It is time to demand public funding for the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, which does a lot for all the people of Maine but gets almost no funding from most Mainers. Public funding for the department should be the top priority in the next legislative session for all of Maine’s groups representing hunters, anglers, conservationists and environmentalists.

In fact, I encourage you to ask the next governor and Legislature to commit to supporting this. Members of the public actually think they do contribute to the department — but they don’t.

The last time we made a serious effort to achieve this was in 2010 when the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (for which I worked at the time), the Nature Conservancy, and Maine Audubon stepped up to offer a permanent fix for this longstanding problem.

The initiative would have provided an ongoing revenue stream of public funding for the department, protected by the state constitution. Thanks to our previous work, the department’s revenue from hunters and anglers is protected by the Maine Constitution. We succeeded in getting that done after two legislative sessions in which some legislators tried to steal some of that money from the department.

At the public hearing on the public funding initiative, Tom Bello of the Nature Conservancy distributed a report on our initiative that included a poll showing two-thirds of Maine voters would support our initiative, which as a constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate and then approval by the people in a referendum.

Sadly, we were unable to get that support in the House and Senate. It’s time to try again, and I would focus on getting a percentage of the sales tax for the department.

I want to share with you today some of Ken Elowe’s report to the Legislature on this issue. At the time Ken was resource bureau director at IF&W. Here’s what he said:

“Today, money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses pays for the person you call for information about fish, wildlife and related outdoor matters, the people that ensure that moose, birds, and other animals are there for viewing, the person who acquires and develops boat ramps for the use of recreational boaters (including kayakers and canoers) and commercial enterprises in addition to hunters and anglers, the biologists that protect loons, seabirds and bald eagles, biologists that provide regulatory review of development permits to ensure that habitat for fish and wildlife is not degraded, biologists that work with communities to plan development to ensure that open space and wild places are preserved in your communities and remain open to traditional activities, the warden who rescues you when you are lost while hiking, the person who helps you deal with your child’s scout project, a response when your pet or child has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, the person who provides conservation education in your local school, and the list goes on.”

Ken actually understated the astonishing impact that the staff of this agency has on the quality of life here in Maine. Yet at that time, of the 1,316,456 individuals in the state of Maine, only 326,500 purchased some kind of service from the department and helped pay the bills. The rest were freeloaders.

Now please don’t think I believe the department is perfect. I’ve been advocating for a reorganization of IF&W’s Fisheries Division, including designating species specialists, and for the last two years I’ve championed an initiative to protect tributaries to our Heritage Waters that contain our native brook trout. But I do admire and appreciate the agency’s staff and the work they do for us.

In August, John Glowa Sr. wrote an op-ed column in this newspaper that was a scathing critique of the department, calling it “corrupt and broken.” He is terribly wrong. He also said, “Maine statutes favor the killing of wildlife over conserving it.” That’s wrong too. In my experience, IF&W’s exceptional staff always puts conservation of our fish and wildlife first. Indeed, that is their mission and responsibility.

Ironically, as Glowa issued many demands, including that the public be involved in all of the department’s decisions, he failed to ask for any public funding for the agency.

I do agree with his final statement: “The state of Maine needs to start working to promote compromise and fairness so that we might all work together for the betterment of Maine and our fish and wildlife resources.”

So, Mr. Glowa, put up your money and maybe we can get that done for you.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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