Maine’s fish and wildlife resources are worth more than $1.4 billion to the state annually, according to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted in part by the U.S. Census Bureau. What most Mainers may not know is that of this total, some $866 million, or 63 percent, is generated by wildlife watching — observing, photographing and feeding fish and wildlife. In other words, wildlife watching is more important to Maine’s economy than fishing and hunting combined.
All of the gubernatorial candidates are running on a platform of promoting job growth. What, if anything, are they going to do to promote wildlife watching? Do they even know of its economic importance? How will they balance the needs of Maine’s fish and wildlife resources with “traditional” economic development? Will they even try?
It goes without saying that Maine is a special place. Our fish and wildlife resources enhance our quality of life and are a significant part of the “Maine mystique” that attracts visitors to our state by the millions. We are, however, slowly but surely destroying what makes us so special — we are, effectively, killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Our state government has for years placed a higher priority on the wants of those who kill and exploit our fish and wildlife than on the resources themselves. Maine’s fish and wildlife exist largely in spite of state government, not because of it.
Maine’s system of governance regarding fish and wildlife management is not only broken, but also, like a crooked game of chance, it’s rigged. One needs only to look at Maine’s conservation statutes and the membership of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner’s Advisory Council or the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to see that the deck is stacked, as it has been for decades.
Evidence of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s mismanagement of the public’s fish and wildlife is overwhelming. Here are just a few examples:
DIF&W has no program to ensure that our moose population is sustainable and healthy, yet it has taken in millions of dollars from a moose hunting lottery.
DIF&W administers a bear feeding program that has increased Maine’s bear population, has changed bear behavior by building their reliance on human food, has produced more targets for shooting and has increased the chances for human-bear conflicts.
DIF&W has advocated for a return to coyote snaring in the absence of scientific evidence of any benefit to Maine’s deer herd.
DIF&W promotes voluntary, unenforceable agreements to “protect” Maine’s deer yards from overcutting.
DIF&W continues to allow Maine’s imperiled Arctic char to slide toward extinction.
And DIF&W has wasted public money and resources trying to get a federal permit to kill lynx in order to resume coyote snaring.
Our fish and wildlife belong to all of us. In Maine, and across the nation, more and more nonconsumptive users are demanding a seat at the table. In recent years, efforts have been made to get broad-based funding for DIF&W. Those efforts have stalled as residents have balked at funding a system that does not give them represen-tation. Some in the “sportsmen’s” lobby advocate for expanding funding sources to nonconsumptive users but without giving up any of their political clout. Others simply oppose giving the general public an opportunity to fund DIF&W and want to continue to use the license-based funding mechanism as a means of maintaining con-trol of fish and wildlife policies.
For such an important public resource, management of Maine’s fish and wildlife is grossly underfunded. Just $32 million is spent annually to manage assets that bring in an annual return of more than $1.4 billion. If we want to grow our natural resource-based economy, we need to spend sufficient funds to properly manage our assets. The bulk of any additional funds for fish and wildlife management can only come from the hundreds of thousands of Mainers who do not purchase licenses to fish, hunt or trap.
Maine desperately needs a governor who recognizes what is wrong with state government and who has the guts to work to fix it.
Will the new governor continue the past practice of catering to the entrenched “sportsmen’s” special interests, or will he or she finally take actions that affirm the fact that our fish and wildlife resources belong to all of us?
John M. Glowa Sr. is the founder of The Maine Wolf Coalition and a board member of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine.