Through The Back Door

The other day – March 1st – LD 1593 was the subject of a hearing before the legislative committee which oversees Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. (MDIFW) The bill was entitled “An Act To Establish a Contingency Wildlife Management Plan” and it was sponsored by Representative Robert Duchesne, a member of the same committee.

Did this have something to do with the much-touted Big Game Management Plan? Not directly, though one could argue that most proposals that advocate more killing of animals and which help protect the revenue derived from the sale of hunting licenses stand an excellent chance of approval by the committee..Why? Because the overwhelming majority are also members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) and therefore are influenced by that organization’s views as well as the interests of the small percentage of Mainers who hunt to the exclusion of the nearly 89% who don’t.

No, this particular measure was designed to undermine the citizen’s initiative, a vital part of Maine’s democratic tradition since 1908. It would add restrictions that would encumber the time and attention of MDIFW as well as its Commissioner in ways that would seriously affect its resources and divert its focus from what it should be doing- enforcing the law and managing wildlife for the benefit of all the state’s citizens.

Here’s a verbatim summary of what this legislation proposes:

This bill establishes contingent wildlife management provisions that become effective when a ballot measure for a direct initiative of legislation is approved that reduces wildlife management methods available to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The provisions of this bill apply only to the animals that are significantly affected either directly or indirectly by the approved ballot measure. The bill does the following.

  1. It places a cap on the revenue the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife may expend to control animals causing damage or any other nuisance animals to the level spent in the fiscal year prior to the effective date of the direct initiative of legislation.
  2. It prohibits the commissioner from establishing or implementing a sterilization program to control the population of an animal.
  3. It provides that the department may not dispose of an animal in a manner that would constitute waste under existing statute and prohibits the department from disposing of on state-owned land an animal killed by the department.
  4. It requires the commissioner to develop a landowner depredation program that sets a limit on the number of animals that may be retained by the landowner and requires a landowner to donate any animal taken from that landowner’s land for depredation purposes exceeding the limit established by the commissioner to the Hunters for the Hungry program.
  5. It also provides that within 90 days after the Secretary of State verifies a petition that proposes to reduce or alter wildlife management methods or management options available to the department and sends the proposed measure to the Legislature, the commissioner must conduct an impact assessment on that measure and report the commissioner’s analysis to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over inland fisheries and wildlife matters.
  6. It requires the commissioner to report on the landowner depredation program annually to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over inland fisheries and wildlife matters.

  So what’s going on here? As Katie Hansberry, Maine State Director of the Humane Society of the United States testified, “ It’s clear that this bill was drafted as a reactionary proposal to simply place unnecessary restrictions on citizen initiatives that were passed by a majority of voters. Further, these restrictions are not based on any sound science related to these issues and simply the limit the department’s ability to utilize effective management tools.”

Oddly enough – since it would have greatly impacted them – no one from MDIFW testified in person against this bill. Instead, Commissioner Woodcock sent a ‘letter in lieu of testimony” which he described as offering ‘some thoughts’ and which included in part the following statement:

“The department appreciates the Committee’s support in encouraging the careful consideration of any ballot measure that limits management options available to the department. Ordinarily the department would work with landowners in areas where animal damage is increasing to institute voluntary measures that would minimize damage, reduce risk of disease and ensure public safety. Any restrictions on the department’s resource management programs can impact the department’s ability to manage a fish or wildlife population at desired levels and reduce conflicts with humans. These restrictions, however they arise will reduce the tools the department has available to meet its man date to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the Stat.

The Commissioner concluded by writing that “The department would like to reassure the committee that we will always advocate for legal, regulated fishing, hunting and trapping as part of our resource management programs.” It seems that he couldn’t be more direct because MDIFW has a very cozy relationship with the committee, of which he himself is a former member.

The purpose of this bizarre, through-the-back-door legislation is unmistakable – to undermine the viability of citizen initiatives and ultimately thwart the will of the people.  It’s apparent that those who propose such desperate and obstructive measures as LD 1593 recognize all too well the handwriting on the wall.

It’s large and clear and bold – and they know it can’t be erased.

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.