New Sportsmen Fees: More Or Less?
By V. Paul Reynolds

Although the Maine State Legislature was at press timer still debating proposed legislation that deals with hunting and fishing issues, one major hurdle has been cleared: the biennial budget for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W). The highlight of the budget is clearly the $ 4 million appropriation of General Fund tax money that will be provided for MDIF&W. So the folks at Fish and Wildlife have reason to heave a sigh of relief. This means that it will be business as usual for our wildlife and fishery management programs. It also seems likely that there will be no personnel layoffs at MDIF&W.

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From the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) and other practitioners from the Augusta spin zone, comes much hoopla and spewing of superlatives.For example, SAM News reports, "For the first time in history, sportsmen fees reduced...best budget the department has ever received...money will allow DIF&W to double its production of fish for stocking."

But is it all peaches and cream?

While the governor is being commended for including this DIF&W infusion in his budget, it is no gift. In the previous state biennium, Governor Baldacci cut MDIF&W's share of General Fund money in order to balance the state budget in the face of revenue shortfalls. In fact, the budgetary cuts imposed upon Fish and Wildlife at that time were disproportionately higher than funding cuts imposed on other state departments.

As a matter of fact, sportsmen with an interest in the ups and downs of fish and wildlife politics might want to regard the Augusta celebratory rhetoric with some skepticism. Placed in historical context, the legislative record, as it affects sportsmen in this state, is in reality a mixed bag. In fact, if you are a non-resident hunter, angler or outdoor recreationalist who enjoys Maine, the news is not good at all.

Putting it bluntly, non-resident sportsmen were "shafted" by this winter's legislation. A long overdue attempt to do away with the residents- only- day during the November deer season was defeated. This law discriminates against non-resident hunters, is hardly pro-tourism and may even be unconstitutional. Non-resident sportsmen have also been hit with significantly higher license fees. For his hunting-fishing combination license, the non-resident's price will go from $126 to $137. A muzzleloading stamp goes from $36 to $62 - a 72% increase! The price of a 3-day small game license is up 27%.

Adding insult to injury, non-resident moose lottery applicants - who already face impossible odds in the annual drawing - will be asked to pay 15% more for a chance at a moose ticket.

What a way to build Maine's tourism business!

Now what about those of us sportsmen who call Maine home? Are we being treated more favorably?

According to a headline in the SAM News, "Legislature Delivers Good News to Hunters." The accompanying story reports with elation that "sportsmen fees were reduced for residents." This is either true or not true depending upon how it is viewed. Here's how it works. Your $36 resident hunting-fishing combo license went from $36 to $39 when the legislature passed a "temporary" $3 across the board add-on to all fish and wildlife fees. This add-on was to make up for the loss of General Fund money cut from DIF&W by the governor. The $3 was, according to the law, supposed to "sunset" (end) this year. But instead of honoring the sunset provision, the legislature kept the increase but reduced it from $3 to $2. Bottom line: The license that was once $36 will in 2006 be $38. Do the math. That's a dollar less than this year, but $2 more than the year before.

George Smith, SAM's executive director, is promoting this as "the first sportsmen fee decrease in history." What do you think, increase or decrease? Truth, half-truth, or an artful sleight- of- hand?

It seems to me that more and more Augusta policymakers are taking their cues from the playbook of those slick rascals in Washington, D.C.

1. A slight budgetary decrease in a spiraling increase is called a budget "cut."

2. Temporary is a politician's euphemism for permanent.

3. Rely on the Patty Hearst Syndrome. Show your oppressed captive one small crumb of kindness and he will become appreciative and feel indebted, even hopeful.

By the way, there's more good news. Fees for boat registrations in 2006 only increased between 11% and 61% depending upon outboard horsepower.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.


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