SAM Takes Aim at Nonresident Hunting Laws
By Roberta Scruggs
Created Oct 26 2007 - 8:54pm
When the deer firearm season starts Saturday (Oct. 27) something will be missing: nonresident hunters. And don't imagine they will be happy about it.
"Fair? Of course it isn't," said Dennis Ellis, who grew up in Maine, but now lives in Georgia.
It's a sore point with many nonresidents that since 1977 they've been barred from hunting on the opening day of the firearm season. The ban began as a conservation measure when the deer herd was in decline and now, with deer plentiful in much of Maine, some feel there's no reason to bar nonresidents. After all, they killed only 3,154 deer all last year, just 11 percent of the total 29,871.
Being left at home on opening day seems especially unfair to nonresidents who own property and pay taxes in Maine. It's also hard on Maine families, when some members can hunt and some, who have moved out of state, must stay home on opening day.
"Nonresidents still resent the opening day law, and it remains their biggest complaint," said George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. About 20 percent of SAM's 14,000 members are "from away."
The flip side is that many residents don't want to see nonresidents cash in on "their" deer. And state lawmakers are much more inclined to listen to their constituents than to worry about nonresidents. It should surprise no one that nonresidents get charged considerably more to hunt here and in most other states. For example, Maine's nonresidents must pay $102 for a big game license and aliens (not space invaders but hunters from other countries) pay $127. Residents pay just $21.
If you're thinking that nonresidents are lucky to hunt in Maine at any price and under any conditions, just remember two things. First, we're all residents of only one state and nonresidents of 49. Any Mainer who wants to hunt on Sunday or who's always dreamed of a trip to Alaska or Colorado will be a nonresident some day, somewhere.
There's also the economy to think about. There are 12.5 million hunters nationwide and they spent nearly $23 billion on trips, equipment, licenses and other hunting items in 2006, according to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. Maine's share of that pie, from residents and nonresidents, was about $240 million. Lots of folks think that's small change compared to what hunting could bring in here. Nearly 2 million hunters travel outside their home states to hunt, but Maine attracted only about 37,000 nonresidents and aliens.
Third, nonresidents are the folks who keep residents' fees low. Detailed statistics aren't available yet from the 2006 national survey. But in 2004, nonresidents and aliens paid the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) about $8 million for hunting and fishing licenses and permits, plus ATV and snowmobile registrations, compared to about $11 million by residents. Without nonresident revenues, Mainers would have to open their wallets wide.
"Let's face it, nonresidents have been treated as a cash cow by IFW and the Maine Legislature for too long," Smith once wrote in the SAM News. "We toss them only 10 percent of the moose permits and 15 percent of any-deer permits, and charge them fees that are four and five times what residents pay for the same hunting opportunities."
You could certainly argue, as many residents do, that with those higher fees, nonresidents are paying not only for the privilege of hunting and fishing, but for all it takes to produce those opportunities, from wildlife management to environmental laws to conservation law enforcement. Many Mainers believe one day for residents is not too much to ask. And legislators clearly don't want to go home and tell their constituents that they voted against residents-only day. They've rejected bills to allow nonresident to hunt on opening day several times.
But many nonresidents are quite bitter about the ban, Smith said, and some Mainers are uncomfortable with the message it sends.
"It is embarrassing that we feel we need to prohibit them from hunting with us on the first day of the deer season," Smith wrote. "Yet the Legislature, I am afraid, is an accurate barometer of public opinion, which is still strongly biased against nonresidents. For a state that - right on its license plate - trumpets itself as `Vacationland,' we display an astonishing degree of resentment toward those who do vacation here."