"For the sportsman, the questions that matter boil down to this: What will the candidate do for conservation?"
In this Oct. 20, 2022, file photo, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills participates in a discussion after a news conference at Morse High School in Bath. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Matt Dunlap is an outdoors writer from Old Town, a former Maine secretary of state and is a former board member, executive director and also is a life member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He is also a founding board member of the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association. The views expressed here are his alone and he does not offer to speak for either group.

Elections sometimes present tough choices for sportsmen. That isn’t the case this year by a long shot in the race for Maine governor. In recent news stories, the withdrawal of former Gov. Paul LePage from the candidate rating process conducted by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has drawn a lot of attention. LePage was given an “A” rating in 2014; in 2018, the group endorsed Republican nominee Shawn Moody. So why did LePage pull out?

He says it’s because the alliance pushed for a pledge for funding projects in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “They just want money,” he was quoted as saying

Let’s get back to that “A” rating LePage took with him on the campaign trail in 2010. That year, he had no problem pledging full support for a host of DIF&W initiatives — until he was elected. After that, he did nothing for those projects. He was far more focused on other things — like picking fights.

Gov. Janet Mills, however, has taken a vastly different approach. Putting the endorsement of her opponent in 2018 aside, Mills, herself a devoted angler and strong supporter of the outdoor economy, set aside $20 million in American Rescue Plan funding to improve the New Gloucester and Grand Lake Stream hatcheries, and led the effort to replenish the Land for Maine’s Future program with $40 million including expanded hunting and fishing opportunities. This is the largest financial commitment to the program in nearly 25 years.

Oh, but there’s more. She supported expansion of DIF&W’s crucial Landowner Relations Program,  allocated $50 million for improvements to the state park system, worked with the Legislature to reorganize and reinvigorate the Information and Education Division at DIF&W with another $250,000 for marketing (which only further boosts the outdoor economy), and she supported  a new antlerless deer permit program that not only better distributes desired permits, but channels the revenues into critical winter habitat preservation in areas where deer populations are under great stress.

Sportsmen would understandably marvel that all of this has happened without raising license fees or other taxes.

Historically, while elections highlight partisan differences between party nominees, adherents of outdoor issues have not paid much attention to the spectrum of partisan pedigrees. For the outdoorsman, the questions that matter boil down to this: What will the candidate do for conservation? What will the future look like when this candidate, once elected, is setting the table for future generations of hunters and anglers? In these times, outdoorsmen are looking for maturity and vision.

Mills can bring together people of different views — including Democrats, Republicans, public safety officials, public health officials, members of the judicial system, advocates, community members and more — to implement lasting public safety reforms. She used this approach to pass Maine’s landmark yellow flag law, which now serves as a national model for violence prevention without infringing on the rights of law-abiding sportsmen.

The choice for governor this year is pretty clear: Janet Mills. I for one can’t wait to see what she’ll do for our natural resources over the next four years. Oh, and by the way, she likes the idea of a new hatchery, which would be the first new fish hatchery in close to 70 years. Young anglers have a lot to look forward to after this election.