Maine’s fish and wildlife resources are big business. Of fishing, hunting and wildlife watching, wildlife watching is by far the biggest. Wildlife watchers in Maine spend nearly $800 million annually, while hunters and fishermen spend some $203 million and $372 million respectively.

Wildlife watching in Maine also generates some $1.3 billion in annual economic activity, supports more than 17,800 jobs which pay nearly $500 million in wages and salaries, and generates some $195 million dollars in local, state and federal tax revenues. In return, the state of Maine pays out an embarrassing $4.4 million in general fund dollars annually to support our fish and wildlife resources.

Nationwide, the 86 million people who are wildlife watchers exceed the number of hunters by nearly 8-to-1.

Like state fish and wildlife agencies across the nation, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is focused primarily on killing wildlife (consumptive use) instead of promoting wildlife watching (nonconsumptive use). This outdated paradigm is a vestige of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when most people hunted and fished for food. Nowadays, non-hunters in Maine outnumber hunters nearly 10-to-1 and the number of hunters in Maine and nationwide continues to decline.

MDIFW is a “captured” agency, an opinion shared by at least one of the current gubernatorial candidates. A captured agency is one that favors what it sees as its “client” groups at the expense of the public interest. MDIFW’s advocacy of the Legislature-established, non-science-based bear feeding program, which promotes growth of the bear population, is one example of regulatory capture.

A small but vocal group of consumptive-use extremists has for many years controlled Maine’s fish and wildlife management. Recent evidence of this is the 2015 amendment to MDIFW’s statutory mission requiring the agency “…to use regulated hunting, fishing and trapping as the basis for…management…whenever feasible.” The bill for this amendment was approved by the Legislature by unanimous consent and without debate.

Recent citizens’ initiatives regarding the killing of bears have prompted consumptive-use extremists to try to eliminate this only remaining viable avenue for the public to affect fish and wildlife policy in Maine. During the current legislative session, there were at least nine attempts to kill or cripple Maine’s citizens’ initiative process. The most recent was an attempt by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, to prohibit the collection of petition signatures at polling places.

There is a growing nationwide movement to reform state fish and wildlife agencies to make them more responsive to the needs of our fish and wildlife resources and of all citizens. Maine’s fish and wildlife belong to everyone and to no one and are held in trust by MDIFW under the Public Trust Doctrine.

It is long past time to reform the MDIFW. Changes in Maine law that currently favor the killing of our wildlife are long overdue. This national reform movement is becoming a revolution that will only continue to grow and put increasing pressure on governments to change.

In November, Maine will be electing a new governor. That person will have the opportunity to work with the people to bring about positive change and an end to the conflict between the consumptive use extremists and wildlife advocates that has existed for decades. If she/he fails to do so, this conflict will continue to have negative consequences on both sides. Only by working together can we maximize both our fish and wildlife resources and the economic benefits which they generate. A true leader works to unite rather than to divide. Let’s hope that the next governor recognizes the intrinsic and economic value of live wildlife and chooses to unite Mainers by appointing a new MDIFW commissioner who will give all Mainers a seat at the fish and wildlife management table.

John Glowa is a seventh generation Maine native and a lifelong fisherman and wildlife advocate. He worked as an environmental specialist for the Maine DEP for 28 years. He is also the founder and president of The Maine Wolf Coalition Inc. and is author of the blog John Glowa’s Maine Fish and Wildlife News. He lives in South China.

John Glowa Sr.