The next seven days will be hectic for Maine sportsmen and environmentalists. Before we take a look at the first four days, let’s check out the end of the week.
April 1 will be no joke for us. We start out at the Milfoil Summit in Lewiston, headlined by DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown. DIF&W’s Joe Dembeck speaks about invasive fish, and an opportunity to question speakers as well as a summit-ending panel could really enliven things. I learned last week that the milfoil sticker has generated only half the money DIF&W expected, so three of the six warden positions that were supposed to be funded by the sticker remain unfilled.
The summit ends at noon and many of us will be rushing back to Augusta for the Natural Resource Committee’s hearing on bills that would roll back protections of vernal pools, significant wildlife habitat, and more. Testimony on five bills will be heard: LDs 1031, 156, 341, 872, and the sections of LD 1 concerning vernal pools, wetlands and wading bird habitat, wetlands compensation and nesting shorebirds. A coalition of organizations including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, strongly attacked these bills in a press conference last Friday.
While the hearings on those bills could drag on into the evening, I’ll be leaving at some point to attend the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show at the Augusta Civic Center. This is the state’s biggest and best show and the weekend is one of my favorites for the year, a chance to catch up with many friends and talk for hours about hunting, fishing, and the issues of the day. There’s a lot to talk about this year!
The show runs from 1 pm to 7 pm on Friday, 9 am to 9 pm on Saturday, and 9 am to 5 pm on Sunday. At 5 pm on Saturday, on the stage, Harry Vanderweide and I will host a special edition of Wildfire with our guest DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock. We’ll pepper Chandler with questions and let the audience to get into the act too. Should be fun!
But before we get there, there’s Monday – Thursday to deal with.
On Monday at 10 am, Senator David Trahan and I will speak to the legislature’s Fish and Wildlife Committee about the Deer Action Plan that the two of us created after a December workshop of deer activists and DIF&W staff. Our presentation will focus specifically on the recommendations in our plan that our not in DIF&W’s new Maine Game Plan for Deer. On Monday night I’ll post our presentation here.
Following our presentation, the IFW Committee will begin a long day of work sessions and public hearings. In the morning, the committee will work on three bills related to landowner relations: LD 223, 559, and 112. LDs 223 and 559 are the controversial bills that would require written permission for sportsmen to access farmland and permission from all landowners for those who hunt with dogs for coyotes and bears. You can read my report on the hearing on those bills here, dated March 21 (Sportsmen and Farmers Clash).
At 1 pm Commissioner Woodcock will offer his second presentation to the IFW Committee on the department’s proposed budget. Then the committee hosts hearings on 5 bills: LDs 108, 692, 626, 833, and 682. Four of the bills concern licensing, including a proposal to allow nonresidents who work in Maine to purchase hunting and fishing licenses at resident rates. The fifth bill would fund a full time moose biologist’s position.
You can read summaries of these and other bills of interest to sportsmen in this blog. I hope to up-date that list later in the week.
If committee members are not exhausted at the end of the public hearings, they’ll tackle a lengthy list of 9 bills in a work session. They all concern the moose season and lottery. Commissioner Woodcock has asked the committee to roll all of the ideas they support into a resolve that directs him to consider them and report back to the committee in 2012 with a comprehensive moose lottery and hunt plan.
From 1 pm to 3 pm on Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee will hear a presentation of the Governor’s proposed budget for DIF&W and take public testimony on that proposal. The Fish and Wildlife Committee will join the Appropriations Committee for that hearing. Once again, the department will get no public support if the Governor’s budget is enacted, a significant breach of his promise to provide $13 million in General Fund tax money for DIF&W.
Last Friday Chandler set up, at my request, a briefing on the budget for myself and lobbyists for SAM, SWOAM, Maine Audubon, Maine Professional Guides Association, and the Nature Conservancy. We spent over two hours getting into the details with Bert Bilodeau of the Natural Resources Sector Service Center, with special help from Jack Nicholas, a former State Budget Director and Commissioner of both Finance and Health and Human Services, who has been helping me understand DIF&W’s budget for the past year. Jack serves on SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee. I will be post a report here on the budget on Tuesday.
On Thursday we’ll catch our breath and get ready for a busy weekend.
A reminder: you can listen to hearings, work sessions, briefings, and the House and Senate sessions on the legislature’s website: www.maine.gov/legis/.
Our guest on Wildfire this week is Neil Kiley of First Wind. Neil reports on his company’s favorable impact on local economies and tackles the on-going controversy over wind energy towers. You can access the show on this website in the Wildfire section.
My editorial page column on Wednesday in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel is about teachers. You can read that column on Wednesday at www.kjonline.com.
I’m continuing to work on a series of reports on the Maine Game Plan for Deer, and will post those here over the next several weeks.