| Among the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW’s) diverse mandates is the protection and management of all Maine’s fish and wildlife resources. This is a tall order when you consider that common bird and mammal species most familiar to us actually comprise only a small fraction of the total diversity of Maine’s wildlife. Indeed, most of Maine’s birds (226 species), mammals (60 species), reptiles (17 species), amphibians (18 species), fish (69 species), and invertebrates (more than 15,000 species including such groups as the dragonflies, butterflies, mayflies, moths, beetles, snails, crayfish, freshwater mussels and many others) are not hunted, fished or trapped. However, these species are vital to the health of Maine’s rich ecosystems. They also contribute to our quality of life, from providing aesthetic values (butterfly and bird watching) to playing important roles in pollination and pest control. Many of Maine’s non-game (species not hunted, fished or trapped) species are common and widely distributed, but others are rare and are found in only a handful of locations. Some species in Maine are vulnerable to state extinction, a fate that has beset more than a dozen species, from the well-known wolf and cougar, to the cryptic American burying beetle.
To prevent further species extinctions in Maine, the MDIFW maintains a list of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern species that are in need of further survey, research and recovery efforts. The key to marshalling the personnel and resources needed to maintain a successful non-game species program in Maine is adequate and stable funding. Unfortunately, there has never been a stable and secure source of funding for these wildlife programs.
The Non-game and Endangered and Threatened Wildlife program began in 1984 with the establishment of the Maine Endangered and Non-game Wildlife Fund, which is based on the “Chickadee Check-off,” a voluntary tax check-off on the state income tax form. In 1993, the Conservation Registration Plate (Loon Plate), a voluntary vehicle plate registration, was introduced to provide additional funding for these programs. Finally, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, established in 1996, allocated proceeds from a lottery ticket sale to conservation, including 15 percent for Endangered and Threatened species projects. All money donated, whether through the tax check-off, conservation license plates, Outdoor Heritage Fund grants, or as direct gifts, is deposited into the Maine Endangered and Non-game Wildlife Fund, a special, interest-bearing account from which money can only be spent for the conservation of Maine’s non-game, Endangered and Threatened species.
Maine’s Legislature passed legislation providing for 18 percent of the Department’s budget to come from the General Fund. If these funds are made available, it will help with the implementation of non-game programs. However, no general fund monies have been provided to the Department as a result of this legislation in the current biennium (July 1, 2003-June 30, 2005). This funding for the next biennium (July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2007) will come before the Legislature in the upcoming budget negotiations. Other funding options to benefit non-game have been considered but not yet implemented. In 2000, after studying the funding dilemma, a legislative study committee proposed that a portion of Maine’s sales tax be dedicated to the Department. Their recommendation was based on solutions other states developed, such as Missouri, which faced a similar financial dilemma and found the solution in their state sales tax. Convinced that the state’s fish and wildlife resources are the responsibility, and are for the benefit, of all citizens of the state of Missouri, they chose to earmark one-eighth of one percent of their state sales tax to help conserve the state’s forest, fish, and wildlife resources. This has allowed Missouri’s natural resource divisions to become some of the most dynamic and responsive agencies in the country.
Given its limited resources, Maine can be proud of the accomplishments made for non-game and Endangered and Threatened wildlife in the last 20 years. Maine citizens’ voluntary support and generosity is responsible for many of the wild things you see creeping, crawling and flying around as you go about your daily business.
We are all working hard to keep Maine a special place. As you read this, take pride in your accomplishments - and please, as you fill out your tax return or register your car, join with us again in conserving Maine’s wildlife diversity!