WELLS, Maine — Conservation funding was the theme during a visit by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on Sept. 16. The purpose of Pingree’s visit was to highlight a push to establish mandatory full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular conservation program.
The refuge is protected with grants from the conservation program. Kristin Jackson, federal outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said at the refuge that the program’s funds come from offshore gas and oil drilling revenues. Each budget cycle, Congress allocates funds for the program but may divert the funds for other uses. Pingree and others in Congress are working to have full funding for the program made mandatory.
“If we are taking from one point of the environment, from oil and gas drilling, then we should be giving back at another point,” Jackson said.
The program’s website says $900 million in royalties is paid every year by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On Monday, refuge staff described to Pingree and other visitors the mission and purpose of the refuge. Refuge Manager Karl Stromayer said the refuge was established in 1966 and its properties are spread over 50 miles of Maine coastline, from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth, over 600 parcels. He said there are 278,000 visitors annually spending an average of $50 each in the local communities.
Wildlife Biologist Kate O’Brien talked about animals and habitat, that the range of the New England cottontail rabbit has shrunk 90 percent, and of the effort to restore their numbers. She also talked about the saltmarsh sparrow, which is at risk as well. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Ryan Kleinert talked about how the refuge has expanded since 1966.
Land Management Research and Demonstration Biologist and Salt Marsh Ecologist Susan Adamowicz described how farmers in the 19th century had sculpted the marshes and the result today, with sea level rise, water is being trapped behind the marshes. She advocates natural methods of salt marsh restoration.
“Once we get the land, we start taking care of it,” she said.
Bill Durkin, president of the Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, said the refuge deals with the planning boards and city managers of 12 Maine towns. He praised Pingree for supporting a recent refuge purchase.
The briefing was followed by Pingree releasing a monarch butterfly outside before a walk to view the marsh from a trail.
Later, at a gathering at the Hidden Cove Brewing Co., Pingree said, “So many critical parcels of land have been conserved” with funds from the conservation program. In Maine, that includes the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park, she said.
“The LWCF was a bipartisan effort to support critical lands. It is not taxpayer money but an allocation from offshore oil drilling,” she said, adding that the fund should be mandatory, the offshore drilling revenues not diverted. She also said funding is needed for the backlog of maintenance work at national parks.
“We need to do something about climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than anywhere else,” she said.
Pingree said she is working now on a bill to address agriculture and climate change.
Lisa Pohlmann, CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Elizabeth Ehrenfeld, board chair of the Appalachian Mountain Club, expressed their support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Pingree’s work to make funding permanent. Pohlmann said, “As long as we are here, you can count on us.”