Your opinion on this key question matters, and I’ll give you a chance to express your opinion at the end of this column.
Legislation that called for reduced hunting license fees for nonresidents who owned 250 acres of more and allowed residents to hunt there has led to a discussion of the possibility of allowing all nonresidents to hunt on the “Residents Only” opening day of the firearms season on deer.
LD 609, sponsored by Representative John Martin, has been discussed several times in work sessions by the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, but today’s discussion took a different turn when Dave Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, told the committee he’d heard a suggestion that the committee allow all nonresidents to hunt on Saturday’s opening day, which has been reserved for residents for at least three decades.
Committee members expressed interest in that proposal, as well as an expansion of the original bill that would allow nonresidents to hunt on Residents Only Day if they own at least 25 acres and allow residents to hunt there.
Tom Doak, the executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, reported that the newly constituted Landowner Sportsmen Relations Advisory Board unanimously opposed LD 609, primarily because it failed to address the real reasons people post their land. For one thing, Doak reported that “research shows nonresident landowners are less likely to post their land than residents.”
Doak urged the committee to “focus on key issues, in a sustainable way.” And he reported on statewide surveys that found that landowners wanted, first and foremost, respect from land users, a reduction in abuse of their property, particularly from litterers, and better responses when they do have complaints. Doak also said he was concerned about dividing landowners according to the amount of land owned, on whether they hunted or not, and whether or not they were Maine residents.
Senator Paul Davis told the committee a story about a nonresident who owns 400 acres in his town who saw a resident hauling a big buck off his property on opening day, while he had to wait a day to hunt there. He was not happy!
After the committee heard from Trahan, who said he’d seek guidance from his Board of Directors on this issue, they had a good discussion of simply allowing all nonresidents to hunt on opening day. I gave them a bit of history of this issue. When I worked for SAM, we tried several times to achieve this, without luck. Many residents want that day to themselves. It is a very contentious issue.
But many of those nonresidents who wish to hunt on opening day are our relatives. If my son Josh, who lives in Massachusetts, wants to come home to hunt deer with me, he can’t join me on opening day. That is simply wrong.
Rep. Bob Dechesne, the House Chair of the IFW Committee, asked the best question: “Does it make sense to discriminate against nonresidents.” Well, no, it doesn’t. And frankly, we Mainers are better hunters than that. We don’t need to keep opening day to ourselves.
Rep. Danny Martin, a former DIF&W Commissioner, noted that the committee had asked DIF&W for a recommendation on “something we could do,” on this issue, but had yet to get an answer. Perhaps that will propel DIF&W to return next Tuesday, when the committee will revisit the issue, with a recommendation.
At the work session, DIF&W’s Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody presented testimony focusing on what the department is currently doing to improve landowner relations. He noted that DIF&W opposes the bill “due to the complexities surrounding implementation.” He also reported that, “The Department has reached out to landowners with its current landowner relations program, coordinated by Game Warden Corporal Rick LaFlamme. This program has a proactive approach through education and also a reactive approach conducted through enforcements and responses to landowner complaints.”
And Peabody agreed with Doak, stating that all landowners, “want respect and a thank you for allowing access.”
So, what do you think? Should nonresidents be allowed to join residents on the opening day of the firearms season on deer? Please answer this question, posted on my website in the Sportsmen Say Survey section, which you can access here. I will share your responses with the IFW Committee, when they take up this issue again next Tuesday.
Last fall I asked you, “Based on your experience, is land posting increasing?” And 90 percent said yes. So clearly, this is a very important issue.