Heritage for sale

With only a limited number of moose hunting permits issued each year, and demand that far exceeds supply, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) conducts a lottery to see who will have a chance to hunt. Most permits go to Maine residents. Only 10 percent of permits in any wildlife management district can go to nonresidents. However, nonresidents can purchase additional chances each year in the hopes of getting one of those permits.

Meanwhile, Mainers who have struck out at previous moose permit lotteries can accrue additional bonus points to improve their future chances.

Last year, a total of 2,140 permits were up for grabs. Nearly 49,000 people, including just over 35,000 residents and 13,800 nonresidents, paid to enter the lottery.

The entire process generated more than $1.8 million to fund IFW operations. That’s not the entire amount raked in by IFW however. The annual auctioning off of 10 moose hunting permits to the highest bidders raises tens of thousands of dollars more. Almost exclusively, those permits end up going to wealthy out-of-state residents.

According to outdoor columnist George Smith, former head of the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM), this year’s auction, held last month, raised a total of $150,234.50. The bids ranged from $14,444 to $16,510, Smith reported. Traditionally, all the auction money goes to fund scholarships for Maine youngsters to conservation summer camps.

A bill currently before the Maine Legislature, which established the auction two decades ago, would increase the total number of auction permits next year to 20. If the next 10 highest bids had been accepted this year, according to Smith, it would have brought in another $134,000.

The pending bill, LD 695, directs the commissioner of IFW to use at least 50 percent of the total money received from the auction of those 20 moose hunting permits for scholarships. The next effect then, is that those funds would help support department operations, not necessarily pay for more kids to go to camp.

In operating the moose hunting permit lottery, it appears that IFW has done everything possible to be fair, providing most hunters a decent shot at success. But the state then allows 10 or, perhaps in the future, 20 fat cats to jump automatically to the head of the line. How would lobstermen like it if the state auctioned off 20 fishing licenses annually to out-of-state high rollers?

For far too many years, IFW has had to beg and borrow to fund its operations because the legislature apparently believes it should run on fees, not tax revenues. But the department, particularly in the law enforcement, landowner relations and search-and-rescue areas, conducts exhaustive operations involving people who haven’t purchased hunting or fishing licenses.

Rather than adopting legislation to gin up revenue for the department by auctioning off more and more of our outdoor heritage to the highest bidder, lawmakers should first focus on fully funding IFW’s operations acknowledging that the department operates to the benefit of everyone in Maine, not just hunters and fishermen.

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