Let me ask you a question. How much time do you spend enjoying the great Maine outdoors? Would you say it is 0.006 percent of your time? For me, it is a lot more. And probably for you, too.
But Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife represents just 0.006 percent of the total state budget. From a $6 billion budget, this agency spends only $37 million. And therein lies a very big problem. Consider the agency’s mission:
To preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the state; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; and to provide for effective management of these resources.
That’s right. Every critter, every bird, every fish, the habitat they need, the uses we make of them, their future sustainability — is worth only 0.006 percent of the state budget, as far as our governors and legislators are concerned. Indeed, over the years, their lack of concern for this agency and its mission has been discouraging.
And it gets worse, because if you don’t buy one of the agency’s licenses or permits or registrations, you contribute nothing to this critically important mission.
I recently received a financial report on the revenues and expenditures of Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department for Fiscal Year 2014, from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. The agency received nearly $36 million from 55 revenue sources and spent more than $37 million in its seven divisions. This is what jumped out at me.
In Fiscal Year 2014, the Maine Warden Service spent $857,689 more than the Fisheries and Wildlife Divisions combined. And 60 percent of all the revenue DIF&W raised in Maine went to law enforcement. This is not an appropriate allocation of funding or spending, in my opinion. We spend more on law enforcement than we spend on all the work on fisheries and wildlife including species management, habitat enhancement and protection, and hatcheries.
The agency’s major sources of funding come from the sale of licenses and permits. Fishing licenses, permits and fees brought in $5.3 million. Hunting licenses, permits and fees raised $4.7 million. Combination hunting and fishing licenses, favored by many sportsmen, brought in $4.5 million. And other sporting permits and licenses raised a little more than $900,000.
The moose lottery is another major source of funding, raising nearly $1.8 million. Moose lottery money had declined over recent years to $1.4 million in 2010, so it’s nice to see it rebounding a bit. I continue to believe DIF&W ought to be spending more of this money on moose management and research.
Registrations of recreational vehicles continues to be a major source of funding for the agency. Boat registrations brought in $2.2 million, ATV registrations $1.4 million, and snowmobile registrations $880,000.
Federal funds also are a significant source of revenue, bringing in nearly $10.3 million in FY 14. Most of that money comes from excise taxes on guns and hunting and fishing equipment. Most of the agency’s funding went to Wildlife Management, $8.1 million, Fisheries and Hatcheries, $6.1 million, and the Warden Service, $15.1 million. Because federal funds can’t be spent on law enforcement, all of the Warden Service’s money has to come from state funds.
I was very proud of our Warden Service recently, as I read Kate Flora’s book, “Death Dealer.” It recounts how our game wardens and their dogs helped bring a serial killer to justice in New Brunswick about 10 years ago. Lt. Pat Dorian led the group of wardens, along with volunteers from the Maine Search and Rescue Dogs group that traveled to New Brunswick in 2012 and 2013, with their dogs, to search for the body of Maria Tanasichuk. Any poll I’ve ever seen has rated game wardens very highly, especially for their search and rescue work.
But the fact is, the Warden Service is strangling fish and wildlife management. And I don’t see any remedy, unless you — yes, you — demand that our governor and Legislature start funding Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at a more realistic level. I don’t expect the agency will ever get a percentage of the state budget that mirrors the time we spend enjoying Maine wildlife and the great outdoors, but we must do better than we’re doing today.
Perhaps you could devote 0.006 percent of your time in the next few months to helping us convince legislators to increase funding for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. That would be just 8 minutes a day — a brief call to your state senator and representative. Tell them to read this column.