Legislature tackles issues from brook trout to bears to boa constrictors

When the Maine legislature convenes in early January, things promise to be ugly. It’s an election year, the Governor and legislative leaders are feuding, the budget is short at least $40 million, and there are lots of problems at the Health and Human Services Department. I plan to hunker down in Room 206 where the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will tackle some very interesting issues.

This is the second of a two-part series looking at some of those interesting issues. Part one was posted on Wednesday of this week.

Brook Trout

A management plan for wild brook trout in waters that haven’t been stocked in 25 years, the so-called “B list,” along with a list of those waters, is due for delivery to the IFW Committee by January 15. This will be a hot topic, focused on the use of live fish as bait in some of those waters.

The legislature overturned a decision by DIF&W and its Advisory Council to ban the use of live bait on four B list waters last year, but also pulled language from a bill that Representative Jeff McCabe sponsored at my request that directed the agency to submit an updated B list and a management plan for waters on that list.

And the legislature ordered DIF&W to adopt rules governing the use of live fish as bait on waters that contain native and wild brook trout, while designating those rules as “major substantive,” meaning they will be subject to the approval of the legislature.

So, we’ll get a comprehensive B list, a management plan, and rules that protect the wild trout in those waters – and it will all be up for debate and action this session. Should be interesting!

Exotic animals

The permitting, management, and enforcement system for exotic animals that are privately owned in Maine is a mess. DIF&W created a task force to sort through the mess and develop recommendations that are due back to the legislature this month.

Among the tasks assigned to the task force are: developing recommendations for a list of restricted, unrestricted, and banned species; amendments to current permit structures and fees; and the establishment of appropriate penalties for noncompliance with requirements.

And yes, we’ll be talking about rat snakes and boa constrictors!

Rubber Worms

DIF&W’s Fisheries Division was directed to study the effects of artificial fishing lures made of rubber and soft plastic and nondegradable hooks on both fish and wildlife species in Maine, review existing studies from other states, seek information from fishing tackle manufacturers, and to report back to the IFW Committee this month.

The report is supposed to include information on the effects of disposal and ingestion of soft baits made of rubber and soft plastic, the effects of the nondegradable hooks depending on how long they take to break down, and the performance and durability of biodegradable alternatives.

Bear Referendum

The Humane Society of the United States is expected to submit its petitions to qualify its initiative to ban bear hunting with bait and hounds and bear trapping. Those petitions are due at the Secretary of State’s office by the 25th day after the legislature convenes.

The legislature will host hearings on the initiative and then vote to either enact it or send it to voters in June or November of 2014. It will not be enacted and it is most likely to be placed on the November ballot.

The last time sportsmen faced the challenge of defending bear hunting and trapping, their campaign got underway almost two years before Maine voters made their decision on the referendum measure in November of 2004. By July of 2003, we had a comprehensive poll, campaign plan and strategy, and lots of volunteers. My sister Edie Smith managed that campaign while I raised the money.

The sportsmen’s campaign this time got a late start, but James Cote, hired a few months ago to manage the campaign, is working hard to catch up. Cote is an experienced campaign professional and a good choice for this important job.

I have shared with James everything in my 2004 bear campaign file, including our polls. The path to victory for sportsmen will be more difficult and costly this time.

In 2004 we spent about $1.5 million, and $842,970 of that went to pay for placement of TV and radio ads. In all, we spent 66 percent of our money on media, including production.

Our opponents, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting, a front group for HSUS, raised $960,965. 93% of their money came from out of state. They had about 400 donors. They spent almost all of their money on ugly TV ads, dumping $600,000 late in the campaign into those ads. Thankfully, it was too little too late.

HSUS learned a lot in 2004 and has announced its intention to spend $3 million on their Maine campaign in 2014. That’s a mighty big challenge for Maine sportsmen. They’ll need a campaign plan, comprehensive poll, significant amount of money, and lots of volunteers by the end of this month, if they’re going to catch up to our 2004 campaign.


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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.