The next legislative session promises to be filled with excitement, challenges, vigorous debates, and (hopefully) many advances for sportsmen.
You can expect a lot of action to strengthen the Maine’s Game Plan for Deer, designed to rebuild the state’s deer herd. The legislature is certain to revisit issues such as deer feeding, in reaction to steps the department is now taking to rein in that practice. Legislators will hear how the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has utilized a new $150,000 appropriation to control coyote predation. There also will be an effort to add more money and resources that are necessary to fully implement the plan.
DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock’s focus on wild and native brook trout may generate proposals from the commissioner, as well as anglers, particularly in reaction to his recent move to restrict the use of live fish as bait in some brook trout waters.
A new two-year state budget promises to be the major task of the legislative session, and while DIF&W only gets the crumbs that fall off the Appropriations table, those crumbs are important. We could see another attempt at a constitutional amendment to give the department a small percentage of the sales tax. That proposal, a partnership between the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, and Maine Audubon, got the necessary two-thirds vote in the House two years ago, but fell an excruciating two votes short of the two-thirds vote in the Senate after five senators changed their votes.
DIF&W will have its own package of law changes, and one key proposal will be designed to sort out the confusing array of responsibilities for the permitting and regulation of exotic animals. The DIF&W and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry now share those responsibilities. DIF&W staff members currently spend a lot of time on exotic animal issues, permits, and problems.
The Maine Warden Service may seek more funding for its search and rescue function. That function is supposed to be paid for with General Fund tax dollars, but the Warden Service only received $350,000 in the last fiscal year, while spending more than $500,000 on search and rescue operations.
Generally, between 100 and 200 bills are proposed on hunting, fishing, and other outdoor issues – and there will be another couple hundred bills of interest to sportsmen covering topics from firearms to forestry.
SAM Executive Director David Trahan, a former state senator, will spend much of his time at the State House beginning in January. I’ll be there, too, posting reports in my two outdoor news blogs, one Bangor Daily News website at georgesoutdoornews.bangordailynews.com, and the other on my own website, georgesmithmaine.com.
During my 18 years at SAM, my strength and effectiveness at the legislature was derived from a strong, active, and informed SAM membership. Trahan will need that same high level of support and activism from SAM’s members. He’s going to be busy!