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Executive Summary

The State of Maine's Environment 2009

The State of Maine's Environment is a regular series of reports written by senior environmental policy majors at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The State of Maine's Environment 2009 is the fifth State of Maine's Environment report created by students enrolled in ES 493: Environmental Policy Practicum taught by Philip J. Nyhus, Environmental Studies Program. Topics in this report include four topics of importance to Maine: Coastal Marine Policy, Rivers and Dams, Organic Farms, and Sustainable Cities. In each chapter, we explore the history and context of the topic, evaluate its current state, and conclude with major findings and policy recommendations.

In The State of Coastal and Marine Policy, we find that Maine’s coastal and marine (ocean) resources play a vital role in the health of Maine’s economy.  In 2007, Maine’s coastal municipalities employed 55% of the state’s population and accounted for 60% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).  The vitality and character of these municipalities are at risk if the state’s coastal and marine economic resources are degraded.  Presently, threatened resources such as Maine’s sea urchin and sea scallop fisheries are managed by the state and federal governments in a series of issue and species-specific management plans.  The spatial boundaries of these plans geographically overlap, creating a network of interconnecting regions, management strategies, and authorities.  In our assessment, we found that 68% of the geographical area in Maine’s state waters is characterized by having 10 or more overlapping management zones and regulatory bodies. 

Further regional, federal, and international jurisdictional boundaries combine with these management plans to create a complicated administrative environment.  This administrative environment is not conducive to the development and siting of important emerging technologies, like offshore wind farms, requiring the agreement of multiple agencies, interests, and mandates.  Because of the importance of Maine’s ocean resources, it is imperative for Maine to adopt an effective management and planning policy that can dynamically adapt to new issues and incorporate new technologies. We recommend that Maine adopt an ocean governing structure similar to a proposed National Ocean Council by President Obama’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to effectively integrate issue and species-specific plans into ecosystem-based approaches to management.

In The State of Rivers and Dams, we find that the 31,752 miles of rivers and streams in Maine are important to Maine’s economy, ecological health, and cultural heritage.  Dams have shaped both the natural flows and the societal uses of rivers in Maine for over two centuries. Although no new dams have been built since 1986, remaining dams continue to have environmental and economic impacts.  In this chapter we discuss the state of rivers and dams in Maine, focusing on the history of dams, their current status, and the growing trend of dam removal.   We give particular attention to diadromous – or migratory – fish and how dams and dam removals affect their traditional migration routes. We conducted an extensive literature review and performed original analysis using Geographic Information Systems.  This chapter shows that Maine’s surface water quality is commendable, ranking number one in the U.S.  We illustrate the growth of the number of dams in Maine over time, and investigate a boom in dam construction between 1875 and 1900.  We also examine dam removal, a contentious topic, in light of the federal and state regulatory processes and the environmental benefits and drawbacks of dams.  Finally, we analyze the historical habitat of 12 species of diadromous fish and find that 65% of dams that have been removed in Maine, or are slated for removal in the near future, intersect the habitats of six or more species while less than 1% of dams still standing intersect the habitats of six or more species .  We conclude that while Maine’s river health is in excellent condition, more can be done to allow diadromous fish populations renewed access to their historical habitat and spawning grounds.  Although fish bypasses are feasible, only a small percentage of migrating fish find the necessary entrance.  Dam removal is an increasing trend and should be considered as a viable option to restore diadromous fish habitat and spawning grounds. We offer several recommendations to increase river health and productivity, including the continued monitoring of river and stream health, a state-wide prioritization of dams to consider for fish bypass installation, and an increased emphasis on dam removal as a method for river restoration and public safety.

In The State of Organic Agriculture, we examine trends in overall agriculture and changes in organic production over time in Maine relative to other states, primarily using USDA Census of Agriculture statistics. Additionally, we use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map locations of organic farms in Maine certified by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We find that Maine, although a relatively small state in overall agricultural production, is a national leader in organic agricultural production.  We examine reasons for this status and discuss future scenarios for organic agriculture in Maine.  We also consider benefits and drawbacks of having national organic standards.  We conclude that although organic production in Maine requires continued support, Maine policy makers could also promote growth in agriculture by further encouraging local consumption of Maine produced foods.  Additionally we recommend that Maine increase efforts to conserve farmland by supporting organic farmers in the state and helping to protect them from development pressures.

In The State of Sustainable Communities, we find that sustainable development requires reconciling competing environmental, economic, and social interests.  Local governments are increasing efforts to address sustainability issues in response to perceived federal inaction.  Maine currently lacks a method to effectively measure and encourage local sustainability activity.  In response, we developed a prototype Sustainability Activity Index (SAI) to measure the seriousness with which Maine towns and cities are addressing energy and recycling issues.  We evaluated energy and recycling scores for 476 Maine municipalities and found a low level of local activity, with a state-wide mean SAI score of 1.56 (SD ± 1.05) out of 8 possible points.  We found that local governments with high SAI scores have larger budgets, are adjacent to postsecondary institutions, and have higher median household incomes and college graduation rates.  We conclude that our SAI serves as a useful tool for comparing sustainability activity across Maine communities.  We recommend the state delegate responsibility to a governmental or non-governmental entity that could publish SAI scores for all 489 incorporated municipalities in Maine.  We recommend the responsible entity improve our SAI by engaging relevant stakeholders to create and publish an annual “Maine Local Government Sustainability Report Card” that is effective, robust, relevant, and transparent.

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