IFW Picks John Boland for Top Job

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After what he called a “nationwide search,” Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Dan Martin picked longtime department staff member John Boland to fill the agency’s top professional position.

Boland has worked for DIF&W for 33 years, all of it in the Fisheries Division that he has led for the past eight years. His new job makes him the top non-political staff member and puts him in charge of both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions.

Boland is personable and smart and an avid hunter, so wildlife issues will not be new to him, although he has big shoes to fill.

Dr. Ken Elowe left the position earlier this year to take an important position at the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service. Elowe was well respected with a particularly good understanding of the political world in which DIF&W lives.

In his new position, Boland will manage 120 employees and a $14 million budget. Budget matters will quickly consume him.

Boland is certain to be frustrated with the small amount of time he’ll have available for the “fun stuff,” the projects and initiatives that benefit Maine’s fish and wildlife.

My relationship with Boland spanned the entire 18 years of my tenure as SAM’s executive director, and we wrestled with many contentious issues. I’m sure he didn’t like me much – particularly as I brought more and more issues to the legislature.

When I began working for SAM in 1993, legislators sponsored very few fisheries bills. SAM changed that. This year the organization’s Legislative Agenda includes seven fisheries bills.

SAM sees the waters of Maine as half empty of fish while DIF&W sees them as half full. That’s the simplest way to describe this disagreement.

As the years passed, these differences were magnified, leading SAM to the legislature with more and more fishing bills, all of which were opposed by DIF&W. I will never forget a SAM bill calling for year-round open water fishing, something that is common in other states.

DIF&W strongly opposed the bill at the legislature where it was defeated. One Regional Fisheries Biologist said year-round open water fishing would happen in his region over his dead body.

Last year, several SAM fishing bills at the legislature irritated Boland. But after speaking against the bills, Boland and his boss, Ken Elowe, worked with me and the legislative committee to improve the most important bill before it was enacted.

That bill required DIF&W to report to the legislature, no later than March of 2010, on what it had done to accomplish nine goals in The Maine Fishing Initiative, a statewide collaborative project created and coordinated by SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee and endorsed by many anglers, sportsmen’s groups, and legislators.

In return for helping with that bill, Elowe asked me to make an effort to improve SAM’s relationship with Boland and his fisheries biologists. In September of 2009, an effort at rapprochement began, led by Elowe. I am pleased to be able to report, today, that the turnaround in this relationship has been remarkable.

John Boland deserves special praise for stepping back from the bitterness and hard fights of the past to create a new partnership between his division and the state’s largest sportsmen’s group.

In mid-February Boland presented the report required in last year’s legislation to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The report was remarkably well done and worthy of recognition and praise. It’s still available on SAM’s website: www.sportsmansalliance.com.

If any part of Boland’s presentation demonstrated the remarkable change in the relationship of SAM and DIF&W, it came when he reported what the department has done to achieve the goal of increasing fishing opportunities.

They have opened many Maine waters to year-round open water fishing! “Large sections of our biggest rivers such as the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Saco are now open year round to open water fishing,” reported Boland.

“Many other smaller rivers, once closed after September 30, are now open throughout the fall or in many cases year round,” he said.

And here’s the real kicker. “On April 1, 2010, lakes and ponds under general law management will be open to year round fishing in eleven counties, and open water angling will be permitted on all lakes/ponds open to ice fishing in the remaining counties.”

I am pleased to report that this was not done over anyone’s dead body.

Amazing things can be achieved when state agencies and interest groups set aside differences to work together for their shared constituencies.

Boland knows this and that knowledge will serve him well in his new position.

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