AUGUSTA – A legislative committee unanimously endorsed Bill Beardsley on Thursday as Maine’s next conservation commissioner.

Beardsley, who spent 23 years as president of Husson University in Bangor and was a Republican candidate for governor in the June primary, will now face a confirmation vote by the Senate.

After Thursday’s confirmation hearing, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee voted 12-0, with one absent, in favor of Beardsley’s nomination.

Democrats spent time quizzing Beardsley about statements he made during the gubernatorial campaign supporting nuclear power, opposing groups that delay development and criticizing Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission.

Beardsley, 68, of Ellsworth, said he will work to balance the competing interests of environmentalists and people who need to make a living off the land.

“I want to be remembered as the guy who said, ‘Yes we need to preserve trees,’” he said. “But there’s an elemental loss if we don’t harvest the trees before they rot.”

Gov. Paul LePage nominated Beardsley last month, saying that Beardsley’s eclectic resume makes him suitable for a number of administration positions, and that his background in forest management and natural resources in Alaska makes him a good choice to lead the Department of Conservation.

During Thursday’s hearing, Mary Mayhew, senior policy adviser to LePage, told the committee that Beardsley is someone the governor trusts.

Mayhew was nominated Wednesday to become commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, but spoke in her current capacity as policy adviser in the area of conservation.

In his comments to the committee, Beardsley said that he’s concerned about low family incomes in rural Maine, and that the state’s quality of life is key to improving the business climate.

“Where else on the East Coast can you find where the wilderness meets the sea?” he said.

Beardsley said he feels that local people are underrepresented on the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees development for 10 million acres in Maine’s unorganized territories. He said would “not get rid of ” the commission but would find the problems and fix them.

Several people testified or submitted written testimony in favor of Beardsley, including Rand Stowell, president of Friends of Maine’s Mountains; Maxwell McCormack Jr., research professor emeritus of forest resources at the University of Maine; U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and former Green Independent gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche.

Jym St. Pierre, director of RESTORE: The North Woods, submitted written comments cautioning the committee to carefully consider many of the public statements made by Beardsley.

The Maine League of Conservation Voters testified neither for nor against his nomination.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Sawin Millett as commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Millett, a Republican from Waterford, is the first Cabinet-level nominee to make it through the confirmation process.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com