In a nearly unanimous vote, the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee gave its stamp of approval today to legislation that would give nonresidents a chance to hunt on the opening day of the firearms season on deer. Those nonresidents would have to own 25 acres or more of land and allow others to hunt on their land – similar to the requirement for them to enter the any-deer permit lottery.
Any private landowner is eligible for the landowner permit drawing if the person owns a particular piece of land that is: 25 or more contiguous acres in size; is agricultural, forested or undeveloped land; and open to hunting, including hunting by permission. Any dependent living in the household of a qualifying landowner is eligible. Landowners can post their land, and still apply for any-deer permits, as long as they allow some residents to hunt there.
While the IFW Committee had, in its last work session on LD 609, talked about allowing all nonresidents to hunt on opening day, that idea was quickly set aside in today’s work session. Dave Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine said that, in last year’s survey, 347 SAM members (51.9%) opposed allowing nonresidents to hunt on the first day of the season, while 287 (42.9%) supported that and 48 (7.2%) were undecided. Trahan said that SAM is still tabulating its most recent survey, but so far 139 members have supported the proposal and 128 have opposed it.
I had emailed committee members the results of a question I posed on February 9 in the Sportsmen Say Survey section of my website (www.georgesmithmaine.com). Since then 383 people have answered the question, “Should nonresidents be allowed to join residents on opening day of the firearms season on deer?” 152 answered yes (40%), 225 said no (59%), while 6 were undecided.
The IFW Committee talked for more than an hour about offering nonresidents who own land the opportunity to hunt on opening day. Trahan reported that SAM’s Board of Directors support this and he made several suggestions, including the possibility of letting all nonresident property taxpayers hunt on opening day, no matter how much property they own. But the committee emphasized that this proposal is designed to encourage nonresident landowners to allow Maine residents to hunt on their land, so some minimal amount of land must be available for hunting.
Trahan then suggested that nonresidents who own 2 acres or more be allowed to hunt on opening day, but the committee rejected that in favor of a 25 acre requirement, to mirror the requirement to enter the landowners any-deer lottery. IFW Committee member Steve Wood argued persuasively for this, and I encouraged the committee to stick with the same requirements used in the lottery to make this as easy as possible for the department.
Trahan also said he could support charging nonresident landowners a small fee for the opportunity to hunt on opening day, but that idea was also quickly set aside.
Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody answered many questions from committee members, and told them that the Warden Service does not check to make sure nonresidents who get any-deer permits actually own land that is open to resident hunters. They only investigate complaints. Committee member Patrick Corey noted that, “the chance of seeing a warden while hunting is remote.” Committee member Roger Reed agreed, reporting that he’s been hunting since he was 14 and has never been checked by a game warden.
Peabody informed the committee that wardens do check the tagging station records, and will launch an investigation of a successful hunter if they suspect something is wrong.
Will This Work?
I doubt that this is going to be very helpful in opening up private land for resident hunters. Tom Doak of the Small Woodland Owners Association was at the work session today, and stated flatly, “This isn’t going to open up any more land to hunting.” But it will please some nonresident landowners, albeit a very small number of them.
Senator Paul Davis, a member of the IFW Committee, at an earlier work session said that he has a nonresident neighbor who owns 400 acres who was very upset to see a resident haul a big buck off his property on opening day last year, while he couldn’t hunt there that day. Can’t really blame him!
Very few nonresident landowners apply for any-deer permits. Last year only 425 applied, and 275 of them received permits. 7,825 resident landowners applied, and 5,430 of them received permits.
The committee decided to move forward with this proposal but to sunset it in two years to give DIF&W and the legislature a chance to evaluate and reconsider it. The opportunity will have to be re-enacted in 2018 if it is to continue. Only Representative Peter Lyford voted against the bill.