Local farmer carries Maine's conservation message to D.C.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
When Taylor Oldroyd traveled from Washington D.C. to attend the Maine Association of Conservation Districts' (MACD) meeting this December, he got an earful. Oldroyd, assistant to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Bruce Knight, was impressed with MACD's message and urged the executive board to "take your passion directly to the Chief."

Steve Hobart, of Blanchard, newly elected president of MACD, accepted that invitation, along with MACD Past President Bruce Roope of Aroostook County and MACD Executive Director Bill Bell. MACD also invited Wild Blueberry Commission Executive Director David Bell, and Maine Commissioner of Agriculture, Bob Spear to join them in D.C. NRCS Acting State Conservationist Bruce Julian, who assisted Oldroyd in arranging time with the NRCS Chief, was also present for the meeting with Knight.

Conservationists concerned about the lack of federal dollars coming to Maine traveled to Washington D.C. in December to meet with Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Bruce Knight (third from left). Making the trek to D.C. were (from left) Commissioner of Agriculture Bob Spear, Wild Blueberry Commission Executive Director David Bell, Maine Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) President Stephen Hobart, MACD Past President Bruce Roope and MACD Executive Director Bill Bell. Not pictured, but also present at the meeting were NRCS Acting Maine State Conservationist Bruce Julian, NRCS Assistant Chief Tom Weber and Knight's assistant, Taylor Oldroyd.
Knight had invited NRCS Assistant Chief Tom Weber, as well as Oldroyd, to attend the meeting, which was slated to last one hour. He ended up giving the Maine group an hour and a half for what they felt had turned out to be "a very constructive" meeting.

Foremost among Maine concerns was the chronic under funding and understaffing of the USDA conservation programs in Maine. According to the Maine group's presentation, the state ranks dead last among all states in conservation program funding per acre of nonfederal farmland and forests. New Mexico ranks 45th, Wyoming 46th, South Dakota 47th, Montana 48th and Arizona 49th. Maine receives approximately the same NRCS funding as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire each receive, while having more working farm and forest lands than all of these states combined.

The Maine delegation pointed out that unlike the arid Southwest, Rocky Mountain and Plains states, which also receive meager funding, Maine's topography requires intense conservation to protect water quality. Knight appeared very interested in a map which detailed the extensive network of rivers, lakes, ponds and streams throughout the Pine Tree State.

"I've learned there are very few places in Maine you can stand and not be within a stone's throw of some kind of water," Julian told Chief Knight.

The Chief was also impressed with the commitment of Maine taxpayers and elected officials, laid out for him by Commissioner Spear. Spear cited the $5 million of Maine funds spent in recent years on nutrient management assistance for dairy farms, and another $2 million spent or in the pipeline to enable Maine farmers to manage water supplies for row crops.

"Frankly, we told the Maine Legislature that we expected that these funds would be matched with federal dollars, and to date we've been disappointed," Spear told Chief Knight.

Hobart returned very satisfied with the meeting.

"First, we clearly had Chief Knight's interest; the meeting lasted much longer than scheduled. Second, he was well aware of the technical assistance staffing shortfalls which we have experienced in Maine over the years. Third, Chief Knight had some very constructive ideas as to how his agency might allocate program dollars differently in order to better serve Maine. Finally, he left us with the statement that our 'timing is excellent,' which gives us grounds for optimism."

While in Washington, the Maine conservationists also met with Mike Brownlie, Legislative Assistant to Second District Congressman Mike Michaud; Matt Nelson, who holds a similar position with U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Maine's First District, and with Peter Downing and Tim McCormack, who are legislative assistants to U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, respectively.

"Our Maine delegation has from the outset been really supportive of the need for improved USDA conservation programs serving Maine," Bill Bell said. "We look forward to following up with the delegation and are confident that we will have some good results."

Because of the Congressional recess, the Maine group had not planned to meet with legislators. However, David Bell chanced upon Sen. Collins at Logan airport in Boston and briefed her on the meeting held earlier in the day with her staff.

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