Sportsmen’s Licenses Debated This Week

When I developed six proposals for the legislature to consider this session, I never dreamed that four would be up for a public hearing on the same day. But that’s the case on Thursday, February 28, when the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee hosts public hearings on five bills. Four are mine.

Well, not exactly mine, because I was blessed to win the enthusiastic support of a group of legislators who sponsored my proposals. These are very much their bills now, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with them as the bills were drafted and cast upon the legislative water.

Here’s the line-up for Thursday’s public hearings that begin at 1 pm in Room 206 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta. If you can’t attend, but have an interest in following the action, you can listen to the hearings online at the legislature’s website.

LD 86, Resolve, Directing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to Amend Its Process of Gathering Public Opinion on Rulemaking and Other Projects, is sponsored by Senator Anne Haskell, a member of the IFW Committee.

Sportsmen are among the least-informed people in the state. The news media rarely covers hunting and fishing issues. And we get little if any news and information from the Fish and Wildlife Department. This bill is designed to point them in the direction of better communications with their customers, especially when it comes to the rules that regulate and impact our favorite outdoor activities.

The staff of Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have some great stories to tell. And they must start telling those stories. It’s especially critical for the agency to engage more of their customers in their rule-making process, using up-to-date communications systems and opportunities.

LD 128, An Act to Abolish the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Council, is also sponsored by Senator Anne Haskell.

Do you know who your representative is on the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council? Most sportsmen can’t answer this. In fact, many don’t know what the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council is!

It will be a bit uncomfortable to stand before the legislative committee on Thursday, knowing that I have aggravated the good people who currently serve on the council. They are good people. And I’m sure many will be there to testify against the bill. This bill is not aimed at them, but at this old way of doing things, this appendage that ties up the agency’s staff, costs too much money, and adds little to the rule-making process.

The committee will never get an accurate accounting of the time and money that agency staff spend on the advisory council. But I know first hand that it is a lot. And in an agency that is struggling to get even its most important work done – getting us an accurate count of deer, for example – we ought not to burden them with an advisory council that demands a lot of time and attention.

LD 153, An Act to Establish a Comprehensive Hunting and Fishing License, is sponsored by Representative Dennis Keschl.

One of the most exciting ideas that SAM’s Pickering Commission discussed in 2011, as it reviewed hunting laws and rules, was presented by DIF&W’s Director of Licensing, Bill Swan. Bill suggested that we might be able to eliminate the 67 hunting licenses and permits that the department sells with the creation of a single hunting license that covers all hunting opportunities.

The concept here is to create a single hunting license covering all hunting opportunities. LD 153 does not present the idea this way, but this is what I am proposing. As drafted, the bill includes fishing licenses, but that is not my intent.

Bill told us in 2011 that DIF&W would raise the same amount of money it does under the current system if the all-inclusive hunting license was priced at $33 for residents and $120 for nonresidents. And it would get rid of those 67 hunting licenses and permits. I think this is a great idea!

LD 229, An Act to Simplify and Encourage the Sale of Hunting and Fishing Licenses and Permits, is sponsored by Representative Mike Shaw, the House chair of the IFW Committee.

There is a lot in this bill. You can call this a grab bag of ideas that Rep. Shaw and I have settled on to make the licensing system easier to navigate and better for sportsmen and more efficient and effective for the department. It includes ideas like expanding the lifetime license opportunity to all sportsmen, and allowing those with any-deer permits to transfer them to any other hunter.

I’ll present written testimony on all of these bills on Thursday, and post that testimony on my website, georgesmithmaine.com. I’ll also post a report on hearings on my website, shortly after the hearings are completed on Thursday afternoon.

It’ll be a big day for me, and I’m looking forward to it!

One More Bill

Also being heard on Thursday is LD 142, An Act to Add Using an All-terrain Vehicle to the List of Activities Included in the Definition of “Guide” in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Laws, sponsored by Representative Russell Black. It would require those who lead ATV guided trips to be licensed Maine guides.

And if you are following all the action at the IFW Committee, their Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 26) work session includes five bills already heard on deer and bear issues: LDs 63, 79, 98, 99, and 101. I will also be there to report on the action taken on each of those bills.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.