The state faced a $733 million shortfall when work began on a new 2006-2007 budget.

Now, with last week’s legislative approval of a $5.7 billion budget, Maine’s fish and wildlife department will have about $2 million more to work with in the coming two years.

Despite cuts and reductions elsewhere in state programs, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will benefit from additional funding that will allow for more biologists and hatchery improvements.

Credit the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Maine Audubon Society, says a spokesman for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. And give Sen. John Martin, D-Aroostook, a tip of the hat for his efforts to secure the funding as well, adds the spokesman, Mark Latti.

Martin, a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, is a veteran registered Maine guide and sportsman who has long called for general fund money to supplement license and other revenue dedicated to IF&W. In the new budget, IF&W will get $3.8 million in general fund money to supplement its other sources of revenue.

SAM and Maine Audubon joined forces last week to lobby lawmakers for the general fund money. Each organization also walked away from the biannual budget battle bruised, however.

A Sunday hunting proposal put forward by SAM in return for higher hunting license fees was shot down early in the budget process.

And a move supported by Maine Audubon to require $10 conservation stickers for all canoes, kayaks, rowboats and sailboats on state waters went to the bottom quicker than the Titanic once boaters caught wind of the measure.

“We’re very happy,” Latti said Tuesday of the final budget. “We were concerned about losing people and having to cut programs,” he said, if the department’s revenue hadn’t been increased.

With the state general fund money and other increased revenue sources, Latti said the department will have about $1 million more for each of the next two years than it previously had.

Fiscal 2006 spending has been budgeted for $23.3 million, he said, with $23.6 million earmarked for the following year.

Another $8 million in federal funds will also be spent on department needs over the two years, he noted. The federal money comes from taxes assessed on fishing and hunting equipment. It may be spent only on game-related programs such as paying wardens to enforce fish and wildlife laws.

The department – along with its advocates, groups such as SAM and Audubon – has long argued that some general fund revenue should be directed its way.

IF&W is charged by the Legislature with myriad responsibilities that fall outside of its specific fish and wildlife responsibilities. Those additional charges include conducting costly searches and carrying out rescues of lost hikers, bird watchers, toddlers, elderly people and others.

The department also must operate non-game species programs, manage wildlife and fisheries habitat, conduct surveys and perform other duties.

During some previous budget cycles, IF&W received general fund revenue to help pay for those non-game-related activities, but that money dried up as the state budget grew tighter.

Getting the money included in the budget last week “is really a benefit for the towns and the state,” said Latti.

Towns stand to benefit because the department sponsors a habitat protection program. Communities that seek its advice can get expert help from biologists to preserve vital open spaces during development projects.

And everyone in the state benefits, he added, through improvements to Maine’s population of non-game species, such as songbirds.

The infusion of state money will also help to roll back resident license fees by $1. At the same time, it makes permanent $2 of a temporary $3 license fee increase set to expire this year.

Included in the budget is a provision to create a special license plate similar to a loon or lobster plate, with the money generated going to a department endowment fund.

IF&W budget at a glance

• Provides $23.3 million for fiscal 2006 and $23.6 million for fiscal 2007

• Includes $3.8 million in Maine general fund revenue

• Contains $8 million in federal fish and wildlife tax revenue

• Funding sources include: $1 to $3 increases in boat registration fees, depending on motor size, and a $6 increase in personal watercraft registration fees.

• Increases nonresident hunting license fee from $88 to $102.

• Makes permanent a $2 increase in resident hunting and fishing licenses, offsetting a temporary $3 increase that expires this year.

• Contains money to pay for two biologists who will work on non-game species and habitat issues primarily in southern Maine.

• Earmarks $1 million for hatchery improvements that will eventually double the pounds of fish produced.

• Nixes Sunday hunting and controversial $10 conservation fees for canoes, kayaks, rowboats and sailboats.

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