Salmon smolts are seen being released into the Piscataquis River in this 2019 photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Government agencies work for us, the taxpayers, as we pay their salaries. Elected officials are supposed to represent those who elect them, and that means the majority not the minority. But that is not always how it works.  

Sometimes these public servants put agency, industry and personal desires and beliefs before the wishes of the public.  

A recent bill attempted to mandate the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Department of Marine Resources to list federally endangered and threatened species at the state level. By the time a species is listed at the federal level, it is at risk of extinction throughout all or most of its range.  

From 1975 through 1994, state-level listing of federally listed species was required by law in Maine. This mandatory listing clause was repealed by the Maine legislature in 1995, and in 1996, the legislature transferred the determination of Threatened and Endangered in Maine from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to the Commissioner of DIF&W.

Since the removal of the mandatory listing clause, requests to list species under Maine Endangered Species Act and Maine Marine Endangered Species Act are now at the discretion of the DIF&W and DMR commissioners. Once recommended, the Maine Legislature has the sole authority to act, placing control of the state endangered species list in the hands of politicians not scientists.

The lack of a formal requirement to list federally listed species at the state level has resulted in an arbitrary application of the law, leaving seven out of 11 federally listed species found in Maine unlisted at the state level.

To be fair, while the legislature has the final say, the problem is at the DIF&W and DMR commissioner level as both have refused to recommend some federally listed species for state-level listing.

The bill,  LD 883: An Act to Protect Endangered Species Whose Life Cycles include Maine Land or Waters, had little opposition. Eight people and organizations testified in favor of the bill at the hearing, and just one agency and one organization testified against it, according to the Maine State Legislature  website. The write-in testimony was even more overwhelmingly in support of the bill with 37 in favor and just 3 against.

Organizations including Native Fish Coalition, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Project Coyote — as well as individuals such as retired Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission biologist Ed Baum and UMaine professor Dr. Michael Kinnison — supported the bill through testimony and submitted comments.

The only verbal testimony against the bill came from DIF&W’s Jim Connelly (speaking on behalf of DIF&W and DMR), and Maine Forest Products Council. One citizen, along with DIF&W and the Maine Professional Guides Association, wrote in with opposition.

With broad and overwhelming support for LD 883, and limited opposition to the bill, you would expect that it would pass. It didn’t. Immediately after the hearing, the Legislative Committees on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Marine Resources voted “Ought Not to Pass.” Only two members present voted in favor of the bill.

On Monday, both the Maine house and senate accepted the recommendation, which rendered the bill dead.  

Led by Commissioner Judy Camuso, a scientist, DIF&W put administration before science and the health of the resource, while defying the will of the unconflicted masses who simply want to protect at-risk species.  

The system failed in regard to LD 883. Those whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayer or serve at the will of the taxpayer sided with a minority representing extractive and exploitative industries, rather than those who have nothing to gain or lose by the listing of threatened and endangered species at the state level.  

According to those charged with protecting our natural resources, DIF&W and DMR, redfin pickerel and swamp darter are more at-risk than Atlantic salmon, a position that doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. Both agencies have refused recent requests to recommend listing critically endangered Atlantic salmon as endangered at the state level, and for all the wrong reasons.

The two agencies have stated that state-level listing does not offer any conservation benefits, and it causes a workload issue that does not justify the ends, both of which are in direct conflict with what DIF&W says on its website.

If Maine Endangered Species Act and Maine Marine Endangered Species Act offer no benefits, why do we have them? And why have we listed some, but not all, federally listed species at the state level?

LD 883 should have passed unanimously. Neither DIF&W or DMR should have opposed the bill, as these are the agencies charged with protecting our inland and marine fish and wildlife resources. It is also important to note that Maine is one of only 10 states that doesn’t require, strongly recommend or recommend state-level listing of federally listed species. And three states that don’t legally require it have listed most federally listed species at the state level.      

It’s time for DIF&W, DMR and the Legislative Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to fully embrace the Endangered Species Act, Maine Endangered Species Act and Maine Marine Endangered Species Act. The current administration of endangered species at the state level is arbitrary, inconsistent and indefensible.

Those involved failed to do the right thing, and undo what never should have been done in the first place: Repealing the mandatory listing of federally listed species at the state level.

Bob Mallard, Outdoors contributor

Bob Mallard has fly fished for 40 years. He is a former owner of Kennebec River Outfitters, a Registered Maine Fishing Guide and a commercial fly designer. Bob is a blogger, writer and author. He is also...