Outdoor Heritage Fund Changes Proposed

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine proposed significant changes in the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, in a bill sponsored for SAM by Senator Russell Black. SAM’s proposal would limit to 20% the amount of funding state agencies could receive from MOHF, and forbid commissioners who are on the MOHF Board to vote on their agency’s projects.

SAM’s Dave Trahan said he’s talked with DIF&W Commissioner Judy Camuso about these issues and believes they can arrive at some agreed changes at MOHF.

Camuso spoke against the bill, reporting that 44% of MOHF funding last year went to state agency projects, and 56% went to various groups. And she reported that Maine’s Attorney General found no conflict in commissioners voting for projects at their agencies. She also reported that 145 groups got grants last year.

Because the MOHF was my idea, I decided to offer testimony on the bill, to share some of the program’s history. Here is my testimony.

Testimony Against LD 1124

An Act To Amend the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund Grant Process

By George Smith, www.georgesmithmaine.com

One year after we failed to get funding from the legislature for several important fish and wildlife and outdoor recreation projects, I was fishing up to camp and thinking about this. I decided we needed a new source of funding for these projects.

I was working for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine at that time, and I came home and reached out to Maine Audubon to partner with SAM on the project. Chris Potholm did a poll for us that showed Maine people strongly supported building that fund with a lottery game, so that’s what we proposed.

We collected signatures to put our initiative on the ballot, but the legislature surprised us by enacting it – only the second time that had happened with a citizen initiative. And Governor Angus King signed the bill into law.

We anchored the program in the state departments, putting their commissioners on the board and requiring all applicants to get the endorsement of one of those departments before submitting their applications.

It was my privilege to serve on the MOHF Board for the first 10 years. Over the years, MOHF has awarded more than $20 million for wildlife and outdoor recreation projects. I do not believe there is a problem with grants going to state agencies. It’s always been a very competitive process.

Last year we won a MOHF grant for my woodlot project. We donated our woodlot to the Kennebec Land Trust, partly because they do great things for kids. I wrote a booklet of stories of my encounters with wildlife on my woodlot, and the grant allows KLT to give kids the booklet for free.

There is a problem which you can help with. When we started MOHF, it was one of 5 instant lottery games, all priced at $1. Over the years, the lottery has added lots of other instant lottery games, at prices including $5 and $10. But MOHF is still stuck at $1. The amount of money they have available has plunged.

I hope you will consider increasing the cost of the MOHF game, or perhaps add a second instant lottery MOHF game at $5. And please, next time you are in a store, buy a MOHF lottery ticket. You can’t lose!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.