Outdoors in Maine: Changing of the guard positive for hunters

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Back in the 90s, when I worked as information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a Northeast Conference for state information officers like myself. It was booked as an opportunity to share information and promote working relationships between state and federal fish and wildlife agencies. USFWS controlled the agenda. Workshop topics covered every imaginable topic from vernal pools and songbirds to endangered butterflies and climate change.

On the final day of the conference each of us was invited to make constructive suggestions and critique the conference. When it was my turn, I said something like this: “Although this has been a useful conference, I am amazed that in three full, busy days of talks and presentations the word “hunting” has never been uttered or discussed!”

You could have heard a pin drop. The woman who hosted us from USFWS looked at me like I was a skunk at a lawn party. You get the picture, right? The truth hurts. Over the years since then I have seen scant indication that, to this day, USFWS has in its policy making and agenda setting given a tinker’s dam about America’s hunting community and heritage.

This is about to change.

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Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, recently appointed by President Trump as our new U.S. Secretary of the Interior, which oversees USFWS and will appoint its new director, is a retired Navy SEAL, and an avid hunter who is “very concerned about public access” for hunters on Federal lands.

On his first day in office, Zinke overturned a policy implemented by former Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe on Jan. 19, the Obama administration’s last full day in office. Ashe’s policy banned the use of lead ammunition on all FWS wildlife refuges that allow hunting.

“After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders,” Zinke wrote in his order.

Zinke also signed an order asking agencies within his purview to find ways to increase access to outdoor recreation on the lands they oversee.

While lead, including ammunition, is a toxicant that can harm wildlife if ingested and may warrant some phased in regulation, the Obama administration engaged in overreach by imposing a unilateral ban with no previous input from state fish and wildlife agencies or national sporting organizations. At least, under Zinke, it appears that local and state voices will have their day in court before sweeping regulations are imposed.

Finally, and of potential significance to Maine, Secretary Zinke had this to say about national monuments: “National monuments should have state and local support,” he said. He voiced willingness to take a look at existing monuments and give the president recommendations as to their appropriateness.

Just a guess, but you can bet your boots that those movers and shakers in Maine who opposed the unilateral imposition of Roxanne Quimby’s national monument, including Governor Paul LePage, have already begun to establish lines of communication with Secretary Zinke.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books.Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.

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