Jym St. Pierre, in his Nov. 26 column on Maine conservation, got a lot right (“With Republicans in charge, conservation efforts in Maine are at risk”). But he got some things terribly and unfairly wrong.
First, let’s start with what he got right. Jym noted that the environment is the Maine economy, with outdoor recreation supporting 48,000 jobs and generating $3 billion in retail services and sales. Surveys show that almost all Mainers enjoy hunting, fishing, seeing wildlife or otherwise spending time outdoors. And he praised, very appropriately, our commitment to conservation.
In my book on Maine sporting camps, I included a similar message, reporting that over the last 30 years, 3.7 million acres have been conserved by direct purchase or conservation easements. I reminded visitors to our sporting camps that Mainers have spent a lot of money to provide us with spectacular recreational opportunities, to protect the habitat of our favorite wild critters, and to make sure these special places are always available.
Where Jym got off track was in his attacks on sportsmen and women, the Maine Snowmobile Association, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He claimed that SAM “has opposed many conservation projects” and along with the MSA, “care about their special interests, not the broad public interest.” He could not be more wrong.
The Maine Snowmobile Association, very ably led by Bob Meyers, has played a critical role in both conservation projects and the designation of an amazing statewide trail system, much of it on private land.
I served as a board member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, including a term as president, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and as SAM’s executive director from 1991 to 2011. Throughout that entire time, SAM has been in the forefront of the conservation movement. Let me give you some examples from the 18 years when I worked for SAM.
I conceived the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, endorsed by SAM’s board, and recruited Maine Audubon as our partner in gathering signatures for the program, which, rather than going onto the ballot, was enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Angus King. The fund gets its funding from an instant lottery game, and has provided more than $18 million to conservation and outdoor recreation programs. For its first 10 years, I represented SAM on the fund’s board.
SAM also joined environmental groups in supporting the Land for Maine’s Future program. I even appeared in TV ads for an LMF bond issue. I represented SAM on the Forest Legacy Program’s Maine advisory board, a program Jym cited as especially important, providing $75 million for working forest conservation projects.
Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department, responsible for protection and management of all of our state’s wild animals and birds, including those that are endangered, is funded almost entirely by those of us who buy hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and permits. And that’s not the whole story, because through payment of federal excise taxes on our equipment, including guns and fishing gear, we provide much of the federal money that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife receives. Jym cited some of these federal funding sources without telling you where their money comes from.
I am especially proud of the leadership of SAM in winning legislative protection of our native and wild brook trout. We overcame great obstacles to win that fight, including the opposition of IF&W. But we won, convincing the Legislature to designate our native brook trout as the state’s Heritage Fish, and protecting them in the waters where they still exist and that have never been stocked. I am hoping this legislative session to extend that protection to the brooks and streams where these brookies spawn.
One of my heroes is Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest conservationist who ever served as president. He inspires us all. And he was an avid hunter and angler.
I think the impetus for Jym’s column was his fear of what the Trump administration will do to the conservation movement. I certainly join him in that concern. But I remain proud of my Republican Party’s longstanding commitment to conservation, and I can only say that some of these people are not really Republicans. They’ve abandoned all of the principles espoused by Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
And while he didn’t mention it, the decision by the new members of the Land For Maine’s Future program, all recently appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, to renege on LMF’s commitment, made last year, to provide funding to the Kennebec Land Trust for the Howard Hill conservation project in Augusta, is deeply troubling. The LMF board cut that funding in half, with absolutely no justification except the ugliness of politics.
Bottom line: Let’s stop attacking each other, because there are great challenges ahead, and we’ll need to be united in fighting for conservation and for our Maine outdoor heritage.