Are your tax dollars protecting Maine’s wildlife resources? The answer matters, and it may surprise you.
Some assume our tax dollars are already adequately supporting the work of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the state agency charged with ensuring the health of all wildlife — those valued by sportsmen, and many more also valued by birders, hikers and everyone else. But that isn’t the case. Currently, the state’s sportsmen and women fund some 80 percent of the department’s budget through the purchase of licenses for hunting and fishing. Only the remaining 20 percent is funded through the state and federal taxes you contribute.
Now, if you think of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as synonymous with hunting, fishing and game management, that may seem all right. But in reality, the department is much more, and it deserves support from all of us. Its professional staff works to protect both game and nongame wildlife — not just deer and wild turkeys but eagles, piping plovers, spring peepers, spotted turtles and even rare dragonflies.
For example, The Nature Conservancy and many other partners join with the department to conserve important wildlife habitat — for passive recreational opportunities as well as hunting and fishing — in places such as Mount Agamenticus, the Kennebec Estuary, Cobscook Bay, Spring River, Killick Pond and many more. We have worked together on research projects such as assessing pine marten and Canada lynx habitat needs in the Maine North Woods and inventorying native fish health in ponds and rivers across the state. And together we have protected bald eagle nesting sites up and down the coast.
Hundreds of Maine towns — from York to Bangor to Caribou — benefit from the department’s Beginning with Habitat program, which provides communities with extraordinarily detailed maps and information on the wildlife habitats and important natural resources within them. This critical planning tool helps communities balance development opportunities with protecting wildlife.
All of these projects represent an extensive effort on the part of the department to manage wildlife broadly and in the public’s interest. Not just game species, but truly the web of life upon which we all depend.
Over the years, steep budget cuts have damaged the state’s ability to meet these challenges. We must ensure that the agency that is charged to do so has the support it needs to guarantee that future generations will be able to experience Maine’s outstanding wildlife, just as we have. That is why it is so important that we broaden the department’s funding base to ensure that everyone in Maine shares the responsibility of maintaining and protecting our natural resources.
I hope you’ll think about how we can do this.
We all value our natural resources, but how do we generate the resources necessary to pay for what we value? The Nature Conservancy looks forward to working with the department, legislative leaders, conservation partners and the public to answer that question.
Mike Tetreault is executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Maine.