Our People

Kaitlyn Bernard

Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Maine

Maine

  • Areas of Expertise

    Policy, Land Conservation Funding, Federal Government

Biography

Kaitlyn is responsible for leading the Maine Chapter’s federal policy strategies and covering a range of state policy issues to advance land and water protection and sustainable fisheries. She works closely with TNC’s North American Policy and Government Relations teams to advance the organizations Federal policy priorities. Here in Maine, Kaitlyn brings TNC’s science-based approach to policy efforts to implement natural climate solutions, increase land conservation opportunities, and ensure sustainable natural resource management.

Prior to joining TNC, Kaitlyn served as the Maine Policy Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club. In that capacity, she focused on recreation and conservation issue in the Maine Legislature and coordinated state-based advocacy for the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Kaitlyn graduated from Colby College in 2013 with Honors in Environmental Policy. While at Colby, she interned for U.S. Senator Susan Collins in both her Caribou, Maine and Washington, DC offices.

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Supporting Tribal Sovereignty in Maine

May 4, 2021

Here in Maine, our team has partnered with Wabanaki Tribes in support of many lasting conservation and environmental outcomes. Studies show that natural systems managed or co-managed by Indigenous communities have better biodiversity outcomes than lands under government protection—yet Indigenous communities are regularly excluded by government agencies, academic institutions, and conservation organizations from decisions about the management of natural resources and even their own lands.

Currently, federal legislation ensures tribes’ inherent rights to govern themselves, but it does not apply to the Wabanaki Tribes in Maine, which have a different, more restrictive status than all 574 other federally-recognized tribes in the United States. Since the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 was signed, 151 federal laws benefiting Indian Country have been passed that the tribes in Maine have not benefited from.

TNC believes that supporting the strengthened voices, choices and actions of Indigenous Peoples in conservation and natural resource management is critical for a future of healthy lands, waters, and communities. We recently had the opportunity to put this belief into action by supporting LD 1626, An Act To Implement the Recommendation of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. This legislation seeks to restore the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki Tribes in Maine.

Originally scheduled for a public hearing today, May 4th, we were informed yesterday that this bill would be tabled and a public hearing would be postponed to the next legislative session. This morning, however, the hearing ended up proceeding unexpectedly, and public testimony was allowed. Because of the mixed messaging, many supporters of the bill were not in attendance. We were present and delivered the testimony below. We remain supportive of this bill and committed to our partnership with the Wabanaki Tribes of Maine.


 

Testimony before the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary
By Kaitlyn Bernard, Natural Resources Policy Advisor

May 4, 2021

RE: LD 1626, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

Senator Carney, Representative Harnett, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary, my name is Kaitlyn Bernard and I am the Natural Resources Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy in Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 1626, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. We have been working in Maine for more than 60 years protecting land, restoring rivers and streams, rebuilding groundfish populations in the Gulf of Maine, and developing innovative solutions to address climate change. We are also part of a global organization active in all 50 of the United States and across the world in over 70 countries. The Nature Conservancy recognizes that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are some of the most important partners in the global effort to contain climate change and preserve biodiversity.

Too often when it comes to the decisions that affect their lands, waters, and livelihoods, Indigenous Peoples have been denied the opportunity to participate in meaningful ways, resulting in the exclusion of important rights-holders from decision-making processes and in management approaches that do not consider the lessons and solutions offered by Indigenous Ecological Knowledge. As an organization committed to creating a future of healthy lands, waters, and communities, we believe that one of the most effective and enduring actions we can take is to strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ voices, choices, and actions in natural resource stewardship. This is a major focus of TNC’s work around the world.

As an organization, The Nature Conservancy has endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The UNDRIP describes the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples and supporting principles necessary to protect and fulfil those fundamental rights. 144 countries voted in favor of the UNDRIP in 2007, and the four countries that voted against it at the time have since reversed course and now affirm their support for the UNDRIP. In addition to endorsing the Declaration, TNC has committed itself to respecting its principles, using it as a reference in policy development, and serving as an ally to Indigenous efforts to grow the influence of the UNDRIP in development and policy reform contexts around the world. The Declaration is organized around the central principle that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination.

Here in Maine, we continue to learn about the historical and ongoing injustices faced by the Wabanaki Tribes. We acknowledge the urgency of addressing these injustices, and we value the work of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Task Force in developing a package of recommendations aimed at doing so. Our support for LD 1626 is guided by what we have learned from the Wabanaki in our past partnerships here in Maine and from other Indigenous partnerships around the globe. It is deeply rooted in our organizational understanding that Indigenous self-determination, as expressed most strongly in the UNDRIP, is the foundation for lasting, quality conservation outcomes.

The recommendations outlined in LD1626 represent an important step toward recognizing the rights to self-determination and sovereignty of the Wabanaki Tribes in Maine, which The Nature Conservancy strongly supports. We believe tribal sovereignty is critical for the Tribes in Maine to achieve in order to regain their equal status to the 570 other federally recognized tribes in the US, and to participate meaningfully in natural resource management decisions. Ultimately, long-term conservation where both people and nature thrive is not possible without justice and equity for all people.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

A New Session, a New Outlook: TNC Maine’s 2021 Policy Priorities

Kaitlyn Bernard and Rob Wood stand in front of the Maine State House on a snowy day.
Policy Pros Kaitlyn Bernard and Rob Wood represent TNC at the Maine State House. © Phoebe Parker

While much will look and feel different this year, policy work at The Nature Conservancy will continue to focus on our key issues and priorities. We are excited to work with the 130th Maine Legislature and the 117th Congress to build on continued momentum for conservation and climate policy.

Here in Maine, our policy priorities fall into three categories: conservation funding, Climate Council implementation, and healthy lands and waters. Our top legislative priority is securing bond funding for the Land for Maine’s Future program (LMF).

For over 30 years, the LMF program has been an effective tool in protecting some of Maine’s most spectacular places and supporting our natural resource economy. In that time, funding has supported the protection of a wide variety of Maine resources, including wildlife habitat, recreational trails, working waterfronts, working farmland, and public water access. The benefits of this program are celebrated by a wide majority of Mainers because of LMF’s public mission to provide access for all types of users—wildlife watchers, hunters and anglers, motorized and non-motorized recreationalists.

TNC is optimistic that the Maine Legislature will pass a robust LMF bond to infuse new money into the program and ensure its continued success. Current iterations of the bond bill on the table also include important additional funding for Maine’s State Parks, which saw record-breaking attendance in 2020. TNC is also supporting important bond proposals that would replenish funding for municipal stream crossing upgrade grants to improve fish passage and road safety, as well as provide funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

TNC staff and board members were deeply engaged in the Maine Climate Council process in 2020, which led to Maine’s new four-year Climate Action Plan. We are excited to see the recommendations from that thorough process begin to take shape as policy. We anticipate a package of legislation from the Mills Administration to implement initial steps recommended by the Climate Action Plan, including procurement of additional clean energy resources like solar energy. Governor Mills has already begun taking key actions, including issuing an Executive Order to create a Governor’s Maine Forest Carbon Task Force. TNC Maine Forest Program Director Mark Berry is a member, and TNC will actively participate in that conversation and reinforce the benefits of natural climate solutions, such as strategies to help woodlot owners adopt carbon-friendly management practices to increase carbon storage on their lands.

We will also work with partners to advance Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) legislation that stemmed from a clean energy investment report published in 2019 by TNC Maine, Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI) and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC). This bill passed the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee last year, but died when the Legislature adjourned.

In our Healthy Lands and Waters bucket, we will work with partners and state agencies to support and bolster existing programs. We expect to focus on improving siting criteria for renewable energy development and ensuring Maine’s Dam Safety Program has the resources and information it needs to operate in an ever-changing world.

At the Federal level, TNC Maine is eager to continue building relationships with our members of Congress and supporting their engagement in conservation and climate issue areas. We see huge opportunity to work with the new Biden Administration and Congress to advance policies to reduce emissions and increase low-impact clean energy development. Many of the policy ideas we have worked on in the past are being refreshed for introduction in Congress this year, and we will continue to aim for durable, bipartisan policy solutions.

TNC is also monitoring ongoing discussions around COVID-19 federal relief opportunities. We know that conservation, climate resiliency, and renewable energy can reap huge benefits in an economic recovery plan. Aside from the stimulus, we will continue to engage in the Federal budgeting cycle to safeguard conservation programs and science funding.

With all of the changes and adjustments we’ve seen over the past year, we remain optimistic and excited about opportunities to advance durable policy solutions in Maine and Congress. The TNC Maine Government Relations team will keep you posted as our work progresses throughout 2021.

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The Penobscot River","description":"An unprecedented and innovative effort to restore a Maine river.","link":"https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/maine/stories-in-maine/restoring-the-penobscot-river/","target":"_self","desktopImageCrop":"left-bottom","mobileImageCrop":"left-bottom","pageImageAlt":"Canoe paddlers cross a quiet Penobscot River","articleDate":null,"articleAuthor":null,"contentTypeTag":"Success","geoLocationTag":["Maine","United States"],"topicTag":["dam removal","river restoration","habitat restoration","conservation work"],"placesWeProtectTag":[],"businesstags":["Maine","United States"],"businesstags_ids":["tnc:business-group/united-states/maine","tnc:business-group/united-states"],"pageImage":{"small":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=300&hei=225&scl=9.777777777777779","default":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=300&hei=225&scl=9.777777777777779","medium2x":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=800&hei=600&scl=3.6666666666666665","large":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=800&hei=600&scl=3.6666666666666665","small2x":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=600&hei=450&scl=4.888888888888889","medium":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=800&hei=600&scl=3.6666666666666665","large2x":"https://natureconservancy-h.assetsadobe.com/is/image/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/photos/tnc_69521836_4000x2200.jpg?crop=0,0,2933,2200&wid=1600&hei=1200&scl=1.8333333333333333"}}]

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