LePage's Christmas Gift Falls Short for Edie Smith and DIF&W

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Word is spreading that Governor Paul LePage has forced my sister, Edie Smith, out of her position as the Director of Information and Education at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, by Governor Paul LePage.

I must leave it to others to tell the story, although I will eventually have something to say. Today, I want to tell you about Edie.

Edie is highly respected – and even loved – by many people throughout the state, despite carrying the burden of being my sister. She is caring, compassionate, and professional in her work, and her decision to join the staff of DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock was widely applauded inside and outside the state’s network of sporting groups.

She created a friendly and open atmosphere and an efficient and effective working environment at DIF&W with little money and few staff members. She did everything asked of her by DIF&W’s leadership and the Governor’s staff, and a lot more. I hear from and talk with many sportsmen every week, and I’ve heard only compliments about her work at DIF&W and the innovations and improvements she’s achieved in just nine months. Edie will be quick to site and compliment her staff for those achievements.

She’s substantially increased the amount of information we receive from DIF&W, including the excellent weekly newsletter. Ironically, the agency launched, today, a new seamless communication system that Edie, Bill Swan, and Travis Barrett have been working on for months.

I’ve particularly noticed the amazing efficiency and friendliness of her front line staff, Ralph Brissette and Wendy Bolduc, who interface with hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of people on the phone, internet, and in person every week.  Edie has strongly supported Ralph and Wendy in delivering high quality customer service. No other agency has two people out front that can match these two.

She oversaw substantial improvements in the Hunting & Trapping Law Book – so good that the Governor hosted a press conference to present it to the public. The initial run of 150,000 has already been grabbed up by sportsmen – requiring another printing of 50,000 copies. The new boating book also won rave reviews. And she’s been working recently on new books for anglers and for snowmobilers and ATV riders.

She’s focused a lot of attention on an effort to rebuild the department’s customer base, particularly with out-of-state hunters, cochairing, with Carolann Ouelette of the Maine Office of Tourism, a task force that will present a series of recommendations to the legislature next month. Somehow, with almost no money to work with, she’s substantially increased the number of out-of-state sportsmen’s shows that the department will attend in 2012.

She’s pushed the staff – and even Commissioner Chandler Woodcock – out the door to speak and listen to the agency’s customers all over the state, and sharply increased the staff’s participation in a range of events from Greenville’s Forest Heritage Days to Walmart’s Hunter Safety Days. And she’s increased the educational material going to the state’s schoolchildren.

And oh yea, she’s served as the spokesperson for the Maine Warden Service, a very draining job that would be a full time position in any other law enforcement agency (think Steve McCausland for the Maine State Police).

And I haven’t mentioned the exciting new Bear Cam that DIF&W will launch in January, or several other innovative projects that may or may not continue now that she’s gone.

Ironically, Edie just returned from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation national meeting in Phoenix where she gathered information on a range of key issues from marketing to attracting grants for boating and fishing.

As a travel writer myself, I’ve really appreciated the closer relationship Edie has forged with the Office of Tourism and her friend Carolann Ouelette. I know the outdoor industry agrees.

I should also mention that when she arrived, DIF&W’s radio station message for Turnpike travelers in southern Maine hadn’t been updated for a very long time. That’s been remedied, and the station now has rotating, timely messages for each season (Edie credits Travis Barrett for this).

Thanks to legislation I championed for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a national organization studied DIF&W in 2004 and made more than 50 recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Most were never adopted – including a very strong recommendation to substantially increase the staff and work of the Information and Education Division – including putting I&E experts in the Wildlife, Fisheries, and Wardens divisions.

Edie directed communications for all of those divisions, plus the commissioner’s office and licensing division.

Right now I’m remembering some highlights from Edie’s past:

Her election as Governor of Girl’s State as a High School junior;

Her selection as the student speaker at her Bowdoin College graduation (she strongly encouraged the college to accept more Maine students);

Her work with me in the 1980s in other states to organize successful grassroots campaigns, including two in Florida to save endangered Key deer and purchase and protect critical wildlife habitat;

Her exceptional management of several Maine ballot measures in which she turned losing situations into victories – including the 2004 bear referendum where she earned the undying gratitude of the Maine sporting community.

Her organization of a number of important statewide conferences including one that created a strong set of recommendations on landowner relations and another to help Maine sportsmen’s clubs address challenges and opportunities from membership to youth programs.

Oh well, probably most people have stopped reading by now.

I could write more, but you get the idea. Edie is one of the most capable people I know, and she poured all her experience and talent into her job at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

That agency is much diminished by this decision of the governor. But Edie leaves knowing she had – in a very short time – a very positive (and we hope lasting) impact on this important agency.

She’ll be fine – with many new and exciting opportunities ahead. I wish I could say the same about the department.

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