When it comes to Maine’s fabled outdoor heritage, you don’t have to be a social scientist or a statistician to sense what is going on. Changing times are leaving a mark on our culture in countless ways. If you visit a few rod and gun clubs around the state, a common theme shows itself: a predominance of wrinkled gray-haired members and a glaring absence of bright-eyed, fresh-scrubbed youth among the club rolls.
Equally apparent, if you are an older sportsman yourself, who still spends time in the deer woods or on the fishing waters of this state, is that there seems to be a significant absence of active sportsmen like yourself.
There was a day when we used to complain about finding a pickup truck parked at our favorite hunting haunt, or a boat anchored near our fishing honey hole. Oh, it still happens, but increasingly infrequently.
What’s going on out there?
Those who worry about this sort of thing pretty much agree that there is no single reason or explanation. Among the culprits are: 1) less free time 2) lack of access to recreational land 3) too many rules and regulations 4) sedentary lifestyles 5) anti-hunting culture and, of course, 6) the electronic-digital age. You can probably come up with a couple of more reasons yourself.
At the state level, and even country-wide, there are hidden consequences to this cultural shift. Some of these consequences are far-reaching and worrisome, and some are of the ill-wind variety that actually benefit sportsmen who value solitude and plentiful game or fish.
The glaring downside of this ledger is decreasing license sales and smaller and smaller operational budgets for fisheries and wildlife management. And correspondingly, without hunters and fishermen, fisheries and wildlife biologists lose one of their key management tools for doing their jobs adjusting fish and game populations.
Here is a recent example. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has just adopted new, less restrictive length and bag limits for much of the fishing in the Allagash Waterway! The new fishing regs increase the bag limit on many waters from two trout to five! Additionally, the trout size limit has been reduced from 12 inches to 6 inches.
This change would have been unheard of 10 years ago. Why now? Extensive research reveals that these waters have had a significant decline in fishing pressure over the past 25 years, and there has been a substantial reduction in the number of trout being killed (which is not good when you are trying to grow bigger trout). In announcing this change for 2018, the department added a simple but revealing final thought: “It is hoped that the relaxed regulations will entice more people to go fishing.”
Yes, changing times, and hidden outcomes as Maine’s outdoor heritage faces the future.