This year’s legislative session is going to be very different. All hearings will be conducted by Zoom, and there will be very little chance for legislators to get to know each other and become friends. I expect that will make it much easier for the two parties to fail to work together.

Gov. Janet Mills has done a fantastic job in creating a new state budget, and I can only hope both political parties will support her proposal. The new budget will be a very important issue this session.

Of course, I am focused on the Fish and Wildlife Committee, which will consider about 150 bills. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has submitted seven bills. All of these bills were submitted last year, but the Legislature adjourned early because of the pandemic and none of the bills were enacted. Here are some of their bills.

L.R. 95, An Act To Clarify All-terrain Vehicle Registration Requirements and Establish Regular Maintenance of All-terrain Vehicle Trails: This bill will clarify and simplify ATV registrations, and establish, in law, an ongoing plan to maintain ATV trails.

ATV use has increased significantly, so these trails are important, and we need more of them. Quite often, I see ATVs going up our road, even though that is illegal.

L.R. 98, An Act To Allow the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife To Authorize the Hunting of Antlerless Deer without a Permit in Certain Areas: IF&W believes we have far too many deer in some places — mostly along the coast and in York County, so they want to allow — and encourage — hunters to shoot does in those areas. To do that, they’ll need to eliminate the requirement that you must have a doe permit — won in a lottery — to shoot a doe.

I think their request is a good one, but there will still be lots of hunters who will only shoot bucks. I became one of those buck hunters at an early age, and now have lots of deer head mounts and antlers on my office walls.

I have three head mounts of the largest bucks I shot, and one day, when our three kids were in my office, I pointed to the three buck mounts and said, “Good news. I have three buck mounts and there are three of you, so you can each have one.” And our youngest daughter said, “Oh, I don’t think so, Dad. We’ll put those in your museum.”

Well, of course, I loved the idea of a museum!

L.R. 99, An Act To Give the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Rule-making Authority To Establish a Bear Season Framework and Bag Limits: Maine has an estimated 35,000 bears, which IF&W thinks is far too many, so the department is seeking authority to establish longer seasons and higher bag limits. They want to allow and encourage hunters to kill two bears.

I’m not sure we have too many bears, and I’m doubtful many bear hunters want to kill two bears. One night last year, while my wife Linda and I were sleeping, a bear pushed over all of Linda’s bird feeders and smashed them. Some are only a few feet from our kitchen window. So yes, we’d like someone to shoot the bears in our neighborhood!

The department is sure to oppose the three Sunday hunting bills that have been introduced. I always opposed Sunday hunting bills, feeling like we are fortunate to be able to hunt six days a week. Nonhunters deserve one day a week when they can enjoy the woods without worrying about hunters.

And yes, I know there is no reason to worry about hunters, but lots of people do. And recognizing that hunters are a minority, we must respect the desires of nonhunters. It’s particularly important to respect the landowners of the lands we hunt. I always asked for permission to hunt private land, even if it was not posted.

If you are interested in any of these issues, you can Zoom the hearings — and even testify.

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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