Calling it “incomplete, irrelevant and inaccurate,” Governor Paul LePage fired four barrels in quick succession at the Report Card issued by the Maine Conservation Voters. MCV gave the Gov a grade of D on environmental issues during his first two years in office.
The report card was issued yesterday (October 1). At 4:21 pm, the Governor issued his own press release in response, subtitled, “Governor LePage calls out MCV for politically-charged grade.”
At 4:31 pm, a press release from the Department of Marine Resources arrived in my inbox, followed quickly at 4:41 pm with a press release from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. At 5:25 pm, came the release from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The Department of Environmental Protection also issued a statement at 4:34 pm, although I didn't receive it until this morning.
If nothing else, the Governor’s massive response turned his report card into something that is sure to get widespread attention, and demonstrated that he’s paying attention to the Maine Conservation Voters.
In response to a question I posed to her last night, MCV’s Maureen Drouin said, “The LePage Administration is clearly taking the report card seriously. We call on the Governor to revise his approach to environmental policy-making by embracing the values and commitment of Maine people to protect and conserve our state’s natural resources and the good jobs, good health, and quality of life they sustain.
"The Governor needs to make three important changes to his policy agenda: stop weakening environmental protections; articulate his vision for environmental stewardship; and respect the environmental values of Maine people,” said Drouin.
LePage, in his own release, noted that 82 percent of MCV’s legislative candidate endorsements went to Democrats this year, and charged that the organization, “fails to acknowledge the multiple measures the LePage Administration has endorsed to improve Maine’s environment and economy.” He listed eight of those measures from an initiative for small fruit farmers to the replacement of at-risk home heating oil tanks.
The press releases from the three departments offered more specifics on the Administration's environmental work and initiatives.
The MCV report card does credit the governor with some environmental initiatives, while taking him to task on a host of issues from regulatory reform to public health. You can read the entire report card at www.maineconservation.org.
Of most interest to sportsmen is the response from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Noting that the Department’s mission is “to protect, preserve, and enhance Maine’s natural resources,” the agency listed the following accomplishments that “enhance that mission.”
“Stream crossings: The DIF&W works collaboratively with Dept. of Transportation in identifying important stream crossings and ensuring that the appropriate measures are taken to provide improved, long-term successful fish passage.
“Wildlife: the Governor shares DIF&W’s concern for available deer wintering habitat and supports the Department’s efforts to protect these areas; we continue to pursue non-regulatory incentives to encourage landowner participation in habitat conservation through cooperative agreements. In addition, the Governor has encouraged a predator control initiative as a means of increasing whitetail deer densities by maintaining a more appropriate predator-prey ratio.
“Fisheries: DIF&W and the Dept. of Marine Resources work together providing appropriate levels of oversight for both inland and tidal species of fish, weighing public demands with the health of the resource. The Governor has supported an Adaptive Management Plan, developed by both agencies for the controlled restoration of the alewife runs in the St. Croix watershed, which helps protect the important Downeast salmon smallmouth bass fishery while allowing for monitored alewife restoration.
“Environmental regulation: While the DIF&W is not the agency tasked with environmental regulation, we continue to work cooperatively with the agency(s) charged with environmental permitting. This is done through consultation with biological staff, considering concerns for habitat and species protection.
“Forest Legacy: With the Governor’s support, the DIF&W has worked collaboratively with the Department of Conservation and the Forest Legacy Project, in conjunction with the mission of the Project to protect Maine’s working forests, to support significant wild brook trout populations in the Cold Stream region of Western Maine and also allow for the protection of whitetail deer habitat.”
That’s the entire list provided by DIF&W. Interestingly, the latter reference to the Cold Stream project is a new proposal submitted to the federal Forest Legacy Fund for 2014. This project counts on matching funds from the Land for Maine’s Future Fund – which will have no money if the LMF bond issue on this year’s ballot fails to pass. And the Governor is urging people to vote against the bond, and has even said if it passes, he won’t sell the bonds!
Missing, of course, from the Governor’s defense was a response to the charge, on page 5 of the report card, that “The Governor made a campaign pledge to add ongoing General Fund budget support to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, but included no additional funding for the Department in his budget and threatened to veto a legislative proposal to do so.”
That information came from my own fairly constant criticism of the governor for breaking his promises to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine on the most important issue of all for us.
Candidate Paul LePage promised, in his SAM survey, to submit a budget that funded at least 20 percent of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s budget with General Fund tax money, and to oppose any budget that failed to do that. He didn’t do it.
And a final grasp for public support went down the drain for DIF&W in April of this year when the legislature killed Senator Kevin Raye’s LD 1652, An Act to Ensure a Reliable Funding Stream for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The bill was an attempt by Raye, President of the Maine Senate, in collaboration with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Audubon, and The Nature Conservancy, to find a revenue stream that would give DIF&W the public support and funding we’ve been seeking for decades.
While a lot of different possibilities were explored, the one we settled on was a small percentage of the sales tax, an idea that enjoyed overwhelming support from legislators last year, in a Constitutional amendment that carried in the House by two-thirds but fell two votes short of the two-thirds needed in the Senate.
Governor LePage slammed the door on Raye’s bill, informing the Washington County Senator that he would veto the bill if it were enacted. The legislature’s action killing the bill was a simple recognition that they couldn’t overcome the Governor’s opposition.
I’m not going to issue my own grade to the governor, but I think you can guess what it would be!
PHOTO: Governor Paul LePage at a press conference announcing the Maine Game Plan for Deer, a project designed to rebuild the state’s deer herd. Unfortunately, LePage failed to provide the funding that DIF&W’s wildlife staff said would be necessary to fully implement the plan.