Get ready for lively debates on 68 fish and wildlife bills

Rep. Steve Wood

Rep. Steve Wood

Interest in fish and wildlife issues at the legislature seems to be waning. While the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee traditionally gets over 100 bills each session, only 68 are coming their way this year. A few more may arrive late, including from the LePage Administration which can submit bills anytime during the session, but the committee is unlikely to consider more than 75 bills.

Representative Steve Woods gets the prize for submitting the most bills, seven (10 percent), although seven of the committee’s bills were also proposed by me. And yes, I know I am not a committee member, although I always joked that I’d like to sit in the vacant seat at the far end of the IF&W Committee’s table. I wrote about my bills, including a list of sponsors, in an earlier outdoor news post this week, so I won’t repeat any of that information here.

I often say there are no new ideas and issues at the legislature, and that is generally true. This year we’ve got four Sunday hunting bills, including one that would only allow hunting on Sundays for coyotes in northern Maine. I’m not going out on a limb to predict defeat for all four bills.

Bears are still a hot topic. I’ll report later on bills going to other committees, including those submitted by sportsmen to make it more difficult to qualify initiatives for the ballot. Bear bills going to the IF&W Committee include Rep. Diane Harlow of Portland’s proposal, “An Act to Prohibit Bear Hunting in the Spring.”

Current law establishes the bear hunting seasons, and does not include a spring hunt. In other words, to re-establish a spring hunt – which was banned by the legislature more than a decade ago – the legislature would have to act. I’m not sure why Rep. Harlow finds this unsatisfactory. It will be interesting to see if the bear industry uses her bill to advocate for a spring hunt.

Rep. Harlow also has a bill “To Prohibit Hunting Bear Using Dogs and Trapping Bear,” and Rep. Bates of Westbrook has proposed, “An Act to Ensure Safe and Humane Bear Hunting Practices.” Yes, we’ll be debating hounding and trapping again!

Rep. Russell Black of Wilton, a great friend to sportsmen, has submitted “An Act Regarding Retrieving Wounded Bear.” I’d say on this one, retrieve it carefully!

There are several deer bills, two from Senator David Burns of Washington County. One would “Enhance Management of Deer Herds in Coastal Areas.” I’m looking forward to the debate and discussion on Rep. Steve Wood’s bill, “An Act Concerning Antler Restrictions.” Support for this type of deer management is growing in Maine and it’s been a while since the legislature really dug into it. Maine’s wildlife biologists have always strongly opposed antler restrictions, and that hasn’t changed.

There are only two moose bills, one by former DIF&W Commissioner Danny Martin, now a State Representative. His bill is a “Resolve, to Study the Impact of Winter Ticks on the State’s Moose Population.” It will be interesting to hear what the former Commissioner thinks we need to do. The other moose bill is proposed by Senator Mirament of Knox County, “To Allow the Transfer of Moose Permits between Family Members.” Interesting idea!

We’ll debate crossbows again, thanks to Rep. Steve Woods, who has been a champion of those who like to hunt with these weapons. And Rep. Dale Crafts also has an interest in this issue, with his bill, “An Act to Continue to Permit Persons 70 Years of Age and Older to Hunt with a Crossbow.” If I remember right, when the legislature authorized this opportunity a couple of years ago, they sunsetted it, so it will be gone if the legislature fails to reauthorize it.

Rep. Debra Sanderson has submitted a bill to “Create a Firearms Safety Course,” while Senator Burns has an intriguing title in his bill, “An Act to Increase Hunter Safety.” Rep. Long of Sherman has sponsored, “An Act to Allow Hunters to Wear Pink Instead of Hunter Orange in October in Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Seems to me you could wear both, without a new law.

Senator Tom Saviello has submitted an interesting bill, “An Act to Allow Nonresident College Students to Obtain Resident Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Licenses.” Perhaps this might be one way to keep these young people in Maine after they graduate. Hook ‘em on hunting and fishing!

I’m anticipating an interesting presentation for Senator Andre Cushing’s bill, “An Act to Allow the Hunting of Small Animals with a Slingshot.” I imagine this is aimed, literally, at squirrels, and can only hope that DIF&W will not create a new slingshot permit if the legislature enacts the bill.

Senator Davis has a bill to “Establish a Working Group to Review the Incidental Take Permitting Process under the Maine Endangered Species Law,” while Rep. Beck of Waterville “Allow the Possession without a Permit of Certain Unrestricted Wildlife Species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Department has submitted a bill to improve the regulation of exotic animals, a very big issue that they’ve been working on with the help of a task force for more than 3 years. This will be a very important issue this session. I will report on this and the other DIF&W bills later.

We’re going to engage in a very interesting – and hopefully informative – debate about the appropriate age when Maine youngsters can start hunting. Current law requires them to be 10 years old, but Rep. Gary Hilliard of Belgrade has sponsored by bill to lower the legal age to 8. I talked to Gary recently about his bill and he makes a compelling argument, which I will write about sometime soon.

We always get a few snowmobile bills, which I like because it gets Bob Myers of the Maine Snowmobile Association over there to hang out with us. Bob does a super job, and has already mentioned to me that we’ll once again debate a reciprocity bill “To Recognize the Registrations of Snowmobiles and All-terrain Vehicles Owned by Residents of a State That Borders Maine,” sponsored by Rep. Peterson of Rumford.

All Bob has to do is haul out his compelling testimony against this, which he has had to do on more than one occasion. And yes, the only state that borders Maine is New Hampshire, where residents would love to have the opportunity to ride for free in Maine. Won’t happen! Rep. Danny Martin has submitted a similar bill, to recognize snowmobile registrations in the Provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, if those provinces recognize Maine registration.

We’ll also debate snowmobile registration fees again, thank to Rep. Steve Stanley who submitted, “An Act to Amend the Fees for Snowmobile Registration.”

We’ll get watercraft bills too, including one from Rep. Crafts “To Study the Need for a Standard Horsepower Formula for Motors Used on the Lakes and Ponds of the State.” I’m sure that will be interesting! Rep. Powers of Naples has a bill to “Reduce Milfoil Infestations.” Apparently it applies only to waterskiing.

And of course, there are quite a few fisheries bills. Rep. Tucker of Brunswick has one “To Allow the Breach or Removal of Beaver Dams That Obstruct Passage of Anadromous or Migratory Fish.” I wonder if Rep. Tucker knows how quickly beavers can rebuild those dams? Easier to remove the beaver, I would think.

And given the lengthy court cases the Warden Service has gotten into over koi, I expect very strong testimony from them against Rep. Longstaff of Waterville’s “Act to Add Koi to the List of Fish Approved for Aquariums.”

Rep. Jeff Timberlake has an interesting bill titled, “An Act to Provide That a Lake or Pond Stocked with Fish May Not Open for Ice Fishing until January 1st.” Perhaps Maine ice anglers will take a day off to testify on this one! I do like the bill submitted by Senator Davis, “An Act to Allow a Person to Take a 20-minute Break from Monitoring Ice Fishing Traps.” Very sensible.

Rep. Wood wants to “Review Maine’s Fishing Stocking Regulations.” I hope he’ll be supporting my bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Pouliot, to create a new Hatchery Commission, which would review stocking regulations and lots more.

Senator Peter Edgecomb of Aroostook County has opened yet another round of controversy over Webster Stream with his, “Resolve, to Direct the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to Modify Fishing Rules for Webster Stream in Piscataquis County.” Expect a lively debate on this one.

Rep. Jeff McCabe has sponsored a bill to “Promote Hunting and Fishing in Maine” while Rep. Mike Shaw wants to “Strengthen the Educational Programs at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.”

All we have so far are bill titles, so we can only speculate about the details. As I spend more time at the legislature, I will talk with bill sponsors and let you know what they hope to achieve with their bills. And perhaps one or two of these will stimulate you to join us at the legislature, to testify and work on these issues.

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.