A new Landowner Sportsmen Relations Advisory Board has been selected by DIF&W’s Commissioner, Chandler Woodcock, who greeted the group at its first meeting on January 22. The group has extraordinary authority and challenging issues.
In the early 2000s, the legislature created the first Landowner Sportsmen Relations Advisory Board, and it took Governor John Baldacci two years to appoint its members. I served on the board for a while, but it was too large and unwieldy, and never was able to really dig into the key issues that are important to both landowners and sportsmen.
Last year the legislature enacted an amended version of a bill that was sponsored at my request by Representative Ellie Espling. Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, worked with me in developing the bill. The bill reduced the size of the LSRAB to just 11 members appointed by DIF&W’s Commissioner (previously board members were appointed by the Governor), authorized DIF&W to create a new program called Keep Maine Clean, and required the agency to issue an annual report on all aspects of its landowner relations program. The Governor vetoed the bill but Rep. Espling whipped it through the House and Senate with unanimous votes that over-rode the Governor’s veto.
The new LSRAB is an outstanding group of state leaders. Representing small woodland landowners is Tom Doak of SWOAM. Representing large landowners is John Bryant of American Forestry Management. Representing sportsmen are Dave Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association, and Carl Guay of the Maine Trappers Association. Representing outdoor recreationists are Bob Myers of the Maine Snowmobile Association and Tami Kane of ATV Maine. Representing land trusts is David Montague of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust. Representing environmental groups are Jessica Leahy of the University of Maine School of Forestry and Tom Abello of the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Representing farmers is Clark Granger of the Maine Farm Bureau. All members attended the first meeting except for Granger.
Rick LaFlamme, DIF&W Director of Landowner Relations, will of course participate in this process and will work with the board on all of its projects. Tom Doak was elected to chair the group and Bob Myers to serve as vice chair. Bob seemed to be quite pleased to be put in charge of vice.
After lots of introductory remarks and a review of the meeting’s agenda, they dug into a legislative issue, LD 609 which would give DIF&W’s Commissioner authority to offer reduced-price hunting licenses to nonresident landowners who own more than 250 acres that are open to hunting. The legislature’s IFW Committee is holding the bill for a while in order to receive the LSRAB’s recommendation.
The board unanimously opposed the bill. Dave Trahan objected to treating residents and nonresidents and small and large landowners differently. “Property taxes are a bigger problem than the cost of licenses,” he noted. Other board members, including Tom Doak, agreed that it is a bad idea to divide nonresident and resident landowners. Doak also noted that the proposal doesn’t really address the issues that landowners cite for posting their land. Jessica Leahy, who has done many surveys of landowners, agreed and reported that instate landowners are having more problems than nonresident landowners, and are much more likely to post their land.
“This would open a door that’s never going to close,” said Bob Myers, noting it would provide no benefits to landowners who provide snowmobile trails on their property.
The group decided to work on a list of suggestions that would benefit all landowners, in time for the 2017 legislative session. One key question that remained unanswered – and a major concern of the board – is the amount of money available for landowner relations. The board appears ready to step up and advocate for public funding for DIF&W, which would be a major breakthrough, given the diversity of groups represented on the board.
My bill included a requirement, suggested by Doak, that DIF&W issue an annual report that includes the following:
- A summary of the major accomplishments of the landowner relations program over the last year and plans for the coming year;
- A summary of how the department administrative and staff support time was spent, including any time spent by the landowner relations coordinator on matters unrelated to landowner relations;
- A summary of landowner-related complaints received and any resulting action on behalf of the department or advisory board;
- An accounting of income and expenses of the Landowner Relations Fund;
- An explanation of what the advisory board accomplished pursuant to each of its statutory duties.
The board decided to meet monthly for a while, to get up to speed on the issues and to create a plan that addresses those issues. I’ll continue to keep you informed of the work of this important new group.