| Maine game wardens and the Maine Snowmobile Association are teaming up again this winter to ensure that this snowmobile season starts and ends safely. The two agencies are working together to ensure safe riding on the state’s 13,000 miles of groomed trails, which stretch from Kittery to Fort Kent.
People squawk loud and long about hunting accidents and gun-related incidents, but last year there were 202 snowmobile accidents and seven fatalities. That was down for the 401 accidents and 16 fatal accidents that occurred during the 2003 winter riding season, but come on this is snowmobiling, for heaven’s sake! New Year’s weekend often is the beginning of the snowmobiling season for many riders, and game wardens have been busy with scheduled enforcement details and trail safety checks throughout the state, and these will continue throughout the winter season.
There is no question that snowmobiling is popular throughout the state, and last year 88,237 riders registered their snowmobiles in Maine, including 19,020 non-residents. According to a 1997 economic report conducted by the University of Maine, snowmobiling has an economic impact of over $265 million dollars. Recent estimates increase that figure to over $350 million. The impact is greatest in rural areas of the state, but snowmobiling supports many small family businesses such as restaurants, motels gas stations, lodges, etc.
Enforcement details will key on safety violations, specifically operating a snowmobile to endanger or with imprudent speed, as well as operating a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Peak use periods will often be heavily staffed with wardens financed by snowmobile enforcement funds raised directly through the sale of non-resident snowmobile registrations.
Safety checks will be conducted in conjunction with local snowmobile clubs. Game wardens, along with volunteers from the club, will be set up in a highly visible area. After a snowmobile is stopped, agency personnel will work through a checklist of safety points that include lights, brakes, skis, belts and spare equipment. They will also work with the operator to stress the need for safety and driving responsibly.
The Maine Snowmobile Association and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have also produced a Ride Right-Ride Smart interactive CD. The goal of the CD is to make it as easy as possible for snowmobile operators to learn snowmobile safety, whether they are heading out on the trail for the first time or even if they are an experienced rider. The MSA also designed and delivered a Ride Right, Ride Safe educational video and training program to snowmobile clubs and dealers. These projects were funded with assistance from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
If you are interested in finding out more about a snowmobile safety course, or if your club or organization would like to have a game warden or MDIFW safety coordinator visit your school or business, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000.
And, to prove that Maine’s warden service is not just out there chasing snowmobiles around the countryside, in one of the Maine Warden Service’s largest enforcement actions ever, game wardens arrested seven people and charged 14 others last month after serving search warrants at 19 locations in central Maine.
A total of 20 people were charged with numerous wildlife crimes ranging from killing multiple deer, night hunting, killing wildlife in closed seasons, hunting on posted land, shooting from a motor vehicle and driving deer toward shooters in large organized groups. As the investigation continues, more charges will follow.
If you don’t like the sound of the label “poacher,” please keep in mind that every Maine hunter and angler must possess a new hunting or fishing license with the start of the calendar year. If you have a young hunter or angler in your family, or a senior sport, why not consider a lifetime license, available in different combinations for different ages at different price levels for Maine residents only, although the special licenses are valid even if you move to another state.
You may purchase your license online at www.mefishwildlife.com, at the MDIFW headquarters at 284 State Street in Augusta or any of 1,000 agents statewide.