It was a great honor to receive this environmental leadership award

On Wednesday night, Maine Conservation Voters presented me with the Harrison Richardson Environmental Leadership Award for 2017, a very great honor, at an event in Portland.

I got the award for “writing, speaking, advocating, and inspiring all of us to protect the woods, waters, and wildlife of Maine.”

I want to share the speech I gave at the event with you today. Here it is.

MCV speech

Thank you so much for this award. It means a lot to me, especially because I knew and worked with Harry Richardson, a wonderful man and leader. And I think the award is an important recognition that sportsmen and women share the same values and goals with environmentalists. We are all environmentalists.

From protecting wildlife habitat to securing our very best places to addressing climate change, we all share those goals as Mainers.

I’m especially pleased to have so many friends and family members here tonight – particularly my grandsons Addison and Vishal. Tonight they can see that I am more than grumpy grampy!

Some of my greatest days were spent hunting and fishing with my Dad. We hunted together for 53 years, a very special privilege. It was no accident that I spent my career advocating for sportsmen and women and writing about hunting and fishing.

I want to tell you a couple of stories. When I started lobbying for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in the early 1990s, the first person to reach out to help me was Beth Ahearn, at that time the lobbyist for Maine Audubon. Beth really taught me how to lobby. I joke that she may have later regretted that!

But truthfully, we have worked together on many issues over the years. Beth and I even appeared in a TV ad together for a Land for Maine’s Future bond issue.

One late June, after a frustrating legislative session in which we failed to get funding for some important conservation projects, I was up to our north woods camp fishing, thinking about that. And I decided we needed a new funding source for conservation projects.

The SAM board endorsed that idea and I took it to Maine Audubon which partnered with us on the initiative. We took a poll to find out what funding source the public preferred, and what programs and projects they would like to fund with that money, and then we prepared the initiative and collected signatures to put it on the referendum ballot.

We won the support of Governor Angus King, and were surprised and delighted when the legislature enacted it instead of sending it to the ballot, only the second time that had ever happened,

Sally Stockwell of Maine Audubon and I served on the board of the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund for the first ten years. The Fund gets its money from an instant lottery game and has awarded more than $20 million in grants to conservation and outdoor recreation projects.

I am particularly proud of my work to recognize and protect our native brook trout. We have almost all of the brookies that are left in lakes and ponds in our country. When I was at SAM, we proposed legislation to establish Heritage Waters where native brook trout would be protected. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed the bill, but we overcame that opposition and got it enacted.

The Heritage Waters initially numbered 300, and now number over 500, and include protection of arctic char.

Since leaving SAM 7 years ago to write full time, I’ve continued to be active at the legislature. This year I proposed 11 bills, and had some luck with them. I proposed two native brook trout bills, one to extend protection to Heritage water tributaries, and another to speed up the process of adding new waters to the protected list.

DIF&W opposed my bills, but the legislature’s IFW Committee embraced them, forcing the department to promise to achieve all of our goals within 6 months, and report back to the committee in February. And the committee kept one of my bills alive, in case the department fails to keep that promise.

I also helped lobby for many other important pieces of legislation, from bills to help Maine immigrants to the mining and public lands bills. If you have the time, you really can be effective at the legislature as an individual.

Believe it or not, we did accomplish some great things this session. I think the mining bill, years in the making, was probably our most important accomplishment. We now have the strongest mining rules in the nation.

Linda and I were birding in Arizona last April and I was astonished to find rivers that had no water in them. I have a photo of a river sign, on a bridge across the river, but there is no water in that river. In fact, it’s filled with trees! I was told that ranchers and miners take all that water.

We are so blessed in Maine to have such strong conservation groups, from local land trusts to state organizations including the Maine Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

I must thank each and every one of you for all that you do to protect and enhance our wonderful state. Every one of you deserves an award, including the great staff at the Maine Conservation Voters.

But one person here tonight deserves special recognition: Beth Ahearn, who continues her long and successful lobbying career, working now on behalf of the MCV. So I am going to share this award tonight with Beth.

Finally, you all know how important Maine’s environment and wildlife are to each of you, and to many of our summer residents and tourists and economy. I think we must recognize that, in spite of all the great work we’ve done, there is a lot more to do.

Let’s take moose as an example. Most of us, and all of our tourists, enjoy seeing moose. But they are dying in large numbers from winter ticks. Moose watching businesses are having a tough time finding moose to show their customers. And while we are finally doing the necessary research to understand the numbers of moose that are dying, we’ve done nothing to save them, nor do we have a plan to do that.

In closing, we have many environmental challenges ahead, topped by climate change, something I write about a lot. At a Climate Table event in September, I suggested that we put the photos of young children on every climate change column and handout, because we must solve this problem for our children and grandchildren.

If we fail to do this, they are the ones who will suffer, and eventually blame us for failing to act. Seriously, we are all on this planet together, and the natural environment sustains us. We can’t afford to fight about this. Something for you to think about, and join us in addressing.


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,, 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.