State officials listen Monday to wildlife and boating advocates discuss a proposed rule that would govern boat racing on Maine lakes. Steve Collins/ Sun Journal

AUGUSTA – After loon lovers urged legislators last spring to clamp down on boat racing on Maine lakes, state regulators took a crack at coming up with rules that would balance the protection of wildlife and boating enjoyment.

Loon fans said Monday they’re unhappy with the proposed regulations.

Rick Wiggin of Standish, who has watched races on Watchic Lake, told regulators at a hearing Monday that their draft rules merely “codify already existing boating safety rules and make the permit application process for a boat race more rigorous” without doing anything to protect loons.

“You have completely ignored your charge to include wildlife protections,” he said. “Wildlife is mentioned only obliquely, and the word loon isn’t even mentioned at all. ”

Boating enthusiasts told regulators that most of the new rules are less stringent than the ones they operate under as members of the American Power Boat Association.

“We’ve got quite a bit of this stuff in place,” said Larry Roberts, who oversees races for the South Shore Outboard Club that sponsors competitive hydroplane and runabout races throughout the region.

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The racing enthusiasts who were among about 25 people attending Monday’s hearing didn’t question the increased oversight of races and regattas proposed in the rules, which include requiring getting a permit after preparing maps of the course and filing a post-race report.

It wasn’t clear what, if anything, would offer any help to loons.

Stephen Lajoie of Standish said the proposal doesn’t do anything “to prevent the clear and present danger” to loons and other wildlife.

It looked to him, he said, like “the case of the bald eagle guarding the loon chicks.”

The director of resource management at the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Jim Connolly, said the proposal had to respect existing laws and stay within the authorization provided by the Legislature – not an easy task.

He said records show only one loon that’s known to have died at about the same time as a nearby race, a few years ago in Standish, and that loons are much more likely to face dangers from recreational boaters.

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One item in the rule would require adding two spotters to keep an eye out for loons in the path of the race.

Susan Gallo, executive director of Maine Lakes, said there is nothing in the rule that says what exactly the spotters would do.

Wiggin said that last spring during a race on Watchic Lake, race organizers noticed two loons popping up right in the middle of their course, proving in a flash the risk involved. He said they did stop the race and tried without success to shoo away the birds, something he said may not even be legal since harassing loons is not allowed.

Wiggin said there is a science-based alternative the state could adopt, allowing races on lakes where loon density is low and there’s enough space to stay away from known loon territory.

As it is, he said, “wherever you bring loons and high-speed boat racing face to face, the loons will be on the losing end.”

The basic science of loon behavior shows the problem, he said, because they have difficulty getting airborne, they dive and stay underwater for long periods of time, and they have a fierce territoriality “that makes them no match for a phalanx of racing boats screeching toward them across the surface of the water at 70 to 90 miles an hour.”

The Maine Youth Camping Association said it has concerns about a part of the proposed regulation requiring that boats involved in regattas, races and parades be inspected for aquatic plants that sometimes get hauled between bodies of water. It said that boats that never leave a particular lake, like the ones used by most camps, shouldn’t need inspections.

Judy Camuso, the DIFW commissioner, said the department will report back to legislators about its proposal when they return to work in the new year.

It is not clear what the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee or the Legislature will do about the issue. It is tied to a bill that was held over for the next session.

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