Good news from the Maine legislature. Yes, believe it!
NOTE TO READERS: Thank you for putting this column in the number one blogging spot with the most readers last week. Last year the topics that attracted the most readers to this blog were Lyme disease, rat snakes, and Paul LePage, so I guess I should not be surprised that last week’s topics, Lyme disease and Governor LePage’s refusal to allow the Land for Maine’s Future bonds to be sold so current conservation projects could be completed, put George’s Outdoor News in first place. And don’t worry. Rat snakes are coming soon! The legislature will tackle two bills governing exotic animals, and I’ll give you a preview of the issues sometime soon. But today, sister Edie Smith has asked for something positive, so here’s some good news from the Maine legislature, along with a beautiful photo by Pam Wells of a Bohemian Waxwing, to brighten your day.
Simpler laws and rules
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have promised to lead an effort to simplify fishing laws and rules, a very positive reaction to LD 157, An Act to Create an Advisory Committee to Review and Make Recommendations Regarding Hunting and Fishing Laws, sponsored by Representative Matt Pouliot at my request. Matt worked with me throughout the process of the drafting and presentation of this bill, which I really appreciated.
I told the legislature’s Inland and Fisheries and Wildlife Committee yesterday, as they worked on LD 157, that our goal had been achieved with the agreement between SAM and DIF&W, and there was no longer a need to enact the bill.
The bill would have established a Commission, organized by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and led by Maine’s nonprofit organizations including SAM, to constantly review hunting and fishing laws and rules and make recommendations to simplify, clarify, or eliminate them. The proposal included annual surveys of anglers and hunters on key issues.
Last year, I received the following emailed message: “George, how did the fishing laws get so complicated? I have had lots of people in the bait shop that have no idea what this new law book says or how to read it, and many young people who are considering giving up fishing because they cannot understand the new book – and I for one don’t know either. It is very sad to witness this. There seems to be a vast separation between the people in Augusta and the people who are outdoorsmen. Just wanted you to know – it’s amazing to hear what customers have to say about this book.”
Two weeks ago, when I posted an outdoor news column about this issue, one reader responded: “That is the reason I stopped fishing. The rules are too varied and confusing.” I think that’s sad and I know we can do something about it.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine first organized a Commission to Reduce and Clarify Maine’s Hunting and Fishing and Trapping Laws and Rules in 1998 and selected Cape Elizabeth’s Chief of Police, David Pickering, to chair the commission.
Dave set the tone for the commission’s first vigorous examination of the laws that govern sportsmen by noting, “Over the years, countless factions have lobbied to enact regulations, laws, and rules for the intended purpose of promoting safety, conservation, quiet enjoyment, enhancement of fishing stocks and fur and game species. While laudable on their face, time and improved sporting equipment and techniques have managed to prove many of these laws and regulations as overly restrictive, confusing, unnecessarily intrusive and unproductive for their intended purpose.”
Two groups were organized that first year. SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee accepted the task of reviewing fishing laws and rules. SAM’s Deer Task Force tackled the hunting laws and rules. SAM’s President, Edye Cronk, expressed the hope of many when she announced the formation of the Commission. “We hope the end result will be laws and rules which better focus on protection of our resources, allow sportsmen to easily understand the laws and rules which govern their behavior, and help game wardens to understand and enforce the laws and rules.”
Thanks to Chief Pickering’s strong leadership, two ambitious sets of recommendations were prepared: one for hunting laws and rules and one for fishing laws and rules. Many of the recommendations were enacted and implemented over the subsequent two-year period, significantly improving the hunting and fishing laws and rules and the rulebooks.
For example, for hunting laws, the Commission’s recommendations included extending the hunting day, authorizing camo orange, clarifying the prohibition on hunting on a public way, simplifying the law governing transportation of game, authorizing tracking of wounded deer with dogs, and allowing deer driving by small groups. They even recommended a change in the definition of hunting. All of these and more were ultimately enacted.
The Commission recommended dozens of changes in fishing laws and rules governing everything from the definition of “single hook” to a reduction in “S” codes to clarification of the prohibition on trolling on fly fishing only waters. Both the legislature and the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council enacted many of these recommendations.
This initial process was so successful that SAM’s members ratified a by-laws change in September of 2000 that made the Commission a permanent standing committee in the organization’s bylaws and officially named the group the Pickering Rules Commission in honor of David Pickering who died of cancer at the age of 47 in 2000. Today I present this bill and testimony in David Pickering’s honor.
Unfortunately, many other issues and challenges made it impossible for SAM to organize Pickering Commissions on the planned regular schedule. Only one other Pickering Commission on fishing rules has been conducted since that time. A second Pickering Commission on hunting rules was organized in 2002, and again, many of the Commission’s more than 100 recommendations were enacted. But we were unable to organize another Commission on hunting laws until 2011, when I organized and chaired a Commission, for SAM, on hunting and trapping rules, after I had left as the organization’s executive director.
That Commission was made possible by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. Quite a few of our recommendations from that Commission have been enacted, with special recognition and thanks to DIF&W for initiating many of those changes, and to the legislature for enacting them. The 2011 Commission included Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine and Maine Warden Service Captain Dan Scott, both of whom were very active and helpful in the process. That Commission also included Senator David Trahan and interim SAM executive director Matt Dunlap. Representative Ellie Espling was also a Commission member.
This process was so valuable that I proposed this bill this year to assure that the process will continue on a regular and frequent basis, with strong participation from all interests and the department. This is most assuredly not meant as a criticism of SAM, a group that I have spent much of my life helping, first as a board member and President, and later as executive director for 18 years. SAM, I had hoped, would be a leader and active participant in this new process.
The process was very successful and need to be – and can be – conducted regularly and frequently. There’s a lot of work to do initially, but the process will become easier over time, if it is conducted on a regular basis. I also believe legislators will find the recommendations of the Commission to be very valuable and helpful as they wrestle with proposals for new and amended laws each year.
SAM’s Executive Director, Dave Trahan, really stepped up on this issue, talking with DIF&W and putting together a plan to achieve the goals of this legislation. And at Dave’s request, I have promised to help with the first commission which will work on fishing laws and rules.
Dave has promised to figure out a way to review both hunting and fishing laws and rules on a regular basis, and that is a big commitment, because the work is time-consuming and requires some funding. He and I have talked about ways the commission can be funded both short and long term.
Andrea Erskine, DIF&W’s Deputy Commissioner, presented a memorandum to the IFW Committee explaining that her agency would work with SAM to review laws and regulations. “The initial effort will be a review of the design and layout of the fishing law book publication with a goal of simplifying the presentation of regulations to create a more user-friendly publication for anglers.” That is certainly a great place to begin this important process, something that is badly needed.
Andrea told the committee that “SAM will determine the make-up of committees designated to work with IF&W and we will make every effort to include interested members of the public and organizations.” That’s important because several groups, including private forest landowners, farmers, and the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribes, asked to be included in the process, and they should be.
Andrea also explained that “this will be one of several efforts under-taken to review and, when possible, make recommendations for simplifying the information on laws and rules that is provided to the sporting public.” She thanked IFW Committee members for their interest in this issue, as did I, and noted, “It is one we take seriously and hope to accomplish and report back on our success.”
Given that Andrea participated in Pickering Commissions in the past, I was delighted to see her up there supporting the process and willing to take a leading position along with SAM in moving this forward on a continuing and regular basis.
At the end of my testimony on LD 157, I told this story.
We studied the 300-page summary provided by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and were still confused. We think we could keep up to five brookies over six inches, from brooks and streams, except those which are part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, in which case the trout had to be over twelve inches and we could keep only two fish, of which one could be over fourteen inches, and each must have a notch in the dorsal fin, unless there were at least thirty-five orange spots on each side of the fish, except for fish in streams crossing the American Realty Road, which must have no more than twenty-five orange spots on each side. We think we obeyed the laws. My friend Barney has hired a lawyer to review the regulations and get back to us prior to next year’s trip. We had a great time, and I’m hopeful we didn’t inadvertently poach any brookies with too few orange spots. To be safe, we ate them before they could become evidence.
This is one of many hilarious stories in a book by Brian Daniels, titled Thoughts of an Average Joe and published by Islandport Press in Yarmouth. While these stories are supposed to be fictional, they’re based on many of Brian’s outdoor experiences. And he certainly portrayed the state’s fishing rules accurately.