We won some and lost some at the legislature

It was probably a bit ambitious for me to propose eleven bills at this year’s legislative session. It turned out to be a very tough year there, and not just for my bills. We’ll be lucky I guess if they can agree on a new budget. As usual, most of the 1800 or so bills that were introduced were killed.

I’m actually happy with the results for my bills, although most were not enacted. I often propose bills in order to provoke the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife into acting, and I had some very good luck with that this session.

Today I’ll give you a run-down on what happened to each of my bills. And if you want to know more about any of these bills, I’ve written columns about them earlier this year in this blog.

Brook Trout Protection, Sponsored by Rep. Russell Black

I’m especially pleased with what happened on my two bills calling for more protection of our native brook trout including in tributaries to our Heritage Fish waters and in speeding up the process of adding waters to that protected list.

Although DIF&W opposed the bill, it drew lots of support at the public hearing and the IFW Committee was very supportive, which provoked the department to step up, in a written memo, and agree to do the things in our bill in the next 9 months, with a report back to the committee next February. And to make sure the agency fulfills its promise, the committee held one of my bills over so they could use it next session if they need to.

Wild Game Dinners, Sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello

In response to my bill to make wild game dinners legal, DIF&W issued a written memo spelling out the requirements that will make those dinners legal.

Permission to Pick

My bill requiring permission to pick mushrooms, fiddleheads, and other wild crops on private land ended up with a big surprise. Legislative staff discovered it is already against the law to pick crops on private land without permission!

Simpler Fishing Rules, Sponsored by Rep. Michelle Dunphy

My bill to establish a commission to simplify and clarify fishing laws and rules was killed, but DIF&W promised to get this done this year. It’ll be interesting to see if they do, and how they simplify our overly-complex fishing rules.

Shooting More Turkeys, Sponsored by Senator Paul Davis

My bill to increase the turkey bag limit, eliminate the turkey permit fee, and allow on-line tagging of turkeys was killed after DIF&W strongly opposed it. But in the final work session on the bill, I asked the IFW Committee to use my bill to give the department authority to set bag limits and seasons, and to schedule special turkey hunts to reduce problem turkey populations.

Currently bag limits and seasons are set in law, so the agency can’t change them without legislative action. And in the agency’s new draft turkey management plan, they included a goal to do just what I proposed in the amendment. So the agency staff stepped up at the work session to tell the committee that they would like this to be done, and it was. And they have thanked me since then for getting this done.

Hatcheries, Sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden

I thought it was time to take a new look at DIF&W’s hatcheries, and proposed a commission to do that. I am particularly concerned that nearly all of the Fisheries Division’s money is spent raising, stocking, and researching hatchery fish, to the neglect of our native and wild fisheries. But DIF&W opposed and killed my bill, although, at the IFW Committee’s request, they did submit a written report on what they’d accomplished in response to a recommendations from a previous Hatchery Commission issued in 2002.

Exotic Animals, Sponsored by Senator Scott Cyrway

I stirred up quite a hornet’s nest with my exotic animal bill. But an amended version of the bill addressed what I feel are two of the most critical issues. The bill significantly increased penalties for those who fail to get the required permit for their exotic animal, and for those who fail to notify DIF&W when their exotic animals escape. The amended bill also strengthened the law giving DIF&W authority to require chips identifying the owners of some exotic animals.

Fall Fishing, Sponsored by Rep. Russell Black

After last fall’s drought ruined fall fishing for many anglers before the open water season ended on September 30, I proposed a bill to expand catch-and-release fishing to the end of October. DIF&W opposed and killed the bill. So it was ironic that not long after killing my bill, the agency asked for and received permission to extend the ice fishing season in the same northern Maine region that my bill addressed.

Moose Research, Sponsored by Rep. Peter Lyford

Frustrated that we’re doing nothing to protect our moose from the devastation of ticks, I proposed a bill directing all the money the agency raises from the moose lottery and hunting permits to research and management of moose. Even though the new draft moose management plan calls for more funding for research, the department testified against my bill, stating that it does not need more money for research and management of our moose. And that was enough to kill my bill, probably my biggest disappointment this session.

Comprehensive Hunting/Fishing License, Sponsored by Rep. Gary Hilliard

This was my second try for a comprehensive hunting and fishing license, for those of us who are frustrated by all the hunting permits we must purchase in addition to our hunting license. But DIF&W raised lots of concerns about the bill, as it did last session, and the bill was killed.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.