The slate is clean as we start another year anew. Nobody knows what lies ahead, even as friends and family offer seasonal salutations that wish us well. As we look ahead with hopeful expectations, it doesn’t hurt to check the backtrack.
For the Maine sportsmen and women, 2017 was, like most years, marked by some good and some not so good. Without a doubt the low point was hunting-related shooting accidents, more than we have experienced in a number of years. Bird hunters were injured by careless gun handling and careless target identification. A young woman — a non-hunter — was killed by an irresponsible deer hunter. He has been indicted for manslaughter.
Incredibly, fatal snowsled accidents eclipsed hunting accidents. By mid-February there had been six snowmobile fatalities. As always, alcohol and speed contributed to most of the mayhem on the snowmobile trails.
Probably the most underreported outdoor story was the increasing prevalence of ticks and tick-related infections. Clearly, ticks are bad news for outdoor folks and not about to go away. Awareness and preventive steps are called for.
On the brighter side, the fishing and hunting was good. Deer numbers could still be better, but some impressive bucks were taken. It was a good bear and moose season. Lots of grouse were evident in the North Woods. Wild turkeys just keep on surviving, weather or no weather.
On the legislative front, there were a few surprises but, thankfully, most of the wacky and misguided outdoor-related bills never got any traction. Crossbow regulations have been loosened some. In the coming year, anyone 65 and older will be able to hunt most seasons with a crossbow.
In 2017, the Maine outdoor community lost some notable individuals who left their mark. Among them were outdoor activist Don Palmer from Rangeley and land conservationist Alan Hutchinson.
Maine’s new deer biologist, Kyle Ravana, left his job quite suddenly and was eventually replaced by Nathan Bieber. Deer management issues, including deer yard protection, population research, predation and the hunting regulatory climate, were largely without leadership in 2017, and thus will offer formidable challenges for our new deer man in 2018.
The most significant carryover issue for the Maine sportsman from this past year continues to be land access. A reputable survey of sportsmen indicates that 34 percent of those who hunt consider land access in this state to be poor! Correspondingly, only 28 percent of Maine landowners allow recreational access to their lands.
With more and more land being posted, it is not hard to figure out why hunting license sales continue to decline. How can we deny the direct relationship between safeguarding our hunting heritage and access to the land? We can’t have one without the other.
For many years the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has fielded a landowner relations program that seems to have had mixed success with its efforts to educate landowners and land users. Nobody seems to have a handle on a method of measuring progress or lack of in this critical area.
A step forward in this coming new year would be legislative priorities in this area in terms of dedicated resources and public outreach.