Now that the regular firearm season on deer has ended, and knowing that we all value and enjoy all of Maine’s wildlife, I want to look back to some recommendations that were issued in 2001 to secure the future of Maine’s wildlife and fish.
A citizens advisory committee, chaired by then state representative Matt Dunlap, included an outstanding array of the state’s leaders. The legislature created the committee due to concerns about the long-term survival of our fish and wildlife heritage.
The committee was charged with determining the economic benefits from recreational activities associated with fish and wildlife resources, identifying the biological needs of fish and wildlife resources, and considering the public needs to preserve our wildlife heritage.
The committee determined that our tradition of outdoor recreation was at risk because of the threats to the fish and wildlife resources from a variety of sources including loss of habitat, competition from exotic and invasive species, the presence of pollution and toxins in the environment, pressure from intense outdoor recreation activities, and lack of public awareness of wildlife management needs.
The committee identified a series of strategies to address high priority fish and wildlife needs across the street.
One of the top threats was a lack of funding to manage wildlife resources adequately. The committee recognized that it would require a significant effort on the part of the state government to address this problem.
The committee’s recommendations were largely ignored, but they are still valid and very much needed today. Here they are.
The Constitution should be amended to require that at least 1/8 of one percent of the state sales tax revenues be dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation programs.
The share of state gas tax revenues distributed to state agencies for operation of boating, ATV and snowmobile and related programs should be at least equal to the portion of the gas tax revenues generated by watercraft and recreational vehicle gas sales.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife should receive a general fund appropriation at least sufficient to cover the department’s cost for search and rescue operations along with the full costs of collective bargaining agreements covering department employees.
Beginning the next fiscal year and every four years thereafter hunting and fishing license fees should be reviewed by the legislature and adjusted as appropriate to reflect the cost of providing hunting and fishing related services.
Issuance of complementary licenses for senior citizens should be phased out and replaced with lifetime licenses that may be purchased by seniors (this was done).
A trust fund for the management of state owned property should be established in each agency owning property. The fund would be financed by setting aside 20% of the value of all future property acquired by the state for stewardship of publicly owned property.
A portion of the funds generated by the disposal fee on durable consumer goods should be set aside to assist landowners to clean up goods illegally dumped on their property when the person disposing of the property cannot be determined.
The income tax return should be revised to restore the “chickadee check off” to the main part of the tax form.
An ongoing working group on terrestrial and aquatic invasive species should be established in statute consisting of representatives from appropriate governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations and other affected parties. The working group would be responsible for coordinating agency programs relating to invasive species, surveying the current status of these species in the state, and making recommendations to the legislature on the need for an invasive species control program.
The committee’s final report includes a lot of great information including the justification for each of these recommendations. For example, they reference a 1999 survey in which 64% of Maine residents said they thought DIFW should receive a lot or some revenue from the state income tax and 58% believe the department should receive revenue from the state sales tax.
I spent several years, as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, trying to implement these recommendations, with very little luck. One of the most profound failures is our disregard for the illegal introduction of invasive fish.
Those fish have devastated many other fisheries – including our native brook trout – all over the state. And we still have no plan to address this problem.
Perhaps you will join me in urging gubernatorial and legislative candidates to embrace these recommendations and promise to implement them.