A half decade living in Maine and Jeff Bellmore can recall only one incident that united sportsmen and outdoors people with a single voice.

It is the event others recall, as well: the 2004 referendum aimed at changing the bear hunting laws in Maine.

The referendum that would have made the Maine tradition of baiting bruins illegal was defeated. And with that, more than a dozen sporting groups that fought it went their separate ways.

Now for the first time since then, there is another movement to unite groups involved in Maine’s traditional outdoor pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, canoeing and camping.

The Maine Outdoor Federation has had just two meetings, but at its second one, on May 11 in Hallowell, it solidified its mission statement.

That statement is pretty vague, challenging the group to “give public visibility to issues in the outdoors and serve as a network of information and communication.”

But Bellmore, the president of the Maine Professional Guides Association, said none of that matters.

The important thing, Bellmore said, is that there is a consensus among many outdoor groups — at least 17 — that they need a united voice to help educate and at times alert outdoors people in Maine about important issues.

The Maine Professional Guides Association was behind the formation of the group, said its executive director Don Kleiner.

And while the new federation already has about 15,000 potential members, Kleiner said the hope is to draw the smallest of rod and gun clubs in Maine.

In the first three days since the federation announced its formation, six such groups joined, Kleiner said.

The groups include fishing guides, trappers, hunting guides, lake associations, bowhunters, bass fishermen, captains, turkey and bird hunters and wilderness guides.

“We invited 30 sporting groups, and 17 joined. It’s all about spreading knowledge,” Bellmore said. “Smaller groups may have issues in their areas that the whole outdoor community doesn’t know about. Maybe something very important like a large area closed to hunting or losing public access at a boat launch.”

Some members are excited to be gaining more clout in forums like legislative hearings and public meetings with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“These groups that are sort of splintered are many in numbers. But we don’t have as large a voice as we could and should,” said Dan Tarkinson, director and founder of Fly Fishing in Maine and a federation member.

The group is not expected to agree on every issue, but it is expected to band together to fight for common goals, Tarkinson said.

The most important goal is to preserve Maine’s natural resources and outdoor heritage, which was at the center of the bear hunting fight.

The declining whitetail deer herd in northern Maine or youth participation in the outdoors are two big issues that could unite all members of the federation in the near future.

Bellmore is confident it will grow.

“Every group said this is a good thing. And we all think back to the bear referendum. It was a big thing that got everyone in the outdoors thinking about one common issue. Other states are losing their heritage. We’re sort of the last great state in New England that has the opportunities that we have,” said Bellmore, owner of Georges River Outfitters in Warren.

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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