The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund Board met on Wednesday, April 6, with a substantially diminished pot of money to distribute in grants. This fund gets its money from an instant lottery game and the board awards the profits from the game to wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation projects twice a year.
Since its inception, over 700 projects have received $15.5 million from the Fund. But the program’s revenue has steadily declined due to a lack of support from the legislature, governor, and Maine Lottery Commission. When the Fund’s instant lottery game began, it was one of five $1 games. Today it is one of thirty-eight games, and stuck in a category ($1 tickets) that is not competitive with more lucrative and popular games that cost more money to play.
On Wednesday board members faced the difficult task of sorting through fifty-six requests for a total of $900,000, while having only $365,000 to award. At one time the program awarded over $1 million per year in grants.
A widely diverse group of projects received funding today, from river birds to wildlife habitat connectivity to Hemlock Wooly Adelgid management to public outreach for offshore wind energy development to ocean acidity.
Also funded were projects for the Sebago to the Sea Trail (a project that Commissioner Beardsley labeled “the best we’ve had in terms of regional impact”), Down East Sunrise Trail, the Cathance River Wetlands Conservation Project, the Dry Mills Fish Hatchery, the East Branch of the Penobscot River habitat, and the recovery of the Cottontail Rabbit.
Many projects received only partial funding. For example, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine submitted a request for $10,000 to help build a comprehensive list of small landowners, so they can be informed and educated about issues, programs, and projects that would benefit them as landowners. SWOAM’s executive director, Tom Doak, presented a compelling case for the project, and in response to a question, said he thought the project could be completed if the MOHF contributed $5,000 (half the request). He got it.
Doak’s group also got $8,000 to create an educated and motivated group of recreationists who work with landowners to resolve problems from the woodlot to the State House, improve wildlife habitat, and maintain on-going relationships (By way of full disclosure, I have agreed to work on this project and will receive some of these funds).
I focused my attention on applications from the Department of Conservation and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The commissioners of both agencies sit on the Fund’s Board.
Commissioner Chandler Woodcock of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reported that his agency’s top priority applications concerned brook trout, deer, and moose. The deer and moose applications would support population assessments of those two species. The trout application concerned conservation programs in headwater streams.
Commissioner Bill Beardsley of the Department of Conservation, who surprised board members when he expressed his opinion that the program’s policies for grant awards do not match the principles in the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund law, said all of his agency’s applications are important and he preferred not to select priorities.
Woodcock got mixed results. His agency’s deer project was awarded $18,000 ($2,000 less than requested). The agency’s brook trout project won full funding at $8,627. Commissioner Woodcock pulled the moose application from consideration as the board struggled with a grouping of worthy projects and a dearth of available funding.
Losing out today were projects involving loons, road stream crossings, smelt spawning habitat, the Damariscotta Mill Fish Ladder restoration, Marine Mammals, Popham Beach sand dunes, Swan Island facilities restoration, the Sebasticook River conservation project, collars for the Warden Service’s canines, and work on the Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in wild turkeys.
The future of this program may be in jeopardy, as its source of revenue continues to decline and Governor Paul LePage, along with Maine legislators, tackle the very difficult task of reducing state spending all across the board. Although diminished, the money in this Fund may look very attractive to those who are scouring the state cupboard looking for any available crumbs.
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