closer to the people who live in the region. We can not tolerate undermining the recent LURC reform efforts and will keep you posted on these developments.
- Bills to increase bear, moose turkey and fox hunting opportunities were heard in the legislature this week. Land owners and loggers keep up the good work in making habitats for these critters!
- I continue to monitor wind power bills being heard this session with respect to the president they create for affecting landowner opportunities and value. At the public hearing Monday at 10 a.m., LD 1147 will explore visual standards near the AT, protection zones around landmarks of local, state and national significance, reopen great pond classification standards in both the organized and unorganized parts of the state. These policy changes have the potential to migrate out of wind power regulation and threaten land values for other activities. We will be testifying against this bill.
- In the Environment and Natural Resources Committee several bills were heard on the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) as it relates to vernal pools. These bills are not likely to have strong legislative support this session.
- Also Monday, in the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, I’ll be testifying against LD 1103, Sen. Troy Jackson’s revival of the bonded labor wars. Last session I was under the impression that we reached a truce on simply antagonizing landowners by threatening expulsion from the Tree Growth program or creating a forestry excise tax penalty if landowners fail to monitor and report bond activity by independent contractors on their land is not productive. Last year we agreed to keep the equipment ownership laws in place, but focused on identifying ways to promote logging opportunities in Maine. I will try to refocus the effort in this more positive direction and let you know if Sen. Jackson is supportive of this more productive approach.
- LD 1177, An Act To Implement the Recommendations from the Discontinued and Abandoned Roads Stakeholder Group, creates more questions than answers on the issue of abandoned roads that will create many unintended consequences. This is an important issue for many landowners and we will be watching carefully.
- LD 443, An Act To Amend the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act of 1992 To Provide Benefits to Seriously Injured Workers, and LD 444, An Act To Improve Workers’ Compensation Coverage for All Injured Workers, will be coming up in the LRECD Committee on Wednesday. MFPC is working with the Maine State Chamber and Workers Comp Coordinated Council to watch over these reforms, which would increase rates.
- Progress on the state budget is tedious. It’s clear that withholding Revenue Sharing funds is extremely unpopular but alternatives have not been presented. The governor’s office announced a “fix” to the BETR program proposal, but I have not seen any updates. My hunch is that we may return to the historic remedy of not fully funding the reimbursement, but that is speculative.
As always, give us a call if you have any questions or concerns.
How many hours does the Maine Forest Service spend on fire control efforts? In 2010, staff spent 91,340 hours on fire control efforts and 32,651 on non fire activities, according to the Maine Forest Service – Weekly Report Summary 2010.
In preparation for LD 297, An Act To Require Forest Rangers To Be Trained in Order To Allow Them To Carry Firearms, we have been gathering data about MFS and forest rangers and have posted some of it on our website. You can find out what it takes to be a forest ranger, how many summonses rangers issue and read what the Ranger Safety Review Committee, 1998, thought about arming rangers more than a decade ago.
We need your opinion on new permit fees
The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Division of Forestry, is establishing new fees for permits and permits by rule. The deadline for public comment is 5 p.m., May 3. So please review the Draft of the Chapter 29 Fee Schedule and send your comments to Roberta Scruggs by April 29.