Legislature will tackle lots of outdoor issues

The legislature returns to Augusta in early January with an interesting agenda of outdoor issues. Sure, the session will be all about the budget, health care and human services, and taxes, and election year politics and posturing will dominate, but in Room 206 of the State Office Building, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will tackle issues from book trout to hunting licenses.

State House Augusta Maine 3_JPG This is the first of two columns on legislative issues of primary interest to sportsmen.

Licensing will get a lot of scrutiny this session. A bill sponsored at the 2013 session at my request by Representative Mike Shaw, the House chair of the IF&W Committee, was aimed at simplifying and encouraging the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and permits. Among other things, it allowed hunters to transfer their any-deer permits to any other adult hunters. That part of the bill was enacted and in place for this fall’s deer hunts. In the past, permits could only be transferred to junior and senior hunters. I used the new law to transfer my any-deer permit to a young adult woman who had just taken up hunting.

But this bill contained lots more. It directed DIF&W to survey users of its online licensing system, MOSES – now almost as old as the real Moses – and create a plan to update the system. The plan must include updating the system’s user interface and provide options for online renewal of trapping and guide licenses.  This plan must be presented to the IF&W Committee in the upcoming session for action.

“It’s all doable,” DIF&W’s Licensing Director Bill Swan told the IF&W Committee. “It comes down to money and time. We don’t spend much (now)” he noted. That was an understatement. The department has never had the money to keep MOSES updated and current. The IF&W Committee clearly wants MOSES to be more customer-friendly, and Swan said he’d work with InformME, the business that is responsible for MOSES, to develop recommendations for the committee’s consideration.

The bill also directed DIF&W to simplify and streamline laws governing license revocations and the laws governing hunting including age restrictions, equipment restrictions, and supervision requirements. Among the specific directives is one to extend the supervisory requirements for apprentice hunters to junior hunters and make those requirements consistent for hunting and trapping. I proposed the bill to try and make our laws consistent for all uses and users. The changes that DIF&W comes up with must also be brought to the legislature for action in 2014.

This bill also offered the possibility of extending the department’s lifetime license to all adults. DIF&W was directed to hire someone to conduct an actuarial review of lifetime hunting and fishing licenses and submit a report and recommendations by February 1, 2014. At the agency’s request, the legislature authorized $10,000 from the Lifetime License Fund for the actuarial study.

Comprehensive Hunting License

I’m particularly excited by LD 153, a bill sponsored at my request by Representative Dennis Keschl. I created the bill from an idea suggested by Bill Swan two years ago to SAM’s Pickering Commission as it was reviewing hunting laws and rules. When the IFW Committee voted to carry over the bill to the 2014 session, it directed Swan to inform hunters about the proposal and seek their opinions.

The proposal would eliminate nearly all of DIF&W’s 67 hunting licenses and permits in favor of a comprehensive license that would cost $33 for residents. That’s right, for just $33, residents would get it all, all game animals, all seasons, all bag limits. Nonresidents would pay $120 for the comprehensive license.

Swan worked hard on the proposal and assured the committee that, at those prices, his agency would raise the same amount of money it now raises from the confusing array of hunting licenses and permits.

I believe the comprehensive license will also encourage hunters to take new opportunities to hunt. Most only hunt deer. But if turkeys, for example, were included in their license, perhaps they’d give turkey hunting a try. Maybe they’ll get out for a couple of Saturdays of duck hunting. For sure, they’ll give the muzzleloading season on deer a try.

The simplification will also save DIF&W a lot of money now spent on the complex MOSES system, and make it much easier for hunters to navigate that system.

But here’s the problem. A majority of hunters only buy the big game license, priced for residents at $25 and nonresidents at $114. So these hunters will be paying more. And that scared legislators.

But I believe the simplified system and increased hunting opportunities make this worthwhile for all of us. And after all, $33 to hunt in Maine in all seasons with all bag limits is a bargain!

If you like this bill, it will be important to contact your State Senator and Representative and let them know.

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.