A plan announced last week by Gov. Paul LePage to merge the Agriculture and Conservation departments is overdue and should be welcomed by lawmakers.
“These two departments are very similar and today divide funding resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Gov. LePage said in a press release. “It makes sense for these two agencies to work closer together toward economic prosperity.”
Such a merger wouldn’t save a lot of money, but a more coordinated approach makes sense. While the governor has focused on the fact that logging and farming are overseen by the same federal agency, the users of these resources and other state natural resources should be considered too.
This naturally leads to the difficult discussion of the Conservation Department and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Both are important drivers of tourism and, hence, the state economy. As has been proposed before, consolidating them is worth further consideration.
One benefit to the proposed merger, said Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb, is that some of the marketing resources at the Conservation Department could be put to use helping farmers.
This logic should spread beyond these two agencies. Coordinating the marketing of Maine’s outdoors with its products makes a lot of sense. Bringing the Department of Tourism into this mix, to sell recreational experiences alongside Maine products, is an approach worth strong consideration.
Efforts by the previous administration and Legislature to consolidate the state’s natural resources agencies failed in the face of strong opposition — especially from sportsmen. The Baldacci administration tried different configurations, but the basic plan was to turn the Departments of Agriculture, Conservation, Marine Resources and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife into one or two agencies.
Having seen those plans fail, Gov. LePage was wise to leave Inland Fisheries and Wildlife out of the mix — for now. Starting on a smaller scale gives the administration an opportunity for success where others have failed. They can then build on that success.