Down East 2013 ©
Good things are happening on two controversial issues headed to the Maine Legislature this session. One concerns waterfowl nesting habitat; the other is all about governance of the North Woods by the Land Use Regulation Commission.
A task force handed the hot LURC potato last session performed very well, diffusing this volatile issue with a sensible examination of the key issues and problems, and issuing a series of well-received recommendations, only two of which are still generating serious opposition.
Those two would give counties that include unorganized territories the option of opting out of LURC’s jurisdiction, and allow County Commissioners to appoint LURC Commissioners without any oversight or approval process.
I expect the legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee to strike both of these provisions, and endorse all the other recommendations. County Commissioners may retain the right to nominate LURC Commissioners, but those nominees would have to be confirmed by the Maine Senate.
The LURC Task Force report and recommendations will be presented to the ACF Committee this afternoon (January 10). The entire report and list of recommendations is available on the website of the Department  of Conservation.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed new waterfowl rules also appear to be positioned for positive action by the legislature, now that the Board of Environmental Protection voted – unanimously – to strengthen those rules.
The rules would allow development adjacent to waterfowl nesting habitat through an easy permit-by-rule system. But the Board of Environmental Protection increased the minimum setback for that habitat from 100 to 150 feet, and prohibited construction and clearing of a site between April 15 and July 31 when nesting takes place.
Steve Walker, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in my earlier blog post on this issue, advocated for these changes.
DEP Commissioner Patty Aho told Maine Public Radio’s Susan Sharon, “This is an example where having a deliberative process works. All of the comments were reviewed to make sure that what is being proposed for a provisionally adopted rule is probably a good rule going forward.”
And the sharpest critic of the original rule proposal, Nick Bennett of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, seemed to agree with Aho. Bennett told Bangor Daily News reporter Kevin Miller, “We are pleased that the board really listened to the science supporting larger buffers.”
Bennett, an avid duck hunter, has a passion for this issue and has repeatedly and effectively kept in the forefront the importance of waterfowl nesting habit to Maine’s hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife watching economy.
While there is sure to be plenty of controversy this year in Augusta, it’s good to know that two of the key environmental issues may be resolved in a collaborative cooperative manner.