It was all about the economy this afternoon as the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hosted public hearings on two important issues: proposed new fees for ice shacks, and a requirement that Canadian deer and turkey hunters hire a guide.
Up first was LD 1747, An Act to Prohibit Municipalities from Imposing Fees on Ice Fishing Shacks, sponsored by Representative Mike Shaw. This bill resulted from an attempt by the town of Randolph to assess a fee for each ice shack placed on the Kennebec River, a popular place for commercial smelt shacks.
Shaw’s bill would prohibit a municipality from enacting any ordinance, law or rule imposing a tax or fee on ice fishing shacks on sources of public water supply and on coastal waters. Such fees are prohibited now on other waters of the state. But state law does not currently prevent municipalities from enacting fees for ice fishing shacks placed on either coastal waters or public water supplies.
Shaw said that confusion that will occur, if such fees are levied on waters like Sebago Lake, which is a public drinking water supply and is shared by several towns, some of which might adopted fees for ice shacks while others did not. “I strongly feel that ice fishing is one of the last things that we can do for virtually free,” testified Shaw. “Maine is promoting outdoor recreation for health reasons… allowing municipalities to impose taxes on ice fishing shacks makes it harder for Maine people to enjoy the outdoors, and harms our economy,” he concluded.
Following Shaw to the podium was Dave Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He warned that the state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands is currently considering the imposition of a fee for ice shacks on tidal water – similar to the fee the bureau applies to wharfs and other structures placed in or over saltwater. That was news to all of us!
In response to Randolph’s attempt to tax shacks to raise revenue for the town, Trahan said, “Commercial smelt camp owners, recreational fishermen and those that care about small business are rightly outraged…. Given (that) money is the real motive for this new town ordinance, SAM and all sportsmen should be chilled by this new attempt to tax outdoor recreational activities by the town of Randolph.”
“If all towns along our saltwater rivers decided to create such fees on recreational activities the confusion and related mayhem for individuals accessing our natural resources would be to drive them out of the rivers we all own,” concluded Trahan.
A representative of Worthing’s Smelting Shacks in Randolph testified for the bill.
His testimony ranged widely, including a denial that prostitution was going on at the smelt shacks (that got a big laugh from committee members and the audience), and an admission that “some drinkin’ goes on there.” He emphasized that the drinking and other activities were carefully managed by the staff.
“We haven’t raised prices in five years. We don’t want more taxes. We want to keep prices low. We really encourage families,” he said.
Rep. Ellie Espling, a member of the IFW Committee, supported that testimony, saying she and her husband take their kids to Worthing’s every year, “and it is very clean, something we appreciate.”
Kate Dufour, lobbyist for the Maine Municipalities opposed the bill, explained that under the state’s “home rule” authority, municipalities are authorized to enact fees through the adoption of ordinances.
“Through case law, the courts have established criteria upon which user fees must be based. One of the established criteria is the basic tenet that the revenue generated from the fee must be used to provide a directly related service to the use, rather than used to raise additional revenues beyond the cost of the provided service. In other words,” she said, “the fees must be used to pay the cost of a related service beneficial to or made necessary by those that are assessed the fee.”
“Revenue generated from ice fishing shack fees can be set aside in an account to be used to recover sunken ice shacks or address water pollution issues created by the presence of ice shacks, but cannot be used to fund the town’s recreation program or simply enhance the town’s treasury,” she said.
MMA strongly opposed the bill, she reported, “because it unnecessarily infringes on municipal home rule authority to protect a natural resource.”
Committee members grilled Dufour, expressing disbelief that MMA was really concerned about water quality, and challenging her on several other aspects of her testimony. When she was finished, Dufour, who held her own, got a good laugh, emphasizing, “I’m glad I only have one bill before this committee!”
Canadian Deer Hunters
The day’s second hearing concerned a long-standing battle over Canadian deer hunters in northern Maine. Up for consideration was LD 1785, An Act to Repeal the Requirement that Canadian Big Game or Wild Turkey Hunters be Accompanied by Guides Licenses in the State.
As the title suggests, Maine enacted a law several years ago that requires deer and turkey hunters from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick or Quebec to be accompanied by a guide when hunting in Maine. As a result of the law, the number of Quebec deer hunters has plummeted.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Davis, presented a significant amendment to the bill. In addition to repealing the guide requirement for Canadian hunters, the bill incorporated a couple of law changes sought by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
One change would allow young anglers under 16 years of age, both resident and nonresident, the opportunity to fish without a license. Current law allows resident kids under 16 and nonresident kids under age 12 to fish for free.
The second change directs DIF&W to “undertake a review of licenses available to nonresident hunters and develop recommendations for repackaging or otherwise modifying licensing opportunities for nonresidents so as to attract more nonresident hunters to this State, consistent with other applicable goals and objectives of the department.” The agency would be required to issue a report of its recommendations to the IFW Committee no later than January 15, 2013.
Senator Doug Thomas testified for the bill, noting that the guide requirement for Canadian hunters hurting the economy and people in his region.
DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock supported the bill, reporting that he thinks it will allow DIF&W to return to 2006 levels of license sales to Canadian hunters, with a positive revenue impact of $37,437 for his agency. He also noted the “positive economic impact” of the visits to our state by those hunters, and the further advantage of “simplification of our hunting laws by making them the same for all non-resident hunters.”
Don Kleiner, lobbyist for the Maine Professional Guides Association, said his group first opposed legislation to require alien hunters to employ a guide in 1994. “We don’t need a law to make people hire us,” he stated.
Al Cowperthwaite, who has served as the executive director of North Maine Woods for 30 years, said his organization lost $31,000 in checkpoint fees in 2007 when the guide requirement became law.
“As a result of very few Canadian hunters entering at Estcourt Station, we no longer maintain a checkpoint or hire employees to work there. At St. Juste we have one part time employee now where we used to hire two full time employees to register hunters entering Maine during deer season,” said Cowperthwaite.
“Most Canadian residents hunt big game in the unorganized territories along the western Maine border where there are too few Maine guides available to guide them. Many of them are also hunting within a few miles of their homes and they are not competing for big game with Maine hunters. Many of these persons have been hunting in the NMW for generations without the services of a guide,” reported Cowperthwaite.
Many others testified for the bill, including retired game warden David Allen, SAM executive director Dave Trahan, Barry Burgason who works for Huber and serves on the North Maine Woods board, and a North Maine Woods gatekeeper who said deer registered at his gate has gone from 108 to 7 over the last few years.
Rep. John Martin, sponsor of the original law, opposed the bill, reporting that he’s a member of the organizations that testified for the bill, including SAM and MPGA, he disagrees with them, and he is unaware that they polled their members on this issue.
Martin took the committee on an interesting tour of the issue, as he often does, reporting that Canadian hunters erect shooting shacks on our side of the border – in violation of LURC regulations – shoot our deer, and haul them back across the border without registering them. He noted that mileage restrictions on game wardens made it very difficult for them to enforce the law in those remote regions when he first proposed the law. He said, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, he helped eliminate the mileage restriction.
He also said he is not against Canadian hunters, noting his own ethnic history. He told the committee about some horror stories he personally encountered with Canadian hunters during the time he successfully proposed the guide requirement.
He noted that North Maine Woods had raised its fees on bear baits, and recognized that an economic harm had occurred. “I close my own sporting camps now the first week of November, because we’re not getting deer hunters,” because there are few deer. “Now at that time I get people to see birds and scenery.”
Martin complained about “destroyed deer yards,” lack of leadership in “the administration – particularly forestry, to enforce the laws,” and said “deer yards are fast disappearing.”
As he continued, I had to admire his effectiveness is speaking and his vast knowledge of the law and its legislative history. John is always entertaining, even when you don’t agree with him on an issue.
When I was lobbying for SAM, if John and Paul Jacques were on my side, I never lost. When they were not, I rarely won. They might contend that I never won!
Rep. Ken Theriault of Madawaska joined Rep. Martin in opposing the bill.
Then I got my say, focusing on the amendment’s sections on free licenses for kids and the review of nonresident license categories. Both came from a set of recommendations of a task force to reverse the decline of nonresident hunters (See my previous report on this issue).
I recommended that the committee dig out the task force report and try to incorporate more of the recommendations as they work this bill next Monday.
Both of these bills are scheduled for work session at 10 am next Monday.
PHOTO: Rep. Mike Shaw presenting his bill today.