AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted unanimously Thursday to approve the nomination of Amanda Beal as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, following a public hearing where about a dozen people spoke in support of her.

Beal, 46, the current president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that works to protect farms from development and provide farmers with access to land, is the final Cabinet nominee for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Beal will lead a large state agency that oversees farming programs, state parks and public lands, the Maine Forest Service and a broad range of other programs. She would resign her post at the trust.

Beal has received some criticism for her lack of forestry experience. However, in the hearing before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, she was repeatedly praised for her leadership style, passion for creating a strong farm economy in Maine and New England, and her collaborative efforts to protect farmland and farmers.

Jo D. Saffeir, who has worked as a consultant to the state on agriculture, conservation and forestry issues for 26 years, said Mills’ task in picking a nominee with enough expertise in all three areas was a daunting one in that no one candidate could be deeply versed in all three fields, each complex on its own. But in tapping Beal, Saffeir said, Mills made a laudable choice.

“It’s a tall order,” Saffeir said. “Odds are no candidate is likely to have a perfectly equal balance of experience in these areas.”

Saffeir said Beal has “extremely deep roots in agriculture and a passion for ensuring a bright future for farming in Maine. If you grew up on a dairy farm, you can’t help but develop an intimate knowledge of the challenges commodity agriculture faces.”

Among others speaking in favor of Beal were representatives from the Nature Conservancy, Maine Conservation Voters and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Beal once served as the president of MOFGA, leading some lawmakers to ask her questions about her views on the use of pesticides for agriculture and forestry. Beal said she believed farmers and forestland owners needed to be able to use all the tools available to them, including pesticides, when they believe that was what was needed.

“Farmers need to use the tools that work for them,” Beal said. “I think it’s great that we have a really good education program in the state so that farmers can learn how to use pesticides safely.”

Beal also said she would renew the focus on managing the state’s conservation lands, especially state parks, which play a vital role in the state’s tourism economy.

Beal also took on another controversial issue, saying she supported providing state forest rangers with firearms, as they are law enforcement officers. It’s a position that was opposed by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, and while the Legislature passed a law in 2018 allowing rangers to be armed, the measure hasn’t been funded.

“They are out there in very remote places and are doing work that, at times, can be dangerous,” Beal said. “I think they should have the tools they need to do the jobs they are assigned to do.”

Beal also said she believed taking care of state parks was a critical role for the department and vowed she would renew the focus on that distinct from the department’s work on forestry and timber management of state forests. Beal also promised a department that would try not to duplicate the missions being achieved by a variety of nonprofits but instead would work collaboratively with them.

Beal grew up on a Litchfield dairy farm and has been active on food policy issues. She is the last of Mills’ 14 commissioner nominees. Beal also is the eighth woman selected by Mills – Maine’s first female governor – to head a state agency, numbers that make the Mills administration the most gender-diverse in state history.

Beal would take over an agency that serves diverse farming interests, from large potato farms in Aroostook County to the small, organic farms that have helped Maine buck the national trend of dwindling farms and aging farmers. She also co-authored the book “A New England Food Vision,” which studied the potential for expanding food production throughout the region.

Since 2012, the department also has overseen state parks, outdoor recreation programs and a multi-billion dollar forestry industry that still forms the economic backbone in parts of rural Maine.

While Beal faced no opposition testimony, a handful of witnesses said they were taking a neutral stance to Beal, testifying neither for nor against her but urging her to support farming in all of the many shapes it takes in Maine.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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