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.
2023 Brought Big Wins for Nature in Augusta!
August 3, 2023
The First Regular Session of the 131st Maine Legislature was a busy and exciting one for nature, climate, and communities in Maine. More than 2,000 bills were considered, and while some have been carried over into the short session in 2024, many were passed and became new laws — including some of TNC Maine’s top priorities.
We weighed in on nearly 50 different bills during this legislative session. These priority bills covered a wide range of issues, from river and stream restoration and climate resilience to clean transportation and well-sited renewables. We also continued our focus on supporting more equitable conservation outcomes and advocating for the voice, choice, and action of our Indigenous partners.
Here are some of our policy goals and highlights from the legislative session:
Secure funding for the Municipal Stream Crossing Upgrade Grant Program
Since 2015, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has awarded more than $15 million to municipalities to install fish-friendly, climate-resilient culverts that enhance road safety and create construction jobs. With thousands of undersized culverts still in need of upgrades across the state, we needed to build on this track record of success and provide fresh funding for the program.
TNC worked with Representative Jessica Fay (D-Raymond) to introduce a bond proposal which would have funded the program over 10 years. The idea had great support, but funding for this program was instead included in the Governor’s Budget Proposal. We are excited to see $7.5 million allocated for this program, along with a shift of oversight from DEP to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Maine Infrastructure Adaptation Fund.
Continue to fund land conservation
Governor Mills and the current Legislature have been champions of the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program, which is currently funded through the next biennium (FY24–25). In this session, we notched major victories for the LMF program. Governor Mills introduced a legacy bill that would establish a new Land for Maine’s Future Trust Fund. This established fund provides longer term stability for the program and allows more flexibility with how the state can allocate funds. This is a major victory!
Additionally, Senator Russell Black (R-Wilton) introduced a bill to add two additional years and $20 million of funding into the program, supporting LMF grants through 2025. This bill passed unanimously out of committee but was not funded during this year’s budget and appropriations negotiations. It has been carried over into the short session for further consideration next year.
Create a compensatory mitigation program for renewable energy impacts
For onshore projects that have unavoidable impacts on core forests, wildlife corridors, and important agricultural land, we sought to establish a compensatory mitigation program. The DEP and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) have required compensatory mitigation for large projects in recent years (solar, wind and transmission); codifying these requirements in statute would provide more predictability for developers, support conservation efforts, and provide a disincentive for siting projects in areas that impact important natural resources.
TNC worked hard over many months with state agencies, renewable developers, and other NGOs to draft a plan to create a compensatory mitigation program. This bill passed in both the House and Senate “under the hammer” — which signifies broad support. The bill included some funding for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to bring in capacity to build out this program and the Appropriations Committee agreed to fund it! The bill awaits final enactment votes in the House and Senate.
Increase state support for municipal and regional planning
TNC supported a bill sponsored by Representative Melanie Sachs (D-Freeport) that would improve coordination and technical assistance resources for communities in Maine. Additional capacity in this area will help communities make smart planning decisions that facilitate economic growth while protecting Maine’s natural resources and ensuring resilience to climate change. This bill passed and was signed by the Governor.
Improve Wabanaki voice, choice, and action
TNC supported several priorities of the Wabanaki Tribes this session, including a bill sponsored by Speaker Talbot Ross (D-Portland) that aimed to change the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. Currently, when Congress passes federal legislation, the tribes in Maine must be explicitly written into the legislation in order to benefit from it. This burden is unique to the Wabanaki tribes and does not apply to the other 570 federally recognized tribes around the county. Initial votes on this bill demonstrated broad bipartisan support — 2/3 of the House and Senate — but the bill was vetoed by Governor Mills and the Legislature failed to repeat the 2/3 votes to override the veto. The Wabanaki have another bill in the works that was carried over that will again address tribal sovereignty.
We will be back for the short legislative session in January, continuing to champion the policy changes necessary for nature to thrive in Maine and beyond!
The 2022 Legislative Session Included Progress for Nature, People and Climate Action
June 1, 2022
Back in January, we shared our priorities for the Maine Legislature this year. As the dust settles on the session, here’s a look at the progress we made together.
Healthy Lands and Waters
The health of Maine’s unique landscape and abundant waters requires a variety of policy approaches to ensure that our resources are sustainable and that nature is protected.
- TNC believes that supporting the strengthened voices, choices and actions of Wabanaki People in conservation and natural resource management is critical for a future of healthy lands, waters and communities. The session saw the passage of a law that provides Passamaquoddy People with control of their drinking water supply on their land. We will continue to support Wabanaki rights to the same privileges, powers and immunities as other federally recognized tribes within the United States.
- Since 2000, TNC Maine and other partners created Maine’s remarkable ecological reserve system—areas set aside under the management of the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) for natural processes to take hold and provide havens for wildlife, study and recreation. A law passed this session increases the potential size of reserves and adjusts statutory goals to balance flexibility for BPL.
- TNC commented on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection 2021 Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards. This helped lead to a river and stream reclassification—an essential tool for adjusting the state's water quality management goals to reflect improving conditions in the water and for protecting against water quality degradation. A bill was passed that codifies these water reclassification upgrades, including recommendations suggested by TNC.
- TNC joined with many partners to lead an effort to study and bolster dam safety in Maine. The Maine Dam Safety Program has identified more than 1,100 dams in our state, and according to an annual report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Maine’s dam infrastructure ranks a D+. A bill passed this session requires the Maine Dam Safety Program to conduct a comprehensive study with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) to assess the current dam infrastructure and make recommendations for improving the lay of the land through future legislation.
Climate Change Action
Among the biggest wins this session was the creation of a new climate education program for Maine schools. Funded at $2 million, this student- and teacher-led initiative garnered broad support in the Legislature. Read more about it in this recap from the Nature Based Education Consortium, a network of organizations, including TNC, that is focused on building support for and equitable access to outdoor learning opportunities for all Maine youth.
At the beginning of the session, we also identified support for natural climate solutions and climate resilience as top priorities. We’re excited that progress was made on both fronts. The Legislature created four new positions at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry dedicated to helping landowners enhance carbon sequestration on their lands. And the Legislature passed a law that takes several steps to support climate resilience, such as allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to consider sea-level rise projections when evaluating permit applications and encouraging installation of fish-friendly culverts at road-stream crossings that can handle larger storm events.
We also worked with partners, legislators and the Governor’s Office on an important bill, LD 1959, that will enable the modern electric grid Maine needs to meet its clean energy goals. This new law will not only take steps to hold utilities accountable to basic performance standards like proficiency at interconnecting solar arrays; it will also require comprehensive, long-term grid planning to align utility investments with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements and clean energy targets, the top recommendation of the grid modernization stakeholder group we convened last year.
This isn’t all—there were also a few other important climate wins this session:
- The Legislature officially authorized the creation the Maine Climate Corps and provided enough funding for an initial cohort of Corps members
- The state budget allocated $3.5 million for rebates to help drivers switch to electric vehicles (EVs)
- Lawmakers set targets for the adoption of EVs and electric school buses by Maine municipalities and school districts
One area where we still have more progress to make is renewable energy siting policy. Lawmakers considered proposals for supporting continuing deployment of the clean, renewable energy Maine needs while also incentivizing low-impact development that is most compatible with our natural resources. We look forward to continuing to work to support rapid deployment of well-sited clean energy next session.
As we pointed out before the session, historically marginalized communities across the U.S. have borne a disproportionate share of the nation’s pollution and environmental degradation while seeing fewer of the benefits of investments in environmental protection. Fortunately, we were successful in our support for two key Environmental Justice measures that passed and are now law.
- Lawmakers enacted legislation that requires incorporating equity considerations in decision making at the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies to facilitate more just outcomes.
- Another bill that passed requires that the siting or expansion of any waste facility in Maine must be “not inconsistent with ensuring environmental justice for the community in which the facility or expansion is proposed.” This requirement is important not only in the context of solid waste but for any facility that discharges pollution into the surrounding environment.
All in all, the session had a lot of great wins for conservation. We’re quite sure TNC, our partners and supporters had a lot to do with it!
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
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.