Boaters who enjoy getting around by “armstrong” or wind power might be facing sticker shock come ice-out. Maine wants them to ante up a $10 registration fee to help pay for its fish and wildlife operations.

For Fred and Prudy Westerberg, that would be a $1,500 hit for their roughly 150 canoes and kayaks.

The Westerbergs run Saco River Canoe and Kayak in Fryeburg. It’s one of several places around Fryeburg where people can rent canoes or kayaks for a day or a week of floating and paddling on the Saco through western Oxford County and beyond.

“This is something I will address with my senator and representative,” Fred Westerberg said Thursday. “This is something I want to be killed.”

Westerberg, an Auburn native and a registered Maine guide, says enforcing the registration law would be a nightmare.

“They don’t have the manpower,” he said of the Warden Service, which would have to write up lawbreakers.

And, said Westerberg, simply attempting to enforce the registration law could result in restricting access to the Saco and other popular waterways. That would happen as wardens try to limit places where they’d check kayaks, canoes and sailboats for state registration stickers before they hit the water.

Even worse, he said, is the measure’s likely impact on tourism.

“People hate that sort of thing,” he said.

“They’re nickel and diming them to death,” he added of the state’s attitude toward its visitors. Tourism, he noted, is one of the state’s economic engines. “Think of how much they spend at gas stations and grocery stores” on top of other activities, he said.

Not everyone shares his sentiments, however.

Maine Audubon is a leading backer of the proposal. On Wednesday, its staff attorney, Jenn Burns, was among those urging legislators to direct proceeds from the fee to pay the salaries of four new Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists.

Audubon, via its Web site, www.maineaudubon.org, also urged its members to ask their legislators to support the proposal.

“All Mainers benefit from the work the DIF&W does, and Maine Audubon has consistently supported efforts to increase funding for the agency’s work,” noted the organization’s Web site. “The department’s efforts on behalf of non-game wildlife are severely hampered by the fact that most of its funding comes from hunting and fishing license fees. It’s reasonable that if non-consumptive users of wildlife resources contribute to this new source of revenue, DIF&W’s wildlife conservation work should receive a portion of the revenue.”

Burns said Thursday that budget negotiators seemed to be in agreement that two of the four biologists Audubon wanted would be hired with some of this registration money, if it’s approved.

But registration has had a stealth element to it. Before the Audubon’s Wednesday alert, few had heard of it.

Count Carol Ouellette, a senior tourism specialist at the state’s Department of Tourism, among them.

“I have no idea, to tell you the truth,” she said when asked if requiring out-of-staters to register their toys in Maine would discourage visitors.

Her boss, Dann Lewis, was in a meeting and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the plan.

But the fact that the proposal wasn’t well-publicized irked Westerberg. Because so many paddlers and sailors would be affected by the registration requirement, he said the state should have taken steps to make certain those people knew about it and had chance to voice their say during a hearing.

The Legislature’s IF&W committee was finishing its work on the department’s budget Thursday and was expected to report its recommendations back to the Appropriations Committee on Thursday evening. A vote on the registration plan was expected sometime today.


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