George's Outdoor News

George’s new outdoor issues blog. He goes all over the state. He listens. And he reports on issues of concern to sportsmen, conservationists, and environmentalists.

Abbott Turns Down IFW Post

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Steve Abbott has decided he doesn’t want to be Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a position he was offered recently by Governor-elect Paul LaPage.

Insiders say LaPage has three other candidates for this important position at the top of his list: Chandler Woodcock, Craig McLaughlin, and Art Wheaton.

The popular Abbott was a candidate in this year’s Republican gubernatorial primary after giving up his long-time job as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Susan Collins. Abbott is currently serving as Athletic Director at the University of Maine in Orono. He is an enthusiastic and lifelong hunter and angler.

At the Orono Sportsman’s Show last spring, Steve had the best booth I’ve ever seen for a political candidate. The booth featured large photos of Steve, throughout his life, with deer, turkeys, and fish he had harvested. In the booth was Steve’s father, Walter Abbott, U. Maine’s legendary former football coach and athletic director. It was my privilege to stand there and listen to Walter’s hunting and fishing stories for about an hour. Steve comes from good stock!

Each of the three top candidates would unique attributes to the position.

IFW on LePage's Back Burner

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Apparently the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will simmer a while on Governor-elect Paul LePage’s back burner before he turns up the heat and starts looking for new leadership for this beleaguered state agency.

Transition teams are already at work on the state budget, energy, economic development, education, health care, workforce pensions, and regulatory reform. But nothing is happening for fish and wildlife.

Insiders tell me that it will be a couple of weeks before members of the Transition Advisory Team area asked to interview candidates for IFW Commissioner.

While the Governor-elect promised, “the most transparent transition in history,” he is falling short of that standard so far. I have asked repeatedly for a list of Transition Advisory Team members who are responsible for natural resource agencies, for notices and agendas of that team’s meetings, and for the opportunity to attend those meetings. I’ve gotten none of it.

LePage Announces Transition Advisory Team - Beardsley Likely DOC Commissioner

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Thirty five Mainers have been tapped to serve as a “Transition Advisory Team” for Governor-elect Paul LePage who presented the team at a press conference this morning at the State House.

LePage surprised his audience when, in answer to a reporter’s question, he said he’d already chosen two members of his cabinet, the Commissioners of Conservation and Public Safety. He gave no hint about who those commissioners would be.

Speculation inside and outside the State House indicates that Bill Beardsley will be LePage’s Commissioner of Conservation. Beardsley attended this morning’s press conference and was announced as a member of the Transition Advisory Team.

Beardsley impressed many people, including his opponent Paul LePage, during his 2010 primary campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. While he is widely known for his 23 years at Husson College and his extensive work in the field of education, he also offers lots of experience in the fields of forestry and conservation.

It was my pleasure a few years ago to participate in a study by Beardsley of trends in forest land ownership and access. He’s extremely bright and capable.

Governor-elect Paul LePage's Promises to Sportsmen

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In his candidate survey submitted to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, his interview with the SAM Board, and his Wildfire TV gubernatorial debate on conservation and environmental issues, Governor-elect Paul Page made the following promises.

To submit a budget that funds at least 20 percent of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s budget with General Fund tax money, and to oppose any budget that fails to do that.

To support an initiative from SAM, The Nature Conservancy, and Maine Audubon, to win a Constitutionally protected source of public funding for IF&W (by allocating a small percentage of the sales tax on outdoor gear to IFW).

To appoint, as IF&W Commissioner, “someone with knowledge, experience in managing natural resources, such as forest, water, hunting and fishing. Demonstrated skills in leadership and ability to see the big picture.” He also said he would appoint professionals to DIF&W’s top positions, rather than people from the political system, including former legislators.

To oppose any proposal to merge IF&W into a large natural resource department.

To defend existing hunting opportunities in parks and public lands.

Stetson Stories

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Most Mainers support green energy wind projects, properly sited. But this column is not about wind power. I wanted to find out if wind projects benefited local people, programs, and economies. So I headed north to Danforth, next door to First Wind’s Stetson Mountain wind towers. Here’s what I discovered.

Outdoor Kids

Imagine a bunch of teenagers up before dawn to paddle canoes around a lake before school. Fourteen years ago when David Conley started his outdoor program for the East Grand School system, he probably could not have imagined it. Now he lives it. Connelly offers what may be the most successful outdoor program for kids from 5th to 12th grades in the state. And he’s tucked into one of Maine’s most remote off-the-beaten-path places. “We’re using recreation as a tool for building confidence, team work, outdoor appreciation, and environmental awareness,” said Connelly, an avid sportsmen who takes kids into the wilderness setting of the Baskahegan year round, with winter camping one of his most popular activities.

Speaking of Deer

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Sitting in my deer stand last Saturday afternoon as the sun sank below the horizon, I knew that sun would come back up on Sunday morning. I’m not so sure about Maine’s deer herd.

Deer have disappeared from the North Woods and their numbers in central Maine are greatly diminished. The outdoor industry that depends on nonresident deer hunters has taken a terrible hit and may not recover.

In a recent WCSH TV 207 interview, I lamented Maine’s two major hunting problems: diminished deer in the northern half of the state, and diminished numbers of hunters statewide.

Where the woods were once full of 250,000 deer hunters, we’ll be lucky to see 150,000 this season.

We’ve also suffered an epidemic of posted land in southern Maine.

And Bucky Owen, the popular former Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, told me not long ago that he thinks, “deer hunting in the north woods is all over.”

When I saw Bucky last week, he was going to his Sourdahunk Lake camp – to hunt birds, not deer.

The deer harvest has plunged from 38,153 in 2002 to 28,884 in 2007 to 18,045 in 2009, a 53 percent decline in just seven years.

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.

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