By Jeff Reardon
Once again, I am humbled by the tenacity of TU’s volunteer corps. Earlier this month, the Maine House of Representatives voted, 119-23, to override Governor Paul Lepage’s veto of a bill to ban “motorized recreational gold prospecting” in 12 of Maine’s best salmon and brook trout streams. The Maine Senate had also overcame the veto, with a unanimous 32-0 vote. Those two votes—less than 24 hours after the veto came down—capped more than two years of work by some of TU’s best activists.
Motivated by illegal activity that literally ripped apart Maine’s Cupsuptic River—a wild, remote brook trout stream that flows from a pond on the Canadian border—TU members and other conservation-minded anglers contacted me to ask if we could do something to protect brook trout from motorized prospecting. They became the nucleus of a group of grass-roots activists who pushed the Maine Legislature to pass two bills that regulate the practice state wide and ban it on some of the state’s best trout water.
The leaders of the fight were Kathy Scott and her husband David Van Burgel, both teachers. The Cupsuptic is special water to them. Joining them were a typical cross section of TU members: Mike Holt, retired from a career in Maine’s forest products industry and a second career running a fly shop; Chris Hutchins, another public school teacher; Sam Day and Mathias Deming, a pair of high school students and fishing buddies. Mike Holt edited a series of You Tube videos of people in Maine prospecting, pointing out the damage to trout habitat, and email the video to every member of the Legislature’s Environment Committee.
One of the highlights of my TU career is the moment I walked into the Committee Room for the hearing on our bill to find a group of a dozen TU members listening to the representative of the Maine Gold Prospectors, who was handing them flyers explaining how the bill was part of a national campaign by out-of-state activists to kick Mainers off their streams. One of the TU members was so angry he couldn’t speak.
In the end, when the Governor vetoed the bill after it had finally passed, those folks blitzed their legislators with calls and emails. Governor Lepage has vetoed more than 125 bills since being elected in 2010; fewer than 10 of these have been overridden. We’d been warned by Senator Tom Saviello and Representative Russell Black, co-sponsors of our bill and members of the Governor’s party, that an override was going to be very difficult. Thanks to their work and support for the bill from constituents, the override votes were overwhelming.
If you happen to enjoy an afternoon chasing brookies on the Magalloway River, South Bog Stream, the Rapid River, or one of the other fine brook trout streams that just got protected, thank a handful of teachers, a retired log buyer, a couple of high school kids, and some other folks who spoke up when they saw something on the stream that didn’t seem right. And don’t ever get those folks riled up. They’re relentless!