Maine’s Soil & Water Conservation Districts presented their latest programs to legislators at the annual Conservation District Day at the State House in Augusta. District displays focused on local accomplishments with agriculture, forestry, invasive species, wildlife, lakes, urban issues, and water quality.
Senate President Justin Alfond, House Majority Leader Seth Berry, and Assistant Majority Leader Jeff McCabe thanked Districts for their presence and offered support. Senator Emily Cain and Representative Dennis Keschel from the Appropriations Committee spent time viewing displays and talking with District employees. Districts thanked members of the Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee for their ongoing support.
Legislators from every county in Maine took time out from their busy schedules to visit with their Conservation Districts, renew acquaintances, and learn about the effectiveness of locally-based programs for natural resource conservation.
Conservation Districts are one of the best bargains in government. Districts are administered by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, but are locally controlled by elected boards of supervisors who volunteer their time to help land owners address soil and water conservation needs.
Districts are non-regulatory with a long history of encouraging voluntary cooperation to improve the productivity of our soils while preventing erosion, loss of nutrients, and adverse impacts on water quality. Districts are trusted by local property owners to provide objective advice and technical assistance
Most importantly, Districts are cost-effective, low-overhead organizations. They can deliver conservation services more affordably than most federal and state agencies, because they are located in the communities they serve.
State funding represents only about 15 percent of District budgets. Our Districts have been highly entrepreneurial in using State funds to match grants from federal agencies and private foundations with contributions from counties, municipalities, businesses, and private land owners.
Presently, the State of Maine provides $280,000 a year to Districts. That amount has not changed since 2001. With inflation over the past 12 years, we are seeing signs that the capacity of Districts to deliver conservation services is beginning to erode. District employees have been looking for ways to collaborate to increase their efficiency.
LD 377, sponsored by Rep. Russell Black of Wilton, would provide an additional $200,000 per year to bring each District’s state allocation from $17,500 to $30,000. Based on our past experience, Districts will be able to leverage this increased funding to provide an additional $2-3 million in conservation programs to support our natural resource-based economy.
We know budgets are tight and there’s never a good time to ask for money. But we believe the time is right to invest in Conservation Districts. With the current session of the Maine Legislature due to close this week, now is the time to e-mail or phone to support passage of LD 377.