Friday December 07, 2012 | 12:20 PM
Posted by Mike Tetreault

Despite the initial support of both of Maine’s Senators, and many others from both sides of the aisle, it looks more and more like the U.S. Senate might not be able to move the Sportsmen's Act (S. 3525) this year. 

This bill puts together nearly 20 bipartisan bills important to the conservation and sportsmen’s communities to support conservation of habitat and fish and wildlife species and to provide enhanced access for hunting, fishing and other forms of recreation. It represents one of our best opportunities to secure funding for conservation.

Last week, the bill was blocked by Senate Republicans on procedural budget issues (despite a finding from the Congressional Budget Office that the bill would reduce the deficit by $5 million over the 2013-2022 period.)

This week, several powerful Senate Democrats are insisting on blocking the legislation, citing concern over the regulation of lead in fishing tackle and ammunition, an issue that states can already regulate. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the bill’s enthusiastic champion, described the bill today in Energy & Environment Daily, a Capitol Hill publication, as “on life support.”

But the Sportsmen’s Act would ensure that programs that protect coastal and inland wetlands – like those that are home to Maine’s phenomenal duck and migratory birds  -- will continue.  These funds have been used from Southern Maine all the way up to Cobscook Bay and inland toward Mt. Katahdin.

Additional provisions include the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, legislation that establishes a national, voluntary program to protect and improve fish habitat and fish populations by encouraging locally driven efforts for fish habitat restoration and conservation. In Maine, we would be able to use this program to protect Maine’s special lake trout.

And a 2011 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 90.1 million people—38 percent of Americans 16 and older, and ten percent more than five years ago — participated in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.

These people spend money that feeds the Maine’s economy. A recent report from the Outdoor Industry Association, found that Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation every year. This is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and supports 6.1 million American jobs.

Yet all these benefits to Maine could very likely be lost as a result of Congress’ inability to compromise and find a bipartisan solution.

Conservation problems are complex. They don’t neatly fit into the national platform of either political party. They require solutions that go beyond the black-and-white world of the ideologues, and delve into the vast gray area between the parties where solutions can be found.

Maine has been lucky to have a long tradition of moderate representation in Congress, and independent-minded leaders at all levels of government who make decisions based on what’s best for Maine.

And many of the state’s most successful conservation measures - the bottle bill in 1976, the popular Land for Maine’s Future Program and even last year’s updates to the Land Use Planning Commission – were accomplished through bipartisan cooperation.

This month, we’re losing one of Maine’s best-known leaders, Senator Olympia Snowe, who chose not to pursue re-election, after 34 years in Washington, citing the partisan infighting that has made progress near-impossible in recent years.

“We must strive to find common ground, and to reach consensus on the issues that matter most to our fellow Americans,” Snowe said, in one of her final Senate hearings in November.

Conservation is one of those issues; and today, I hope that Congress will heed her words and give the Sportsmen’s Act another chance.

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Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.

He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.

Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.

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