As we shelter at home, many of us have valued even more our ability to get outside and enjoy Maine’s open spaces. With human contact limited, there can be extra time for exploring new places on your own or gathering at a distance outside with the people we are missing most. In Maine, we are lucky that we have a lot of wild places, including along our coast, to explore and perhaps the increase in outdoor activity will bring a new appreciation for these places. This has already been a priority in the state, but now its importance seems even more poignant.

Gov. Mills’ Climate Council has been working on this issue since September of last year. The Climate Council is tasked with creating a four-year action plan that includes strategies for reducing Maine’s greenhouse gases emissions and strategies that help us adapt to the impacts of climate change.

When looking at climate impacts, there are many different facets to consider. For that reason, the council has six working groups to tackle specific topics. Among these are two working groups with a strong marine focus: the coastal and marine working group and a working group that addresses community resilience, emergency response and public health. Each working group is made up of experts in that area as well as individuals representing different perspectives on the given topic. The Coastal and Marine Working Group includes over thirty members, representing fisheries, aquaculture, healthy marine waters and coastal habitats, and more. This group is tasked with developing strategies to help the state mitigate the causes of and adapt to the consequences of climate change. In the marine environment, the group is tackling issues such as monitoring needs to help with decision-making, modifications to fisheries and aquaculture, and using our coastal resources to help us adapt to climate change. For example, preserving marshland can help absorb carbon from the atmosphere, buffer against storms, and provide critical and necessary habitat.

Because there are so many people involved coming from different parts of the state, the decision was made early on to hold some of the meetings virtually in order to reduce climate impacts. As working group member and Casco Bay Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca notes, “In order to be responsible climate change advocates, we had already chosen to work virtually for many of our meetings.” Perhaps that is one advantage – that the members were already used to this model when all meetings had to be switched to being held via videoconference due to the current pandemic. The challenge, however has been that April and May were supposed to be the months when each of the working groups was tasked with gathering feedback from the public on their draft strategies.

In response, several of the participating organizations including Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB) have put together webinars for the public to present their draft strategies. Last week, for example, FOCB held a webinar entitled, “Casco Bay and the Maine Climate Council: A Casco Bay Matters Event.” The event was limited to the first 100 participants and filled up quickly. For those who could not attend, it will be posted on their website. “This is a good time for people to look at the topics covered by the draft strategies and see if we are missing something or let us know what they think about the direction the group is going,” says Frignoca. The draft strategies are available on the state’s website as well at: maine.gov/future/initiatives/climate/climate-council. But, webinars like FOCB’s provide a quick and simple way for people to get an overview. Feedback can be sent directly to [email protected].

As far as next steps, things are still moving ahead despite the restrictions on social distancing. The working groups will submit their draft strategies to the Climate Council by June 17th. The state plans to hold public meetings through the summer and fall as possible. The strategies will then get woven into an action plan that will be presented to the Governor and the Legislature in December.

This is just the beginning, however. “The beauty of this council is that it was created by legislation and has no sunset date. It has to be renewed every four years and we are just in the first cycle,” says Frignoca. It’s important, though, to start right from the beginning. “One of the first steps has been and will continue to be gathering data that already exists and getting it to the right people so they can adapt their businesses or make their communities resilient in the future,” she adds. Several of the draft strategies proposed by the Coastal and Marine working group have this focus.

How we prepare coastal communities and ecosystems for climate change is relevant and important to everyone, no matter how far you may live from the coast. And perhaps, with a little extra time to consider it and more of a focus on the natural world around us this spring, more people will provide helpful feedback on this important topic.

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