The Maine Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) recently convened at the Spectacular Events Center in Bangor for its Annual Winter Meetings. The 16 conservation districts in Maine that were represented at the meeting serve as the bridge between citizens and local, state and federal agencies. They provide conservation leadership, teach the value of natural resources, and help plan and implement voluntary programs to both prevent and solve local environmental problems. They work with many partners to provide assistance to the public for their use of land, soil, water, wildlife, forest, plants and other natural resources.
At this meeting preparations were made for several statewide conservation initiatives, including natural resource assessments to be conducted in Spring, 2016, throughout all counties in Maine. These assessments, to be conducted in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will help determine local conservation priorities and also provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating NRCS technical and financial conservation assistance in Maine.
Presentations were also made on the numerous soil health initiatives underway in Maine. Dr. Brandon Smith, the Northeast Team Leader for new NRCS Soil Health Division, and Tony Jenkins, NRCS State Resource Conservationist, spoke about the soil health challenges facing farmers. They also discussed NRCS plans for a broader adoption of agriculture management practices that will maintain or enhance soil functions. “Healthy, and sustainable agricultural soils are measured by ecological factors such as organic matter and biology, as well as by economic values, such as agricultural productivity and crop yields,” Jenkins explained.
The meeting also addressed a number of soil health initiatives to assist potato farmers in Aroostook County. Angie Wotton, Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Director and Kassy Michaud, Central Aroostook SWCD Executive Director, gave presentations on their work with multiple public and private partners, including the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) and the Maine Potato Board, to help potato farmers improve soil health. These initiatives will also help farmers prevent soil erosion and improve water quality using innovative cover cropping, green manures and other technical assistance provided through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners.
A MACD Advisory Council Meeting with DACF’s Commissioner Walt Whitcomb focused on the gains being made in local, sustainable agriculture in Maine. Whitcomb noted that “Maine is the largest agricultural producing state in New England, and the state has prime farming soils and a lot of untapped potential,” with Maine’s primary agricultural products being potatoes, blueberries, apples, eggs, dairy and maple syrup. Whitcomb also noted that the DACF is going to continue to make the partnership with conservation districts a cost-efficient and effective local delivery system.
A recently awarded DACF Invasive Forest Pest grant will provide outreach and education in several counties in Maine through the MACD Employees Committee Technical Delivery Team. The outreach and education will serve to prevent the spread of invasive pests to Maine, and also to contain invasive pests that have already come to the state. Because Maine’s well-managed forests provide an approximate $8 billion industry each year in Maine, from forest products and the forest-based recreation economy, monitoring, management and education are all important to sustaining the state’s forestlands. Jeannie Federico, Oxford County SWCD Education and Outreach Coordinator, spoke of the threat to Maine’s forests from the Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive pests, and said, “There are lessons to be learned from those states that have already been damaged by these invasive pests, in addition to all the research now being done to slow their spread. By educating the public, Maine’s conservation districts can help to mitigate the damage to its beautiful forests.”
During the MACD Board of Director’s Meeting, the torch was passed to Bruce Talley of Medford, Maine, to begin his three-year tenure as the newly elected MACD President. Talley, who also serves as a Supervisor of the Piscataquis County SWCD, notes that “healthy soil and water are as essential as the air that we breathe.” He is excited to work with conservation districts throughout Maine, and their conservation partners, to plan, implement and manage the state’s natural resources for future generations.