Well, the elections will be over soon (thank goodness!) and many of us will get into the woods in pursuit of whitetails, so it must be time to set our sights on the Maine legislature where lots of important issues may be debated – and possibly even decided – in 2017. Here are some of the issues I’ve heard about so far.
Hatcheries: I’m expecting another attempt to organize a Hatchery Commission to look at all the issues involved with raising and stocking fish, plus a multi-million bond issue to fix problems at the Casco and Grand Lake Stream hatcheries. Casco has been closed for most of the year, due to a water problem, and both hatcheries were cited in a report last year as needing work.
Warden Service: the controversies stirred up last summer about undercover operations and other problems are sure to be raised at the legislature this session, and I’ve even heard that one prominent legislator will propose merging the Warden Service with the State Police. There is also a possibility that a Commission may be organized to tackle these issues and problems and report back to the legislature with recommendations.
Constitutional amendment to protect hunting. Representative Steve Wood says he’ll reintroduce this amendment, which was defeated in the 2016 legislative session.
Fall fishing: I’m hearing that a bill to expand the opportunities to fish in the fall, by opening up October fishing in areas where that is now prohibited, may be proposed.
Legalize game dinners: While the Warden Service looks the other way, and often participates in them, it is illegal in Maine to charge people for a wild game dinner. That problem may be fixed this session.
Turkeys: there is sure to be a bill to eliminate the permit fee, allow online and phone tagging, and expand the bag limits.
Ban on rubber worms and plastic baits: there will be a new attempt to protect fish from these deadly lures.
Spawning habitat. There’s been talk, inside and outside the legislature, about an initiative to protect and enhance spawning habitat for brook trout.
Simplify fishing rules: DIF&W informed the IF&W Committee that it would simplify the fishing rule book for 2017 and the fishing rules the following year. They also promised to work with anglers – especially the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine – in the effort to simplify the rules. That hasn’t happened yet. The IF&W Committee may want to get more involved, by organizing a Commission to work with DIF&W on this important project.
Marketing at DIF&W: the department is expected to once again oppose a bill to create a marketing position at the agency. The staff member would work with the outdoor industry in rebuilding Maine’s hunting and fishing economy.
Comprehensive hunting/fishing license. I plan to propose, again, a comprehensive hunting/fishing license for those of us who prefer to make one purchase, rather than buy all those special permits. We made quite a bit of progress on this idea last session, although the bill was not enacted, so we have something to build on this time. I’ve also heard that a bill will be introduced to allow all IF&W licensing agents to sell lifetime licenses. Right now you can only buy those directly from the agency.
Exotic animals: I’ve written a lot about exotic animal issues, and the legislature completely redid the laws governing the possession of exotics last session. DIF&W is in the process of adopting new lists of exotics that can be possessed with permits, those that require permits, and those that are banned. I’m going to propose legislation to require a permit to possess all exotic animals in Maine, and to require the owners of exotics to notify their neighbors and the Maine Warden Service if their exotic animal gets loose. It seems incredible to me that you can be fined if your dog runs loose, but not your python.
Landowners: I expect (hope) that the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine will once again try to require landowner permission to pick crops on private land. The bill may be limited to those who pick crops commercially, like mushrooms and fiddleheads.
Mining Rules – another attempt by the DEP to get the legislature to approve new rules making it easier to mine in Maine has drawn – once again – fierce opposition from the state’s environmental groups. This will be a major issue at the legislature in 2016.
I plan to attend most hearings and work sessions of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and will line up sponsors for bills I want to put in front of the committee – including some of those mentioned above. I hope you will support some or all of my bills, and turn out to participate in the legislative process when you can. Yes, you can make a difference.