The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund Board awarded $325,000 in grants to 36 projects on May 3, a substantially diminished pot of money than was available in the past. This 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 750 projects have received more than $16 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 May 3 demonstrate the diversity and reach of this program.
Throughout my tenure on the MOHF Board, I championed grants to Maine’s small privately-owned and nonprofit animal rehabilitation centers. So I was delighted to see that Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center was awarded $7,000 to construct an insulated building with four pools for the rehabilitation of water birds.
This will make Avian Haven the only aquatic bird facility in the state able to operate year-round. Since it opened in 1999, the facility has treated nearly 12,000 birds from more than 100 species. Just a few weeks ago, Avian Haven’s professionals took a baby Great Horned Owl that one of my Mount Vernon neighbors found standing in the road, raised it for a short period, and then reconnected it with its parent – spending several dark hours calling in the mosquito infested woods until the parent showed up.
The Sportsman’s Alliance won $3500 to create a single database of fish and game clubs and outdoor partners and organize meetings to create an “Outdoor Partners Communication and Outreach Network,” to encourage cooperation on programs for youth, veterans, and others. I’ve been advocating for this for a long time. There are tons of outdoor kids programs in the state, but no central database allowing kids and their parents to find out about the programs. Most program sponsors know very little about what other groups are doing for kids.
One of my favorite places, Burnt Island in Boothbay Harbor, owned by the people of Maine and managed by the Department of Marine Resources, was awarded $2,196 for scholarships to Maine teachers and UMF’s students so they can participate in field studies at the Burnt Island Facility. If you’ve never visited Burnt Island, go there this summer. It’s an amazing place.
As you can see, many of the grants are for small amounts of money, just enough to enable an important project to proceed. All of these projects come with matching funds. One of the largest awards, $12,000, went to the Georges River Land Trust to secure 100 acres of riverside property for permanent conservation.
Another $12,000 went to the Van Buren Water District for a conservation easement, to be held by the Forest Society of Maine, to permanently conserve the Violette Brooke Reservoir as a public water supply open for outdoor activities.
Hidden Valley Nature Center – a real gem in Jefferson – got $5,700 for a Bog Boardwalk, allowing people to experience a quaking “kettle hole bog-pond ecosystem,” including information stations.
A significant $17,674 grant was awarded to the University of New England to guide New England habitat management programs for the endangered cottontail rabbit. During a visit to Cape Elizabeth’s Inn by the Sea, for our newspaper travel column, my wife Linda and I were impressed with the Inn’s work to create cottontail habitat. The once-common cottontail has almost vanished, as its habitat was transformed into house lots and other developments.
The smallest grant, for $850, went to the Maine Association of Conservation Districts to print 50 hard copies and 25 digital copies of its Maine Envirothon Resource Manual for participating schools.
The largest grant, for $28,522, was awarded to the Maine Warden Service for a Dive Team Remote Operated Vehicle, to enable searches and recoveries in areas unsafe for divers.
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 Fast Cash.
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