January 27, 2023

An Act to Abolish the Maine Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council

LD 128, An Act to Abolish the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council, is the brainchild of George Smith, former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and present writer/activist in outdoor affairs in the State of Maine. He got Senator Anne Haskell to sponsor the bill.

On Smith’s blog he publishes his testimony before the Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Smith’s attempt in his testimony is to point out the reasons why the Advisory Council should be abolished but I think what he should be doing is giving good reasons as to why it’s authority and function should change in order to make it more effective. More on that in a second.

Disturbing to me in Smith’s testimony is he says the following:

And there are two other problems. There has never been a nonsportsman on the advisory council, even though the department serves all the people of Maine, not just those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses and permits.

Smith has a history of giving away the power that license-buying sportsmen need to continue a department that will manage game species for surplus harvest. That power struggle is already weighted heavily on the side of environmentalists and giving them more power will do absolutely no good for fish and game issues. While it may be easy to state that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife works for everyone, everyone doesn’t pay the bills. Therefore, “nonsportsmen” do no deserve a spot on the Advisory Council, nor should we be seeking tax revenue in order to make this happen.

But back to the restructuring of the Advisory Council (AC). I will agree with many of the things Smith says about how the current structure of the AC is working or not working. Restructuring it, rather than abolishing it would be better, I think, for sportsmen.

It is my opinion that the worse thing that can happen for fish and game departments is to establish what would be a dictatorship. The commissioner should not have complete or too much control over the aspects of operating the department; neither should he or she have all authority stripped away.

advisorycouncilThis same dynamic can and does exist in other states where the commissioner is hamstrung and can’t do anything without legislative approval. This hinders timely wildlife management. There needs to be a balance of power between the fish and game commissioner, the Legislature and the Advisory Council.

If the commissioner holds the majority of the power to make all decisions related to fish and wildlife management, then any person, lobbyist, non governmental agency, etc. can focus all their efforts on a single commissioner to achieve their personal agendas. This same can occur if a legislature has all the control. All one need do is have an audience with the ranking member(s) and I’ll guarantee the results will not be in the best interest of all sportsmen. We need checks and balances….unfortunately.

And of course this same dynamic can exist within the Advisory Council if that board is given too much power. The key here is to keep a healthy division of power without hamstringing the commissioner, that will insure that all sportsmen, from all corners of the state can be heard and represented. Members of the Advisory Council should have enough influence that when sportsmen contact them on issues, those council members will be heard.

It is for these reasons, mostly, that I would suggest keeping the Advisory Council but change the power structure in order to make them effective and worthwhile. The separation of powers is essential.