For far too long, Maine has ignored the need for a comprehensive program and approach to landowner relations, and we have all paid the price in posted land and lost outdoor recreational opportunities.
Today I’m starting a six-part series on this important issue. Each column will be accompanied by a question in my Sportsmen Say Survey, and the final column will include a report on the results of those surveys.
I encourage you to read all the columns, which you will find right here in George’s Outdoor News, and answer all the questions, which you will find in the Sportsmen Say Survey section of my website, www.georgesmithmaine.org. It will take a lot of us to fix this problem and assure that private land remains available for public recreation.
Let’s begin at the ending. After leaving its high-level landowner relations position vacant for a year, demonstrating a lack of commitment to the program, DIF&W has moved the position from the Commissioner’s office, where the legislature placed it to jump-start the program and emphasize its high priority and importance, to the Maine Warden Service.
This is a terrible mistake because a good landowner relations program is about a lot more than law enforcement. Worse, the agency has downgraded the position to part-time. The new landowner relations job description includes this: This position will continue to perform investigative and protective services work involving the enforcement of Maine State laws, fish and wildlife conservation laws and rules, regulations and other laws within the jurisdiction of the Maine Warden Service.
In other words, the warden selected for this position will continue his other duties as a Maine game warden.
In 2007, the Small Woodland Owners Association proposed legislation to establish landowner relations as part of the mission of the Maine Warden Service. DIF&W and the Warden Service opposed the bill, clearly stating that this was not their responsibility, and the bill was defeated! There is absolutely no evidence that the Maine Warden Service will be willing or able to build the comprehensive statewide landowner relations program we need.
Laflamme Gets the Job
On May 2nd DIF&W announced that an 18-year veteran of the Maine Warden Service would take over the landowner relations position. Rick LaFlamme began his state service as a Maine Marine Patrol Officer in 1996, where he was promoted to pilot and field sergeant before eventually joining the Maine Warden Service.
Corporal John MacDonald issued the following statement about LaFlamme with the announcement: “He has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to build consensus amongst various recreational groups. Warden LaFlamme possesses the skills, interest, and passion to facilitate a statewide program which impacts all outdoor recreation in Maine.”
We can only hope this is true, at least until Maine elects a governor who recognizes the critical importance of this program, moves it back upstairs into the Commissioner’s office, and creates a comprehensive program with the help and participation of all the state’s recreational organizations.
Michaud and Cutler
In response to my request for their position on this issue, gubernatorial candidates Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler were kind enough to give me the following statements.
“I believe in maintaining a strong Landowner Relations program and a close partnership with outdoor recreation groups, including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Maine Audubon. I also believe that the lead position should be put back in the office of DIF& W’s Commissioner, where the public and the Maine legislature wanted it.” – Congressman Mike Michaud
“The current landowner relations program at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries ought to be strengthened, and it will be when I am governor. The public use of private lands — a hallowed Maine tradition — is one of our great competitive advantages. All of us who use those lands are obliged to practice good landowner relations, and our state agencies should do the same.” – Eliot Cutler
Do you believe the Maine Warden Service is the right location for a comprehensive state landowner relations program?
Please record your answer here.
The next column will report on an exceptional study conducted in 2002 by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, with funding from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, titled “A Practical Guide to Preserving Public Access to Private Land.” The study was launched to respond to landowner complaints about ATV riders, but ended up offering a comprehensive approach to landowner relations.
Roberta Scruggs was hired to do the study and write the report. As she notes in the Executive Summary, “The following report looks at problems, objectives and solutions from four important perspectives: landowners, land users, policy makers and law enforcement. It’s designed to answer the most important questions, explore the common problems and offer a range of options to help keep private land open for responsible public use.”