AUGUSTA (AP) – Environmental groups came out Monday against a proposal to allow limited logging in state parks to raise money for the Department of Conservation.

Harvesting 2,000 to 3,000 acres of park land could raise $500,000 to fill a budget gap over the course of the biennial budget, department officials said at a legislative hearing. The logging proposal is one of many being put forth by the department to raise revenues and cut costs.

The governor has proposed keeping funding flat for all state agencies during the next two fiscal years. But with increased health care and retirement costs, the Department of Conservation estimates it will need an additional $4.4 million just to maintain current programs.

The proposal to sell lumber harvested from state parks drew fire on Monday. Timber harvesting is now permitted in state parks only if required by deed (the case for only one property within the state park system), or if it is a forestry demonstration project that serves educational purposes.

Dave Soucy, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, told members of the Appropriations Committee that the department has not yet selected which properties would be harvested. He said any harvests would be sustainably managed and likely certified by an outside auditor, as the state has done on other lands that are now in forest management.

Conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club, lined up to oppose the idea.

They said the Department of Conservation needs to be fully funded, but that selling timber from state parks is not the way to go.

“The idea of cutting trees in our state parks strikes me not as resourcefulness, but something more like desperation,” said Bruce Kidman of The Nature Conservancy.

Other proposals are also being considered to decrease the budget gap in the department, which is composed of the Maine Forest Service, the Land Use Regulation Commission, the Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the Bureau of Geology and Natural Areas.

The Maine Forest Service proposed a new $5 fee for fire permits, which are now free, with the potential to raise $800,000 annually.

LURC could raise an additional $60,000 over two years by increasing the cost of building permits issued after the fact, and updating fines that have remained steady since the early 1990s, according to LURC Director Catherine Carroll.

State parks would attempt to save nearly $85,000 over the two years by eliminating lifeguards on freshwater beaches. And an additional $55,000 could be raised by selling water and electricity to campers at some state parks, said Karin Tilberg, deputy commissioner of the department.

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