I published a column in this blog on August 4 that detailed the many promises to Maine sportsmen that Governor Paul LePage broke over the past four years, including a major promise to provide public tax money to fund 20 percent of the budget of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
That column is still available here if you want to read it. In response to that column, Rep. Stacey Guerin published an editorial page column in the Bangor Daily News on August 18, titled “Paul LePage is the sportsman’s (and woman’s) governor.”
I like and respect Rep. Guerin, but her column was wildly inaccurate. Let’s take a look at some of her claims.
First, she touts the Governor’s “comprehensive overhaul of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s deer management program.” She is referring to LePage’s “Maine Game Plan for Deer.” That plan has been almost a complete failure.
While Maine’s DIF&W does a reasonably good job of researching and managing deer, the state’s Game Plan for Deer appears to be achieving little and costing a lot. A March 6, 2014 “Benchmark Report” on the plan, presented to the legislature’s IFW Committee by the agency, was not very encouraging. Here are a few highlights in the report that jumped out at me.
Dead coyotes cost DIF&W over $200 each last winter, in line with the high cost of the predator control project in previous winters. And this year, DIF&W included the project volunteers in their report – probably to try to reduce the cost/coyote. As of February 24, 2014, in 52 priority DWAs, DIF&W paid 25 trappers and 42 hunters and houndsmen, and utilized 20 volunteers, who harvested 175 coyotes for $34,696.
And this was the only program the agency launched to limit predation of deer by coyotes and bears. Rep. Guerin claims the Governor “established the Predator Control and Deer Habitat Fund.” It was actually created by the legislature, which funded the program at the $100,000 level. But DIF&W spent less than half the money.
Despite the fact that bears kill a lot of deer – particularly fawns in the spring – the plan recommends that no action be taken to control bears, because “a greatly reduced bear population may undermine the economic contribution that bears provide to Maine’s rural economy.” In other words, bears are more important than deer.
The department has fallen far short of its goal to “obtain assurances from cooperating landowners that 100% of the acreage currently supporting wintering deer in northern, eastern, and western Maine is being cooperatively managed with the Department… by December 31, 2013.” The report doesn’t tell us how far short they fell. It just notes that the effort is “in progress.” I am told they didn’t sign any new agreements with landowners in the last four years.
This is particularly important because, as the Maine Game Plan for Deer noted, “Significant progress toward increasing the deer population will depend on increasing the amount and quality of deer wintering habitat for deer.”
Aerial surveys by helicopter are an important component of deer population management and assessment. But no flights were conducted for 2012-13 “due to lack of snow at first, and then too much snow which moved deer to coniferous cover… Currently the Department is reviewing the program to determine its effectiveness and the ability of the Department to continue data collection,” noted the report.
There is no indication of what they would do to replace these surveys, but the report did note, in previous years, “The flights demonstrated that in some WMDs deer were at lower densities than what was previously believed.”
Rep. Guerin also gave LePage credit for changes to the Land for Maine’s Future program that focused on purchasing deer habitat. Actually, LMF has been purchasing deer habitat for many years, and the most important LMF bill this past session became law without the governor’s support or signature.
Rep. Guerin also gave the governor credit for “spearheading the repeal of the saltwater fishing license mandate.” Wrong again. Anglers who fish in Maine’s saltwater are still required to have a saltwater fishing license.
Anglers who purchase a fishing license from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and indicate they fish in saltwater do not have to pay a fee to the licensing agent. They are registered as saltwater anglers automatically. Saltwater anglers who do not purchase a DIF&W fishing license have to register and pay a fee of $1 to the Department of Marine Resources or $2 to licensing agents.
There was more in Rep. Guerin’s column that I could dispute, but you get the idea. As an active Republican and a lifelong advocate for sportsman who believed Paul LePage’s promises, it pains me to say this, but we need a new governor.