Reduction in warden positions alarms legislators

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 “We need to reduce the department’s size.” That was DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock’s response to a question asking why he was proposing cuts to the Maine Warden Service’s budget, including a decrease in positions and mileage.

Chandler presented his proposed budget recently to members of the legislature’s IFW Committee, and the Warden Service cuts were of most concern to committee members.  Representative Steve Wood said flat out that he could not support those cuts, and others seemed to feel the same way.

While Chandler danced around the questions, it was obvious to most of us that these cuts were demanded by Governor Paul LePage, who made similar demands to other state agencies. Given that the agency has a healthy surplus, it’s difficult to understand why they need to reduce the department’s size.

Colonel Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service reported that they are fully staffed for the first time in nine years, with 124 game wardens. And that means some wardens will lose their jobs if this budget is enacted.

Interestingly, given the controversy over the tactics of an undercover warden in the Allagash area, one of the positions cut is in northern Aroostook County, where “A district is going away,” said Joel. Wardens from adjacent districts will have the Allagash area added to their work. One of four Warden Investigators will also be cut, this one in the Sidney area.

Also of concern is a 10% cut in Warden Service mileage. That means wardens will have to drive 327,000 miles less each year. “I felt we could afford mileage cuts to save one or two positions and the Commissioner agreed,” Joel told the committee.

Many of us remember a crisis in the past when mileage limits left game wardens cooped up in their homes, rather than out doing their jobs.

The IFW Committee’s House Chair, Bob Duchesne, offered a good comment, noting that they were expanding districts and cutting mileage, a significant reduction in coverage and enforcement of our fish and game laws and rules.

Positions are also being cut in other divisions including hatcheries, fisheries, and wildlife.

There are other interesting cuts and changes in the budget, including the elimination of paper applications for the moose lottery.

And, as usual, the law we got enacted more than a decade ago, requiring that 18% of DIF&W’s budget be paid with tax money, was postponed for another two years, to the 2020-2021 biennium. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen then, or ever.

The legislature’s Appropriations Committee will consider the DIF&W budget next week, and then it will come back to the IFW Committee for a work session. 

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