It seemed like a good idea – a big game management plan launched by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and comprised in theory of a wide perspective of Maine citizens and organizations who would confer on a broad range of issues and reach a consensus acceptable to all. Nate Webb, MDIFW wildlife planner, set the goal when he explained that “The public expectation is that wildlife will be managed for the full suite of interests and perspectives.”
Last October, an editorial in The Bangor Daily News agreed, stating that “With bears specifically, this round of management planning is the agency’s opportunity to reach a consensus, which could be key to preventing another referendum battle over bear hunting methods that have gone before voters twice in the past 11 years.. .
The idea certainly held promise and would have allowed all Mainers a seat at the table and increased the possibility that Nate Webb’s goal would be achieved. However, it all went headlong in the wrong direction when MDIFW determined the composition of the plan’s steering committee, using unknown criteria except to pack the committee with individuals who would support or at least not oppose its views on big game management. The result is that not only do fourteen of its sixteen members hold current hunting licenses, but almost all of the organizations represented including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), The Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society, the Maine Farm Bureau, the Maine Forest Products Council, and The Maine Professional Guides Association publicly opposed last year’s bear referendum. They were joined by Rep. Gary Hilliard, a member of SAM as well as the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, and other members of MDIFW including Judy Camuso, who, taking the lead of Chandler Woodcock that agency’s Commissioner, was one of most public spokespersons in opposing the referendum which would have banned the baiting, trapping and hounding of bears.
Does this group represent a ‘full suite of interest and perspectives”? Hardly. Consider, for instance, that according to MDIFW’s own records, 196,146,000 Mainers purchased hunting licenses in 2014. In the same year, the state’s population was 1,330.000. The math doesn’t lie: approximately 13 % of Mainers hunt; 87% do not, and yet this vast majority of the state’s residents have no direct voice in determining the committee’s direction. Let’s not forget that Maine’s wildlife is a public resource, not a private preserve. Just as motorists don’t own public roads, boaters and swimmers don’t own public lakes, hikers don’t own public land, students and teachers don’t own public schools, hunters and trappers don’t own the state’s wildlife. They are held in common by all who live here.
But there’s another reason why more of the non-hunting public should be included. Despite the common misstatement that MDIFW is funded entirely by the sale of hunting licenses, the facts state otherwise. One of the state’s largest newspapers reported in September 2014 that in the fiscal year that began July 1, 56 percent of the department’s 38 million dollar annual budget came from hunting and fishing licenses and outdoor sporting fees. The rest came from the federal government (25 percent), special revenue such as conservation license plates (12 percent) and the state’s general fund (7 percent).
In other words, in addition to the licenses and fees, $9,500,000 comes from the federal government (which we all pay into), $4,560,000 comes from special revenue including loon plates (which some of us pay into), and $2,660,000 from the state’s general fund (again, which we all pay into). While it’s true that non-hunters don’t pay the entire cost of MDIFW, neither do hunters.
The question remains -what can be done about a situation that is unfair, unrepresentative, undemocratic and excludes most of the state’s citizens? You can shrug your shoulders and let others decide for you. You can forfeit your right to express your opinion. Or you can contact your legislators and let your voice be heard.
To be continued . . .