Talk to enough Mainers about George Smith and you’re likely to hear the story about how he brought a deer head into a Legislative hearing.

After 18 years of passionately fighting for sportsmen’s causes, Smith is stepping down as executive director of the 12,000-member Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine that he represented as a lobbyist.

Smith said Monday a desire to spend less time working and more time hunting and fishing were the reasons he will retire at the end of the year. Although he said he will still work as a consultant on a few outdoors issues he cares about.

Smith, 62, leaves a career that made him a legislative lion who fought publicly for fish and wildlife issues and sportsmen’s rights. He has a longtime column, a television show and now an outdoors blog.

“Certainly the sheer longevity and the weight of the presence of the organization behind him gives him a certain panache that you don’t see with lobbyists working for organizations. A lot of people love him and a lot hate him but he’s so affective,” said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who chaired the Legislature’s wildlife committee for six years and sits on the SAM board.

Smith was an advocate for the state’s quality fishing initiative that sought to improve wild brook trout waters and also for the state’s expanded archery season that was created a dozen years ago, Dunlap said. There were countless other hunting and fishing laws Smith was involved in changing.

“We would throw everything into it,and (SAM) had a lot of influence there is no question,” Smith said. “Over the years I made life miserable for every fish and game commissioner.”

Department Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin could not be reached for comment and issued a prepared statement that said about Smith:
“I have had numerous conversations with George on the issues that affect Maine’s hunting and fishing communities. I wish George well in his future endeavors.”

Other fishing and hunting directors at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife were unavailable for comment Monday, IFW spokesperson Deborah Turcotte said.

However, former IFW biologist and brook trout specialist Forrest Bonney said Smith’s career with SAM was not without merit.

“He was the one who made the motion that money be raised for the equipment for stream surveys (for wild brook trout),” Bonney said. “The fact he was in favor of the regulations changes on over 500 lakes and ponds helped, as it did meet opposition.”

And Jenn Gray, Maine Audubon’s lobbyist for 13 years who opposed Smith on issues for years, credits him with helping to establish the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant system in 1996. The grant gives $700,000 annually to outdoors projects that benefit all users and all species, according to the state.

“George is a character, but he’s done a very good job for SAM and their mission,” Gray said.

In the Maine State House Smith almost always would have a sarcastic quip in a hearing, sometimes to make a poignant point while other times just to draw laughter. 

One of his more famous presentations before a Legislative committee was when he brought a mayfly in one hand and a deer head in the other in his effort to fight legislation that would expand the role of Maine’s state endangered species biologists.

Smith argued the biologists should be focused on game species, since sportsmen fees largely fund the department’s budget.
Gray disagreed. And the bill ended up passing. But today Gray agrees with Smith that the work of Maine’s state biologists is carried on the backs of sportsmen’s dollars.

“Sometime ago our organizations met and agreed that a lot of what we’re trying to do was very similar in terms of protecting and conserving Maine’s wildlife, and that we would be more effective working together,” Gray said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]