Down East 2013 ©
Seventy five percent of Mainers are benefiting from the work of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife without paying a nickel for that work. And three major state organizations have launched a campaign to change that.
Two reports to the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife last week brought clarity to the problem and hope for the future of this under-funded and over-tasked agency.
Dr. Ken Elowe, DIF&W’s Resource Bureau Director who presides over both the fisheries and the wildlife divisions, presented the first report.
“Today, money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses pays for the person you call for information about fish, wildlife and related outdoor matters, the people that ensure that moose, birds, and other animals are there for viewing, the person who acquires and develops boat ramps for the use of recreational boaters (including kayakers and canoers) and commercial enterprises in addition to hunters and anglers, the biologists that protect loons, seabirds, and bald eagles, biologists that provide regulatory review of development permits to ensure that habitat for fish and wildlife is not degraded, biologists that work with communities to plan development to ensure that open space and wild places are preserved in your communities and remain open to traditional activities, the warden who rescues you when you are lost while hiking, the person who helps you deal with your child’s scout project, or responds when your pet or child has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, the person who provides conservation education in your local school, and the list goes on,” said Elowe. He understated the astonishing impact that the staff of this agency has on the quality of life here in Maine.
Elowe reported, “a $2.4 billion economic benefit to the State from the activities that this Department helps to conserve, regulate and ensure for the future. This also translates into 15,790 jobs, $449 million in wages, and $865 million in retail sales.”
But here’s the bad news. Of the 1,316,456 individuals in the state of Maine in 2008, only 326,500 purchased some kind of service from the department and helped pay the bills. The rest of you are free loaders.
Exciting Campaign Coming
The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (for which I work), have stepped up to offer a permanent fix for this long-standing problem. The three organizations appeared together last week to let the legislature’s IFW Committee know about their exciting initiative.
Tom Abello of the Nature Conservancy distributed a report on the initiative, including recent polling results, at the committee’s February 11 meeting.
The initiative would provide an on-going revenue stream of public funding for DIF&W, protected by the Constitution. The department’s revenue from sportsmen is already protected by the Constitution and cannot be diverted to other programs and agencies.
Abello reported that a December 2009 poll by Critical Insights found that two-thirds of Maine voters (64 percent) would support this ballot question:
“Shall the Maine State Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to enhance management for fish and wildlife; protect endangered species; and preserve and protect wildlife habitat and natural resources by dedicating 1/8th percent of the sales tax receipts to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.”
Only 31 percent opposed the question while 5 percent were uncertain.
Several findings of the poll interested me.
First, the general public is just as supportive of this initiative as are sportsmen and women. Everyone seems to appreciate the work of this department and would be willing to fund that work.
Second, the public wants a portion of its tax money to go to DIF&W and is surprised to learn that this is not happening.
Third, there is no need to focus on a single source of public funding – such as a percentage of the sales tax on outdoor gear – because the public doesn’t care. They just want to help fund this important agency with their tax money.
Mainers are ready to step up to provide stable long-term funding for the department, broaden the department’s funding base, protect that funding through the Maine Constitution, and meet the department’s $25 million annual unmet needs estimate.
My personal preference is an agency that is funded 50-50 by sportsmen and the general public. We’ll pay half, you pay half.
And let’s make sure that money stays in the department by giving it Constitutional protection.
TNC, Audubon, and SAM are gathering advice from all quarters over the next few months, as the groups draft a final initiative to accomplish these goals.
Environmental and sportsmen’s groups, specifically SAM’s political action committee, SAM PAC, and the League of Conservation Voters PAC, the political action committee of the environmental community, will work together during this year’s election campaign to win commitments from candidates for the legislature and governor for this initiative. This is an unprecedented collaboration by these two organizations.
In the 2011 legislative session, it will take a 2/3 vote in the House and Senate to place this Constitutional amendment on the ballot, where Maine voters will get to make the final decision, probably in November of 2011.
If all goes well, in 2012 the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife may finally get the resources it needs to protect and enhance the natural resources that define our quality of life with financial support for each and every one of us.