A new Maine legislative session is underway and those looking to protect Maine’s environment are excited about the opportunities. Gov. Janet Mills was reelected and is free to continue her priorities, and the makeup of the Legislature continues to lean favorably towards conservation. It’s a good time to get good things done.
But it’s never easy. Below is a series of bills that I’m hoping will become law this year, a result only possible after the input of countless experts, legislators, and concerned citizens. If you’re reading this, please consider lending your voice in support of any or all of the bills you care about: it makes a genuine difference.
I’ve pulled the information below from communications produced at my day job with Maine Audubon and from the list of 2023 priorities for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a partnership of 37 Maine-based environmental, conservation, and public health organizations.
Protecting loons: Believe it or not, one of the leading causes of loon death in Maine is lead poisoning. The birds accidentally ingest lead fishing gear that has fallen to the lakebottom when they’re diving to find stones to help their digestion. Maine outlawed the sale of unpainted lead jigs and sinkers a few years ago, but now is hoping to prohibit painted lead tackle as well.
Promoting offshore wind: Climate change is the number one threat to birds and other wildlife, period. We have a huge opportunity to produce lots of local, clean energy from floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine. “The Offshore Wind Bill” would commit the state to purchasing wind energy, giving developers the confidence they need to invest, and help ensure high standards for labor and environmental protection and monitoring.
Additional renewable energy legislation: Many have noticed Maine’s expanding portfolio of renewable energy projects, especially solar. A few bills in the legislature this session would help add capacity but reduce environmental impacts by guiding solar development toward contaminated and otherwise degraded lands, funding dual-use agriculture/solar pilot projects, and create a predictable mitigation program to compensate for impacts to key natural resources.
Two bills to improve the Maine Endangered Species Act: One bill would expand the circumstances in which state agencies have to consider the impacts of a project on endangered and threatened species and their habitat. The other would update the Act to include some badly hurting species, including Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Tricolored Bat, Ashton’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee and Marginated Tiger Beetle.
Supporting tribal sovereignty: This isn’t a new bill, unfortunately, but another attempt at addressing the embarrassing fact that the status of the Wabanaki Nations in Maine is different from all 570 other federally recognized tribes. This bill would restore the sovereign rights of the Wabanaki Nations, including for issues like rights to regulate hunting, fishing, natural resources and land use on tribal lands, as allowed by federal law. This issue has historically been a difficult one for the environmental community, but no longer: for at least three years it has been a top campaign for the Environmental Priorities Coalition.
Investing in Maine trails: Hiking, biking, running, snowmobiling — name the activity and Maine has a trail for it. Trails are a crucial part of Maine’s $3 billion outdoor recreation economy, and this bill for a $30 million Maine Trails Bond would provide grants to nonprofits, municipalities and other divisions of government statewide.
Bird-safe architecture: I’ve written in this column before about the problem of birds dying from flying into reflective glass windows, but solutions are on their way. A new bill would ask the state to develop guidelines to avoid collisions for new and renovated state buildings.
There are more important bills to be found on the websites of Maine Audubon, the Environmental Priorities Coalition, and other organizations working to safeguard Maine’s environment. Check them out and make your voice heard.
Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.