| Governor Baldacci has announced a budget for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that will allow the department to maintain its current services and not cut any positions.
“During these tough fiscal times, I am pleased the governor and the department established a budget supportive of the goals of this department,” said Roland D. Martin, MDIFW commissioner. “This budget will allow us to maintain our operations without cutting programs or positions. While austere, however, it will allow us to continue performing our mission as we know it.”
The department’s biennial budget calls for a combination of general fund money, holding the line on licenses and fees, restructuring of boat registration fees and altering the hunting schedule by allowing non-residents to hunt deer on the opening day of the firearm season for deer and allow hunting on Sundays except during the firearm season on deer.
“The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides valuable service to the entire state of Maine, whether it is protecting endangered species or searching for someone lost in the woods of Maine,” said commissioner Martin, “The governor recognizes the value of these services and that is why he devoted general fund money to the department. I am extremely pleased that the governor recognizes the dedication of our employees and the outstanding professionalism demonstrated at all of our search and rescue missions.”
The budget will need approval from the Maine Legislature. Under this proposal, the department would receive $1.4 million in General Fund money. Boat registrations would go to a flat fee of $23, which, combined with the lake and river protection sticker, would cost the same as a registration for snowmobiles and ATVS instead of a graduated fee based on horsepower. The budget also proposes that the temporary $3 license fee that the Legislature voted in 2003 would become permanent.
Maine’s resident-only opening day of the deer season would be abolished, allowing deer hunters from Maine and away to hunt the first Saturday of the season. The residents-only day was established in 1977 when Maine’s deer population numbered around 160,000 animals. Through careful management by the department highlighted by the Any-Deer permit system, the deer population has increased to between 230,000 and 300,000 animals over the past decade.
The budget also calls for hunting to be allowed on Sundays, except for deer, during the firearms season on deer. That means waterfowl, bird, moose and bear hunters among others would be able to hunt Saturday and Sunday. Deer hunters who use firearms, which number approximately 170,000, would still be limited to the present situation (Saturday hunting only on the weekends).
“Maine is one of only nine states in the country that does not allow hunting on Sunday. We attract over 40,000 non-resident hunters a year, but lose many to neighboring states like Vermont, New Hampshire and the Canadian provinces where hunting is allowed on Sunday. Hunting has an economic impact of over $450 million in Maine, and allowing bird, moose or bear hunters to hunt the entire weekend will not only make Maine a more appealing destination for hunters, it will increase that revenue,” Martin noted.
Maine’s hunting license sales have been stable since the mid 1990s while other states have experienced a decline nationally.
The budget also calls for a cost savings by eliminating the Wild Turkey lottery. Wild turkeys were reintroduced to Maine in the late 1970s. Through trap and transfer programs and a limited hunt, the state’s turkey population has grown to the point where limiting the number of hunters is no longer necessary. The proposal calls for on-demand permits to be available at license agents starting in 2006.
That is a lot of new stuff to consider and most of it is good for Maine hunters, Maine’s economy or the MDIFW’s coffers.
Many a factory worker will rejoice at the chance to be able to hunt on Sunday, even if it is (for now) only for small game and bears. During my years as a shoe factory foreman it was heartbreaking for me (as avid a hunter as anyone) to have to refuse good, hard workers the chance to get out on Saturday morning because we had shoes to make, deliver or repair. I had employees quit their jobs just because they wanted to be able to hunt deer a Saturday or two in November, and I had a hard time defending the company’s position to them when I myself wanted to be out there with them. Those were hard, aggravating times, and since all those shoe factories have closed and gone South, one has to wonder what all the fuss was about. From my view, it wouldn’t have hurt a thing to let those hard-working sportsmen have a day off now and then to hunt deer with their families and friends, but with the new Sunday hunting rule looming it may be that those days of sacrifice are over with for good.
I’m not sure that the proposal to allow everyone to hunt on opening day will be quite as popular. Everyone likes to have something to themselves, and the first day of the deer season has been a popular “possession” for resident hunters. Opening day (and opening week) is traditionally the most productive periods of the annual deer seasons, and letting everyone hunt on the first day is bound to skew the MDIFW’s harvest numbers after some
27 years of residents-only-day hunting. But, there is an economic burst to consider, and the number of dollars a universal opening day will generate makes the move a good one in minds that work that way.
Allowing unlimited turkey permits is cause for celebration not only for turkey hunters but for Phil Bozenhard and the MDIFW crew that has worked for decades to bring Maine’s turkey population to this point in time. Remember, the first Maine turkey-hunting season produced a non-remarkable 9 birds but the kill improved exponentially over the ensuing years to the point that the wild turkey in Maine is on the verge of being Everyman’s game. That is a testament to the science of wildlife management in Maine, and let it be known that the same quality of management is practiced on our deer, bear, moose, waterfowl and other species. The lesson here is simple enough: if we let our biologists manage, the game will come!