The New Year is almost always a welcome event, even if we all are a year older and the economy is still in the tank.The slate is clean. As we look ahead, it’s not unlike 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, 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 2010.

Despite the poor economy and a state fish and wildlife operation plagued with money issues, there was some good news. Trout fishing last spring was excellent yet again. Some record fish were caught, including a new state record rainbow. The protracted legal battle between municipal leaders and state officials over a proposed public boat launch at Branch Lake was finally resolved. This allowed a spring stocking of salmon after almost a decade of neglect. This once-proud sport fishery has seen its better days, but now, at long last, there is hope for a recovery.

Maine’s spring turkey hunt was another big success. Lots of birds around, and for the first time, hunters could bag two spring gobblers. Thanks to an early spring and ideal nesting conditions, Maine’s wild turkey population continues to disperse and multiply. In my neck of the woods, turkeys are seen in unprecedented numbers. It would seem that these numbers justify a less restrictive fall turkey season. Both the fall bear and moose hunts went well, as each of these critters remain plentiful and healthy. On the deer front, the Big Woods deer are still struggling to recover. But a mild winter helped some as biologists report some of the most robust yearling bucks seen in years. Thankfully, the battle to control Maine’s biggest deer predator — the coyote — is being waged by concerned sportsmen around the state who have taken up predator hunts. The Aroostook County Conservation Association was especially aggressive in its assault on coyotes, and we tip our hat to them.

Maine trappers finally received some good news when a federal judge ruled in their favor in a case in which animal-rights litigants argued that recreational trapping should be banned. Other developments worthy of note: George Smith stepped down as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and a new organization was born — the Maine Outdoor Federation. The new group has pledged to represent a broad cross-section of outdoor organizations. The town of Oquossoc has a wonderful new sporting museum that is the brainchild of Rangeley’s Don Palmer; and former state fisheries chief, John Boland, was named to replace MDIF&W’s No. 3 man, Ken Elowe, who left for greener pastures.

There was some bad news, too. Governor Baldacci tried to balance his precarious budget on the back of MDIF&W by seizing funds desperately needed to keep the fish and wildlife operation in business. (His attempt to merge MDIF&W with the department of Conservation did not pass legislative muster.) Last March, we learned that the 2009 deer harvest was 34 percent below the 20 year deer-harvest average. Our two U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both voted to confirm an anti-gun jurist, Elana Kagan, to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Maine National Park proponent Roxanne Quimby was named by President Obama to a directorship of the National Park Foundation.

However, all of this bad news was tempered by some good news for Maine sportsmen who have grown tired of Augusta’s callous disregard for sportsmen issues. With the election of conservative Paul LePage to the Blaine House, along with a Republican sweep of the state legislature, sportsmen can expect many changes. Among the expected changes will be a reasonable funding mechanism for MDIF&W, a fish and wildlife commissioner who should address Maine’s deer problem and coyote predation issue head on, and a legislature not friendly to gun-control initiatives or a national park in Maine.

A year ago, in a similar retrospective, I said, “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.”

Given the outcome of the November election, sportsmen have spoken out. With the changing of the guard in Augusta, there is new hope, but we must continue to stay involved as sportsmen and keep our ears to the ground.

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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