2005: Outdoorswise, Was It A Good Year?
By V. Paul Reynolds

The New Year is almost always a welcome event, even if we all are a year older. The slate is clean. As we look ahead it's a lot like a field of virgin snow. As we move on, the tracks we leave will take us to unseen ground. This is especially sweet for outdoor people who have an affinity for exploration, for finding what is just beyond the hill, or on the other side of the cedar swamp.

Move on, yes. But don't forget to check your backtrack! Animals do it for survival. For the rest of us contemplative bipods, who struggle for understanding and perspective, a check of what already took place can often divulge clues or insights into what lies ahead. Let's check that backtrack for the Maine outdoors, circa 2005.

For simplicity's sake, this outdoor lookback is divided into three categories: 1) Good news 2) Bad news and 3) Political, egg-on-your face blunders.

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The good news. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) has finally - after much pressure from the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) - taken action to simplify our overly complicated trout fishing regulations. Last April, the same folks took some long -awaited action and closed down the turkey lottery. This spring, as with last spring, anybody who wants a turkey hunting permit will get one. The season you get, whether it be A or B, will depend on your year of birth. Even numbers get the A season; odd numbers get the B season.

Despite near record precipitation levels this spring, turkeys fared well. They are tough birds. Not the same can be said, unfortunately, for grouse. The cool, wet weather raised havoc with grouse broods and the fall grouse seemed scarce throughout most of the state.

Spring fishing was exceptionally good, thanks to the weather and wise fish management. That good news was coupled with the grand opening of Emden's newly renovated fish hatchery, which will vastly improve Maine's salmonid stocking programs. The legislative good news was the sound defeat of a number of anti-hunting bills, including ones that would have banned traditional bear hunting over bait. A limited crossbow season was enacted, despite strong opposition from the Maine Bowhunter's Association. I call it good news; MBA, which considers crossbows unworthy of the woods, would not.

The bad news. Higher fees for sportsmen in most categories. Poor bird season. The deer harvest was down significantly after DIF&W predicted a deer take higher than last year. The 14 percent decline is being attributed to declining hunter activity. If this becomes a trend, the implications are far reaching, and not all good. Downeast fish biologist Ron Brokaw's laudable proposal to designate Cathance Lake a Trophy Salmon water was rejected by sportsmen. Not good. Shortsighted, if you ask me. The Ellsworth Branch Pond issue is out of control. City fathers have passed an ordinance prohibiting snowsleds on the ice. The state attorney general is looking into the legality of this outrageous move. Meanwhile, University of Maine officials are still dragging their feet on a decision of whether to allow controlled deer hunting on Marsh Island.

Looking back on this year's political landscape two public outdoor figures remain memorable. They, above all others in the state outdoor arena, have the most reason for wanting to get this year behind them. SAM's executive director, George Smith, normally an astute student of state politics, badly miscalculated sportsmen sentiment on the Sunday hunting issue. It backfired, and the govenor looked bad. But the biggest raspberry is reserved for MDIF&W Commissioner Roland "Danny" Martin. He leaves the year with a trilogy of misguided decisions that will not be soon forgotten: 1) He let yet another year go by with no progress in salvaging the state's suspended coyote snaring program 2) He failed to resolve internal strife between Gerry Lavigne and his supervisors and thus lost one of North America's most gifted deer biologists who quit in disgust and 3) He abused the power of his office by trying to intervene in behalf of his brother who had been arrested for OUI while operating a personal watercraft. Martin said, at first, that what he did "Passed the straight face test, and that he "did nothing wrong." He changed his tune, later, though presumably after a private chat with the governor.

On balance, 2005 wasn't a bad year, especially for those of us who simply get out on the waters or in the woods and leave state fish and game policy to the Augusta decisionmakers. May your New Year be blessed and full of good things, including a youngster for you to "bring along" in the boat or on the trail.

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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