It’s a little noticed program with vastly diminished funding, but the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund percolates along, assisting with wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation projects throughout the state.
Last week the MOHF Board had just $260,000 to award, while considering $441,000 of requests. The amount of money available in this round of grants was $65,000 less than was available for grants awarded in the last round in May.
Of the four categories in which grants are awarded, Category One, Fisheries & Wildlife & Habitat Conservation, was the most brutal, with just $93,000 available for $222,323 in requests.
Among the lucky projects that received funding on November 1 was one to use new tracking technology to determine shorebird habitat use, another to establish a better way to evaluate Maine wetlands (a huge issue at the legislature), privatization of the Lake Protection Project (it’s going from the DEP to the Congress of Lakes Association), land acquisition projects in several locations including Rangeley, and an appraisal for a parcel that we hope will be purchased for access to the Moose River.
A very valuable project that received funding will create an online version of the about-to-be-published Maine Coastal Public Access Guide, and another from the Maine Professional Guides Association to study recreationists’ attitudes toward access to private land.
Matching funds were also obtained from MOHF for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s projects to improve shooting ranges and facilities. I wrote about this exciting project earlier this year.
The smallest grant of $1500 went to a project I am coordinating for the Maine Conservation Alliance and Maine Forest Products Council. On their behalf, I'll be organizing a 2013 Conservation Recreation Forum conference that focuses on issues before the new legislative session.
The Conservation Recreation Forum was created from a recommendation of a state task force, to bring together three times a year groups representing sportsmen, environmentalists, and landowners to gain a common understanding of key issues, minimize their differences, and find ways to work together. The Forum held several successful conferences, but has not met since December of 2010, primarily due to the lack of time and money needed to organize each conference.
Among those finishing out of the money was Maine’s Wild Bear Cam, a project that was privately funded last year by the Goodman family in Patton. The online live-streaming video of a hibernating bear and her cubs drew an astonishing 325,000 viewers worldwide. It’ll be a shame if it is not able to continue this winter.
Other worthy projects that left the MOHF Board meeting unfunded were a fish ladder in Branch Brook and a fishway in Pokey Dam, a UMO pine marten research project, and an Endowment Fund for the Bryant Pond Conservation Education Camp that was seeking start-up funds.
The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund gets its money from an instant lottery game and the board awards the profits from the game to wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation projects twice a year.
Since its inception, over 800 projects have received more than $17.5 million from the Fund. But the program’s revenue has steadily declined due to a lack of support from the legislature, Governor, and Maine Lottery Commission. When the Fund’s instant lottery game began, it was one of five $1 games. Today it is one of 38 games and stuck in a category ($1 tickets) that is not competitive with more lucrative and popular games that cost more money to play.
The program was initially proposed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (when I served as the organization’s Executive Director) and Maine Audubon. We collected signatures to place the initiative on the referendum ballot, but with the strong support of Governor Angus King and the Maine legislature, our initiative became the second citizen initiative to be enacted directly into law rather than sent to referendum. It was my privilege to serve on the MOHF Board for ten years until I was term limited off.
Although the money available for grants has diminished, these awards remain critical to many wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation programs. The projects that won funding on November 1 demonstrate the diversity and reach of this program.
I don’t normally encourage gambling, but if you are already buying Maine instant lottery tickets, please play the Maine Outdoor Heritage Game – even if you lose, your money goes to a great cause. The current game is called Moose Money.