Sunday, March 9, 2014
Each month for the past 30-plus years, a job has offered me experiences that have made me somewhat knowledgeable about the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (DIF&W) law booklets.
I write a 5,000-word “Almanac” with two long sidebars on Maine’s fishing-and-hunting seasons and bag limits, and in this marathon chore I include a “News & Tidbits” section with occasional explanations on obscure and confusing laws about outdoors sports.
A quick example of “obscure” follows: Suppose a hunter has not bought a hunting license for years but wants to become an avid coon hunter. He can buy a new license without taking a hunter-safety course by showing a copy of his old hunting license to the sales clerk. That’s the current law.
So far ... so good, but the license purchase can get tricky.
Suppose this hunter wants to hunt raccoons but not big-game, so he decides – logically I might add – to buy a small-game but not a big-game license – $14 as opposed to $25. If he chose the small-game option and went hunting for raccoons, though, he’d be breaking the law.
DIF&W considers six Maine species as big-game animals – deer, bear, moose, wild turkey, bobcat and raccoon – but not coyotes. So hunting coons with a small-game license is illegal – an easy pinch for a warden.
The confusing part of the law is obvious. Listing a raccoon as big game is so illogical that many folks would not think to check the law booklet. Average, rational humans would consider a raccoon small game.
Writing the “Almanac” influenced me to look at the six big-game critters listed in small print in a little box below the “2013-2014 License Fees.” This big-game category doesn’t exactly jump off the page, either.
(A DIF&W Information-and-Education official now retired once told me that politics led to raccoons ending up in the big-game category. When coon pelt prices skyrocketed circa the 1980s, it attracted hunting hordes. Folks in the sport then lobbied to make coons big-game with the higher license prices to discourage wannabe coon hunters from participating.)
While writing the “Almanac” each year, I check DIF&W’s law booklets so often that the experience teaches me where to look for most anything, but more often than not the next year’s booklet has myriad changes. Then it’s time to relearn the booklet again, my never-ending task, and the “Table of Contents” is OK but needs improvement.
Worse yet, all the hunting seasons were once on one page, but now DIF&W clumps most critters by species on different pages throughout the book, which creates a lot of page-thumbing.
Even more annoying, DIF&W sprinkles advertisements in beside the printed text and side boxes, taking up space and causing more page-thumbing for customers trying to find information. Logic dictates that DIF&W should strive for fewer pages, making it easier for information seekers.
And yes, I know, I know. Money from ads helps lower printing and distribution costs, but a government-subsidized publication competes with private business owners who have additional expenses that public agencies don’t pay. Yes, I am a capitalist at heart who believes government shouldn’t go head to head with private businesses.
Recently I ran a Frye Readability Graph on the 2013-2014 Maine Hunting and Trapping booklet, and came up with a reading level consistent with many newspapers, magazines, novels, nonfiction, etc. – a 10th-grade level. That’s easy enough for an average high-school graduate to understand the law book – if concepts are logical and wording well-written.
These days “reading level” is a buzzword, and few people stop to think what defines the concept. The Frye method counts the number of syllables and sentences in three 100-word sections in a writing, and a graph determines grade level.
Here’s an eye popper about some reading-level tests: In the 1970s, I found a reading test copyrighted in the early 1930s, in which students read a 40-word list and defined each word from four,multiple-choice answers. The last five test words were “commodious, sedulous, pugnacious, contumacious” and “disepalous.” Students needed to get all 40 words, including those five, to be reading on an eighth-grade level.
I’ve often wondered who decides that eighth-graders need to know those five words. When I mention these test words to folks, “disepalous” (pronounced with a short e) often floors them, but the root is “sepal” (enunciated with a long e), a botanical word. The different pronunciations trip folks up.
In the 1930s, seventh- and eighth-graders in topnotch schools might have learned these words from studying Latin and Greek.
Which brings up a point: Last November, a Maine deer-hunting law involving Bill Woodward’s grandson challenged Bill, a retired DIF&W fisheries biologist, and me – a topic for a future column.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: