John Boland’s retirement ends an era

Just two and a half years after accepting the top non-political professional position at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, John Boland will retire on May 31. It’s the end of an era and leaves the agency with very little historical perspective.

Boland has worked for DIF&W for 36 years, 33 in the Fisheries Division that he led for eight years before his promotion. His current job put him in charge of both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions.

Boland is personable and smart and an avid hunter, so adding wildlife issues to his responsibilities was not new to him, although he had big shoes to fill. Not long after he took the new job, I had the pleasure of fishing for a couple of days with John, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, and former DIF&W Marketing Director Bill Pierce in the Rangeley Region. All good guys, fun to fish with, smart and passionate about the fisheries and wildlife resources in our state. We had some great discussions – and amazing fishing.

Dr. Ken Elowe left the top position at DIF&W to take an important position at the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service. Elowe was well respected with a particularly good understanding of the political world in which DIF&W lives.

In his current position, Boland managed 120 employees and a $14 million budget. I predicted when he took the new job that he would be frustrated with the small amount of time he’d have available for the “fun stuff,” the projects and initiatives that benefit Maine’s fish and wildlife.

After he leaves the department, I hope to sit down with John and give him a chance to reflect on his work. My relationship with Boland spanned the entire 18 years of my tenure as SAM’s executive director, and we wrestled with many contentious issues. I’m sure there were times he didn’t like me much – particularly as I brought more and more issues to the legislature.

When I began working for SAM in 1993, legislators sponsored very few fisheries bills. SAM changed that. This year the legislature was flooded with fisheries bills. SAM saw the waters of Maine as half empty of fish while DIF&W saw them as half full. That’s the simplest way to describe this disagreement.

As the years passed, these differences were magnified, leading SAM to the legislature with more and more fishing bills, all of which were opposed by DIF&W. I will never forget a SAM bill calling for year-round open water fishing, something that is common in other states.

DIF&W strongly opposed the bill at the legislature where it was defeated. One Regional Fisheries Biologist said year-round open water fishing would happen in his region over his dead body.

I remember a year when several SAM fishing bills at the legislature irritated Boland. But after speaking against the bills, Boland and his boss, Ken Elowe, worked with me and the legislative committee to improve the most important bill before it was enacted.

That bill required DIF&W to report to the legislature, no later than March of 2010, on what it had done to accomplish nine goals in The Maine Fishing Initiative, a statewide collaborative project created and coordinated by SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee and endorsed by many anglers, sportsmen’s groups, and legislators.

In return for helping with that bill, Elowe asked me to make an effort to improve SAM’s relationship with Boland and his fisheries biologists. In September of 2009, an effort at rapprochement began, led by Elowe.  And we did make significant improvements in our relationship.     

John Boland deserves special praise for stepping back from the bitterness and hard fights of the past to create a new partnership between his division and the state’s largest sportsmen’s group.

When he presented the report required in bill mentioned above, the report was remarkably well done and worthy of recognition and praise. I posted it on SAM’s website and wrote a about it in the SAM News.

If any part of Boland’s presentation demonstrated the remarkable change in the relationship of SAM and DIF&W, it came when he reported what the department has done to achieve the goal of increasing fishing opportunities.

They opened many Maine waters to year-round open water fishing. “Large sections of our biggest rivers such as the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Saco are now open year round to open water fishing,” reported Boland.

“Many other smaller rivers, once closed after September 30, are now open throughout the fall or in many cases year round,” he said, while noting that, “On April 1, 2010, lakes and ponds under general law management will be open to year round fishing in eleven counties, and open water angling will be permitted on all lakes/ponds open to ice fishing in the remaining counties.”

I am pleased to report that this was not done over anyone’s dead body.  Amazing things can be achieved when state agencies and interest groups set aside differences to work together for their shared constituencies.

I have come to admire and respect John Boland. His legacy is huge. Someday I hope to write that story. And I’ll bet he has some great recommendations for the future of the department where he contributed so much for so long.

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.