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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

President & Director of Maine Friends of Animals
IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 1370 "An Act to Change the Membership of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Council"

April 5, 2005

Good afternoon Senate Byrant, Representative Watson and members of the committee. My name is Robert Fisk, Jr. I am president and director of Maine Friends of Animals. We are a moderate statewide animal protection organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals through education, advocacy and legislation. I am also a small businessman, former legislator and was director of the bear referendum.  

One of the issues that bear referendum brought greater public attention to was the fact that wildlife decisions are ultimately made by a few. The majority of those in this state whom take pleasure in Maine's wildlife have very little input or ability to influence wildlife decisions or legislation. When I say the majority I mean people who enjoy wildlife in a non-consumptive way such as wildlife viewing, nature walks, primitive outdoor camping, bird watching, kayaking, outdoor photography, etc. Maine ranks fourth in the nation in participating by residents in wildlife watching and attracts over a quarter of a million visitors from out of state. In 2001 these before-mentioned forms of eco-tourism generated an estimated $513 million in direct expenditures resulting in $856 million in economic output. That is significantly more then all revenue brought to the state from hunting and fishing combined.

A special report done in 2001 for the Maine Audubon Society, entitled "Watching out for Maine's Wildlife" cites the 10-year decline in the numbers of hunters in Maine while there has been a 10-year growth in all forms of eco-tourism. The report states "Wildlife associated recreation is an important part of nature tourism, the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, averaging annual increases of 30% each year since 1987." We could provide the committee more data, but the point is non-consumptive users of Maine's wildlife is significant and growing.

L.D. 1370 is a small step in the inclusion of more people and groups in wildlife management decisions. It is a start in which this majority, that I mentioned before, will have an opportunity to provide meaningful input that will hopefully be considered in the decision process. It is a long overdue discussion that the bear referendum gave legs and voice to.

The present membership of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council consists of 10 members representing 16 counties of the state. L.D. 1370 changes this regional representation structure to one that represents various wildlife interest groups and stakeholders. The present membership is essentially the same group of like-minded sportsmen. The new membership make-up would put the emphasis on varied, balanced and diverse groups and opinions. We believe this is a substantive beginning in which those who don't have a voice on wildlife issues, but should, can.

Opponents will claim there are already ways in which non-sportsmen can provide input. But the reality is whatever forums, hearings or Ad-hoc committees there have been available, the decisions are always made by the same group that we feel are ideologically, personally, politically and financially connected. A change in the make-up of the Advisory Council is not going to change that control significantly. But it is a start.

If you take a moment to look at membership section of the bill you will see the diverse group of stakeholders. You have wildlife interests that include hunters, fisherman, bird watchers, guides, animal protection advocates, habitat conservationists, trappers and so forth. I could probably give you an appropriate specific organization to fill the various categories, and we would be willing to include them in the bill if that is of interest to the committee. We do not claim this is a perfect membership list and we would be open to suggested additions, deletions or changes, but in talking with others who have an interest in this legislation it seems to cover those most interested in wildlife.

I would like to point out there is a very similar advisory council in the Department of Agriculture. It is called the Animal Welfare Advisory Council. It is similar in nature except instead of wildlife it is made up of groups interested in animal welfare for domestic animals. It consists of members representing kennels, shelters, the farm bureau, pet stores, animal advocates, veterinarians etc. I have been a member since the Animal Welfare Advisory Council was formed three years ago. I believe there is a general consensus that this advisory council has been very useful, helpful and instrumental in the improvement of the Animal Welfare Program. It has provided operational, funding and innovative ideas that the department has used. The Deputy Commissioner is an ad-hoc member who attends each meeting, and I believe the Department will tell you that the Animal Welfare Advisory Council has been beneficial to the department, the public, the program and the animals.

I again mention that the make-up of this committee is meant to involve all the stakeholders much the same L.D. 1370 is meant to do on wildlife issues.

Although the membership make-up of this council is the primary focus of this legislation, it should be noted that the duties of the council have also been changed in a minor way in L.D. 1370. The intent of the changes are not so much operational, but more in the interest of making the council an active, responsive and independent body on wildlife issues that are to be brought before the Commissioner and the department.

There is no doubt the bear referendum brought considerably more public attention and understanding of how wildlife decisions are made in this state. In my view control of the Sportsmen's agenda by a few has fueled an increased desire by non-consumptive users to demand a meaningful seat at the table.

Many sportsmen reasonably view their control is justified given that hunting and fishing licenses are the primary source of funding wildlife management. But this dedicated funding has engrained a proprietary attitude that has effectively shut out the vast majority from the decision process. As the numbers of non-consumptive users continue to increase and the number of hunters continue to decrease the pressure to be more inclusive of more voices will only continue to grow. Maine's wildlife resource belongs to all its citizens, and although non-consumptive users should not be held hostage to a funding mechanism, we do believe non-hunters should be willing to pay their fair share. Whether registration fees on canoes and kayaks is the best vehicle or not, there needs to be a willingness by non-consumptive users to accept some responsibility for wildlife management funding.

We believe L.D. 1370 is a relatively small attempt at providing greater inclusion of all those who appreciate our wildlife. Its passage would send an important signal that what is now viewed as inflexible and rigid ideology of a few, is instead an opportunity for hunters to be viewed as positive agents for change.

I thank you for considering this legislation and we urge an out-to-pass vote; and I would happy to try and answer any questions the committee may have.

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