Dear Commissioner Woodcock,
I attended the hearing in Augusta yesterday to testify in front of the IFW Joint Standing Committee in support of LD 1018, An Act to Prohibit Stocking Fish in or Using Live Fish as Bait on Tributaries to State Heritage Fish Waters.
Those testifying in support presented a clear and united front to improve Maine’s only legally binding protection for our native brook trout and Arctic char. Testimony was submitted by such diverse groups as the Professional Maine Guides’ Association, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Maine Audubon, volunteers from the joint IFW/ME Audubon/TU Brook Trout Survey Project and members of the public.
The only opposition was presented by MDIFW. I am deeply disappointed. While IFW has repeatedly said that they are “committed to wild brook trout”, the Department’s actions do not support this claim. I am frankly appalled that less than one week ago, you stood in front of Sebago TU at the chapter’s Annual Conservation Banquet as the invited keynote speaker and specifically referenced your contribution to the State Heritage Fish Law. Your current vehement opposition to this bill today is absolutely unconscionable.
The testimony submitted by Francis Brautigam on behalf of the Department yesterday contained many inconsistencies and unfairly misleading statements. I will speak to just a few of the most blatant here:
Francis said many times how this bill would introduce “many social challenges” and that the public would have difficulty accepting this bill. Commissioner, the public had every opportunity to speak on this bill yesterday, and many did: The JSC saw overwhelming support from the audience and heard many very compelling testimonies from the public and numerous stakeholder groups in support of the bill. It appears that IFW is actually fabricating a facade of supposed opposition in order to muddy the waters here.
Francis also incorrectly said that passing this bill would result in “a large number of special regulations” and would “add pages to the lawbook”. This is absolutely false. LD 1018 is a very straightforward bill, and could be addressed by adding just four words to the IFW lawbook, creating very minimal impact. The lakes and ponds given Heritage designation are already in the lawbook, so no new listings would in fact need to be included: We could simply create a new S-code that mimics S-4 but applies to “tributaries” of said waters.
Francis also purported that the Department “would not identify these waters as likely candidates for stocking initiatives.” If this is true, then why oppose the bill? … Because we all know that IFW does not in fact voluntarily refrain from stocking waters that could impact Heritage Fish waters: Your department already has and continues to do so, despite repeated evidence that this is harmful to native fish populations. For example, IFW continues to stock landlocked salmon and brook trout in Lower Richardson Lake, despite repeated documentations of stocked fish showing up in Maine’s fabled Rapid River.
Francis repeatedly said yesterday that “IFW supports the Heritage Fish Law”. Commissioner, these words are deceiving as they not consistent with the Department’s actions, and it is unfair to mislead the public. We all know that IFW has fought the implementation of the Heritage Fish Law since day one. The public isn’t buying your charade — and neither is the JSC: Several legislators expressed dismay that IFW could be in opposition to this bill. Following Francis’ testimony, Senator Woodsome promptly proclaimed, “This is a very serious issue, and I am amazed that IFW has come out against this bill.” The senator went on to say: “While I would like to work with the Department, I will not be stonewalled by the Department.”
Commissioner Woodcock, this obstructionist behavior on the part of IFW is absolutely unacceptable. The public will call you to task. Support for the Heritage Fish Law is widespread and comes from such groups as the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the ME Professional Guides’ Association. From Don Kleiner’s testimony yesterday: “This is a gem, and we need to do everything we can to protect it.” Francis’ repeated references to the “public angst” that would be caused by the implementation of this bill was certainly not demonstrated yesterday.
There is no biological reason why the criteria for managing the tributaries to State Heritage Fish waters would be different than the rules on the lakes and ponds themselves. Commissioner Woodcock, as the original sponsor of the bill you will recall that this is not the “Heritage Waters Law”, it is the “Heritage Fish Law”: We are not protecting the ponds per se – we are protecting the fish, and to do so effectively it is imperative that the ponds and tributaries are managed the same way. That the Heritage Law does not currently consider tributaries to lakes and ponds given Heritage designation puts the whole program at risk.
Maine has been designated as the last true stronghold for wild brook trout, and is home to the only remnant populations of Arctic char in the lower 48. We have a responsibility to protect and preserve this irreplaceable and valuable ecological resource. Maine’s Heritage Fish Law is the most effective way to ensure that populations of native brook trout and Arctic char will remain viable and healthy for generations to come. We owe it to the people of Maine to protect our State Heritage Fish now and into the future.
I hope you will reconsider your opposition to LD 1018 in advance of the work session next week.
Thanks for listening.
– Emily Bastian