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 has already taken place can divulge clues or insights into what lies ahead. Let’s check that backtrack for the Maine outdoors, circa 2006.

For simplicity’s sake, this outdoor look back is divided into three categories: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good. Spring fishing was exceptionally good, thanks to the weather and wise fish management. In fact, Maine trout fishing is getting better and better. Thanks to an almost unprecedented mild winter, most of our wildlife resources fared well. Our turkey populations continue to expand and disburse. Our deer, bear and moose remain healthy, and, as far as we know, free of Chronic Wasting Disease. Negative reports to the contrary, grouse and woodcock numbers were a lot better than the previous upland season.

The bad. This list is longer. The University of Maine has still made no decision on opening Marsh Island to limited deer hunting. As we predicted a year ago, this one is still stuck in the in-basket. Ditto the ban on coyote snaring. It’s been three years now since the commissioner suspended our coyote control programs. The animal rights activists have Maine trapping in their cross hairs. Look for a lawsuit against MDIF&W this year. The much-touted experiment to allow fall fishing of Atlantic Salmon on the Penobscot River was a fizzle, with high water temperatures forcing a shutdown of angling. The Branch Lake sport fishery continued its decline as Ellsworth’s “leadership” fought the state on creating a public boat launch. A bill in the Legislature that would have protected people with camps on leased land went down to defeat.

The ugly. The Baldacci administration brokered the Katahdin Lake land deal, which will shut out hunters, trappers and snowsledders from land that has always been open to traditional use. The governor’s task force on land access didn’t accomplish anything of substance. And, Roxanne Quimby bought up another township. According to state Rep. Dave Trahan, the Department of Conservation has undertaken another elitist scheme called Back Country Project. The idea is to set aside Eco Reserves where hunters, trappers and snowsledders will not be welcome.

In the Augusta policy arena, the year that is about to end was a year of setbacks for sportsmen. We lost a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. As Rep.Trahan observed, sportsmen had better pay attention and organize. We are losing the battle to organizations that know how to effectively use their influence and money. Pitted against one another in this struggle for political supremacy are traditional users and environmental extremists, who consider the Maine waters and woodlands to be their exclusive domain.

Maine’s political landscape is changing at an exponential rate. If you have been around this state for a few years, you know this to be true. Sportsmen, even those of us who don’t gravitate to politics, must speak loudly in the year about to unfold. One way to do this is to join organizations that represent your interests, groups like the Maine Trappers Association, the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Maine Snomobilers Association, and, of course, the organization that has a track record of consistently slugging away for Maine sportsmen, SAM, the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine.

V. Paul Reynolds 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 [email protected]

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