Eliot Cutler’s Promises to Maine Sportsmen
Today we take a look at Eliot Cutler’s promises to sportsmen, made in his 2014 candidate questionnaire of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Cutler added an extensive amount of comments for nearly every SAM question, and I will give you some of those comments in this report.
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.
Cutler said he would support a General Fund appropriation. “I do not believe the Constitution is the right place to appropriate funds,” he wrote. “I refused in 2010 to make promises to anyone about any particular budget item or appropriation matter, and I won’t do so now. Governor LePage broke his 2010 promises to SAM to fund 20 percent of DIF&W’s budget with public tax money and to veto any budget that failed to do that.
“I do agree that it is unfair and unwise to fund public services – like many of those performed by the staff at DIF&W – with revenues collected from only a portion of those who receive the benefits of those services. I will commit to work with legislative leaders and members of the Appropriations Committee to create a budget for DIF&W that includes significant support from all Mainers for the important work of the agency.”
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.
Cutler recognized that, writing, “Reverse posting has been handily defeated at the legislative level in the past – with the strong opposition of SAM – and is not currently a threat. Nonetheless, maintaining our traditional privilege of access to and recreational use of private land is definitely a continuing challenge. I will work aggressively with small and large landowners to assure that the privilege of public access is maintained. To help do that, we will create and I will support a vigorous landowner relations program as a partnership among state agencies and the groups that represent outdoor recreationists, environmentalists, and sportsmen.”
SAM also asked if the candidates “support efforts to enhance sporting opportunities on public lands?” The group did not specify what expanded opportunities it has in mind. Currently we are able to fish everywhere, and to hunt even on the undeveloped portions of state parks.
Cutler answered yes to this question, and elaborated. “The real challenge is defending and assuring the access and recreational use that sportsmen currently enjoy on public lands and in our state parks. I will do that. I believe in shared use and will work to make sure that all recreationists are able to fully enjoy their favorite activities on public lands and in our state parks. I am aware that we have failed to provide robust management of our public lands and parks, and I will work to assure that lands managed by BPL and DIF&W are among the best managed lands in the state.”
Governor LePage has focused on the challenges of rebuilding Maine’s deer herd, including the creation of Maine’s Game Plan for Deer. Cutler’s answers on the deer questions were supportive of this goal.
On a question asking if candidates would continue the coyote predation program, Cutler said yes, reporting, “I recognize that a strong, healthy and sustainable deer herd is important to Maine, and I would support the recommendations of experts in this area.”
“The devastating losses to Maine’s deer herd mean that we need to strengthen protection of deer wintering areas and do everything we can to help the deer herd recover as quickly as possible. I am also mindful of the major changes of land ownership in Maine in recent years. The paper companies, which used to own the majority of forestland in Maine, generally adhered to voluntary agreements for protecting feeding areas.
“Newer owners of vast tracts of Maine land may not always feel the same obligation to abide by those traditional agreements, so we need to find other ways to protect feeding and wintering areas. Whether that responsibility falls to LURC or some other agency, it needs to be a priority.”
SAM’s survey asked: “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.”
Cutler said he would and elaborated. “Maine’s hatcheries turn out an exceptional product, but we have never made the investments necessary to compete with other states that spend tens of millions of dollars growing and stocking fish. I plan to bring together a group of anglers, guides, DIF&W fisheries staff, and others, to create and implement a plan for a vigorous hatchery program, to stock the fish in the best and most appropriate areas, and to expand our research and management of native fisheries and fish that thrive without stocking. Further, and critically, I will identify this program as a priority, long-term capital investment in one of Maine’s important competitive advantages, and I will give serious consideration to bonded indebtedness to support that investment.”
SAM asked if the candidates support or oppose the establishment of a new National Park in the North Woods, referring to two proposals, one from Restore: The North Woods for a 2.3 million acre national park and wildlife refuge, and one for Roxanne Quimby’s 70,000 acres between Baxter Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. Quimby’s proposal includes a recreation area on her lands east of the river, in which all traditional activities, including hunting and snowmobiling, would continue.
Here’s what Cutler had to say. “I oppose the RESTORE proposal. It is excessive and not at all in Maine’s best interest. On the other hand, I believe that the designation(s) of approximately 75,000 acres as a National Park and/or National Recreation Area has merit as part of a strategy to reinvigorate the economy of the Katahdin Region.
Cutler reported, “Earlier in my career, during the late 1970’s, I led the federal government’s effort to classify the Alaska public lands under the provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and my team reviewed the prospects for conservation and use under a long list of native state and federal classifications. I learned from that experience that questions that are framed narrowly – like ‘Should the Quimby-St. Clair lands become a National Park?’ – lead to examinations of alternatives that are also too narrowly framed.
“We should be identifying – with the owners, the affected communities, National Park advocates and all Maine stakeholders – the optimum balance of preservation and use and the best mechanism(s) to achieve it. Any designation of these Maine lands must benefit the regional economy in areas of traditional employment and attract outdoor enthusiasts to Maine from all over the world with opportunities in appropriate places to fish, hunt, hike, camp, paddle, wildlife watch, bicycle, snowmobile, cross country ski and snowshoe.
“I already promised the citizens and stakeholders in the Katahdin Region that as governor I personally will work closely with them to craft a plan that will maximize the economic potential of the region – using the hydroelectric resources of the Penobscot River and distributed generation of electricity from indigenous renewable resources to power industries that will draw upon the area’s wood fiber resource and leveraging the region’s extraordinary tourism and recreational resources to bring visitors to the area from around the world.”
Cutler said he supports the right to keep and bear arms in the U.S. and Maine Constitutions, adding, “SAM was instrumental in amending the state’s constitution in 1987 to ensure that our second amendment rights are enshrined in the Maine constitution: ‘Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms and that right shall never be questioned.’ I don’t know how to improve on that.”
On the question of expanding background checks, Cutler wrote, “I respect and honor all constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. Maine has a long history of responsible gun ownership and one of the lowest rates of gun-related crime in America. We can all be proud of that, but I think that we also can agree that we need to focus more attention on the problem of access to firearms by people who simply shouldn’t own guns, like convicted criminals and people suffering from mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others. That’s why I actively and strongly support universal background checks upon the sale and transfer of firearms.
“I believe it is especially important to require background checks of nonresidents who purchase guns in Maine and return to Boston and other places and use the guns to commit crimes. I recognize that this requirement will pose problems for gun owners who do not live near a licensed gun dealer who can do the background checks. I will work with SAM, law enforcement, dealers and others to create a one-call system that solves that problem and that would be in place before any change in existing law becomes effective.”
While it wasn’t a question on SAM’s survey, Cutler has created a comprehensive plan for branding Maine, and on his SAM survey, he presented the portion of his plan related to hunting and fishing.
“Maine is a safe, genuine, friendly, uncrowded place – an unspoiled outdoor paradise dominated by conservation lands. But Maine’s traditional outdoor economic driver – hunting and fishing – has been in decline for decades. We have lost our deer herd in the north, a vital driver of the economy in that region, seen substantially reduced moose and deer hunting permits, and now face the challenge of a second ballot initiative in ten years by a national anti-hunting group that would end bear hunting and eliminate that segment of our economy.
“Even recreational fishing is in decline both inland and on the coast. Sportsmen remember when guides on the Kennebec River gave up and canceled their trips because the Striped Bass were gone. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is starved for the funds needed to do a good job of research and management of the animals that define the Maine experience and that drive our outdoor economy.
“Nearly a decade ago the Department abolished its marketing position. Pick up any national outdoor magazine featuring ‘the best places to…,’ and Maine is not there.
“Our hunting and fishing heritage is important to all of us, and it will be something always on the top of my mind. Our outdoor leaders – especially those in critical businesses like guiding and sporting camps – will be called on to work with me to put Maine on the national map, once again, for all outdoor activities, whether it’s hunting Maine, fishing Maine, birding Maine, hiking Maine, or biking Maine…
“Finally, we need to pay as much attention to the preservation of Maine’s special community resources as we have paid to preserving our mountains, lakes and coastal views. One of the important objectives in a plan for Maine’s future needs to be the preservation of rural farming, the North Woods, our rivers, lakes, and streams, and coastal communities that give Maine’s tourism assets depth and character that are unmatched anywhere in the world.”