It’s not all about bears. Yes, Maine voters will decide the fate of bear baiting, hounding, and trapping on November 4, and we all have a stake in that decision. But we’re also electing a new legislature, governor, two members of Congress and one U.S. Senator, and deciding a few important bond issues, including one that is critical to all of us who spend time outside.
I will be writing about all of these campaigns and issues between now and November 4, focusing on what is at stake for those of us who hunt, fish, and care about conservation and the environment.
Gubernatorial candidates Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler have given me their 2014 candidate questionnaires of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the only major statewide organization of sportsmen that quizzes the candidates, gives them grades, and usually makes endorsements. So the SAM survey is very important, and the candidates put a lot of thought into their answers.
SAM’s 2014 survey included questions about guns, deer, coyotes, wolves, fish hatcheries, recreational use of public lands, access to private lands, a proposed national park near Millinocket, and the bear referendum.
The really good news is that all three candidates for Governor oppose the bear referendum.
Today we’ll take a look at Mike Michaud’s promises and commitments, made in his SAM survey.
Probably the most important question involves public funding for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, so let’s start there. SAM provided a bit of background on the issue – focusing on the fact that sportsmen pay all the bills while the public receives millions of dollars of services from the agency. Game wardens, for example, spend about half their time on police – not wildlife – work. The survey asked candidates if they would support a Constitutional amendment that allocated General Fund tax dollars to DIF&W, a straight General Fund appropriation, or something else.
Michaud said he would support a straight General Fund appropriation. Interestingly, Michaud also noted that Governor LePage broke his promises to SAMabout funding for DIF&W. LePage promised to fund 20 percent of DIF&W’s budget with General Fund money, and to veto any budget that didn’t include that. He did neither.
Michaud has a long track record on this issue. I worked with Mike when he was on the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, where he got DIF&W $400,000 of public funding for technology upgrades. He also worked to bring the Warden Service’s retirement benefits in line with those of State Troopers.
His answer on this question was very thoughtful. “I recognize that IF&W is underfunded and has increasingly been asked to do more with less,” he wrote. “If the Legislature were to pass a reasonable Constitutional provision to fund IF&W, I would sign it. However, given the volatility of the sales tax and the need to get our state’s budget under control, I would also want to work with SAM, the Department and legislators and leadership from both sides of the aisle to look at other ways to make sure IF&W has the resources it needs to do its job.”
Given that we’re losing access to a lot of private land, year after year, I looked at the answers to this issue closely. SAM asked if candidates opposed reverse posting, an issue we defeated about 15 years ago and that has not been a serious concern since then. But the attitudes and positions on private land ownership and recreational access of the candidates are enlightening.
Michaud reported that, “The continued loss of access to private land for public recreation is a serious problem, and one that demands a comprehensive and effective landowner relations program in which all of us participate. Landowner relations will be a priority of a Michaud administration and the team I put in place at DIF&W.”
Governor LePage has focused on the challenges of rebuilding Maine’s deer herd, including the creation of Maine’s Game Plan for Deer. Michaud’s answers on the deer questions were supportive of this goal, although he noted at least one problem.
Regarding the Game Plan and coyote predation control project, Michaud wrote, “I would evaluate the current program and increase its effectiveness, knowing the program fell short of its goals. It concerns me that DIF&W has been paying more than $200 for each coyote terminated – a level of expense that is unsustainable – but has not come close to spending the $100,000 allocated to protect deer from coyote predation. We can, and must, do better.”
The changes in SAM’s survey from 2010 (the last one I did as SAM’s executive director) and this year’s survey is notable in some cases, including fisheries. The 2010 survey asked, “Should DIF&W’s fisheries staff focus on habitat protection and enhancement, to create self-sustainable fisheries, rather than on hatcheries and stocked fish?”
This year’s survey posed the fishery question this way: “Would you support a conservation bond issue that would be presented to the voters of Maine to bring our hatchery system into the 21st century and greatly enhance the economy of rural Maine.” Michaud said that he would.
Michaud said he supports trapping, opposes the introduction of wolves into Maine, supports efforts to enhance sporting opportunities on public lands, will support funding the Land for Maine’s Future Program and vote to maintain this important habitat protection and investment provision, supports the right to keep and bear arms spelled out in the Constitutions of the United States and Maine, and will commit to re-invigorating the Information and Education Division of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Two controversial issues on the SAM survey drew extended comments from Michaud.
SAM asked, “Would you sign a bill to expand background checks to private firearm sales.” Michaud answered Yes, and that answer caused SAM’s Board of Directors to downgrade Michaud’s grade from an A to an A-. That was unfair in my opinion, particularly given all that Mike has done for sportsmen in his long career. I have found that many sportsmen support the expansion of background checks. Here is what Michaud added to his answer on the SAM survey question.
“I have publicly supported the bi-partisan Background Check bill that fell just short in the United States Senate. Essentially, I would support the expansion of background checks to all sales over the Internet and at gun shows while maintaining an exemption for transfers between family members.
“As Governor,” Michaud continued, “I would work with interested parties on both sides of this issue to strike the right balance between the Second Amendment and keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illness. I do not support a database of all firearms owners.”
The other controversial issue is the creation of a national park on 70,000 acres north of Millinocket, Michaud’s home town. While Michaud said he opposes the creation of that park, he added these remarks.
“As described in your opening paragraph, I oppose proposals by RESTORE to establish a national park that would end sporting access for hunting, trapping, snowmobiling, and ATV use.”
Michaud is referring to a longstanding proposal from a Massachusetts-based group to create a 4 million acre national park in the North Woods. That is very different from the national park proposed for Roxanne Quimby’s small parcel between Baxter Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. In fact, Quimby’s proposal now includes a recreation area on her lands west of the river, in which all traditional activities, including hunting and snowmobiling, would continue.
Michaud expanded on this issue, writing, “However, I do support an effort to examine our goals for conservation and sporting as well as economic opportunities in the north woods. I am absolutely committed to protecting sporting opportunity in the woods of Maine. If a national park would allow hunting, trapping, fishing, snowmobiling, ATVing, and timber harvesting, I am open to discussing any opportunity that allows such traditional uses, provided there is local support from the community and an economic impact study is completed first.”
I’ll report on Eliot Cutler’s survey on Thursday, and later, take a look at Governor Paul LePage’s record and the new promises he made in this year’s SAM survey (if I can get it. Neither SAM nor the Governor has been willing to share the survey with me, but I am hoping and expecting it will be printed in the September/October issue of the SAM News).