Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: The (Chandler) Woodcock Legacy
The Woodcock Legacy
Bob Mallard, National Vice Chair and Maine Board Member, NFC
As anyone who knows me can attest to, I am not one to throw compliments around lightly. I am also not one to mince words or pull any punches. As they say, for better or worse, I call a spade a spade. This is especially true in regard to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), an organization I hold to a very high standard due to their influence over what is most important to me — wild native fish…
Unfortunately, we now live in a world where people are too often judged by what they don’t or didn’t do, not what they do or did. Conversely, we often credit people simply for saying the right things even though they don’t do the right thing. Instead of facts, we often judge a person using politics, ideologies, prejudices, hearsay, and an ignorance of the facts.
I have been in the Maine fishing and native fish conservation arena for nearly twenty years. I have worked through three administrations, am now navigating my way into a fourth, and am very familiar with the work of former MDIFW Commissioner Bucky Owen even though I did not live here at the time. To say I have seen my share of fisheries management teams in Maine would be fair…
Access to Information…
Prior to Commissioner Woodcock taking office, I, and others, often used Maine’s Freedom of Access Act to get information from MDIFW pertaining to how our fish and wildlife were being managed.
While a necessary check-and-balance, the formal FOAA process wastes the time of all involved, as well as taxpayer money as the government agencies involved need to address it. But to be fair and clear, without FOAA government would not be accountable to the masses and our resources would suffer accordingly.
Within weeks of taking office, Commissioner Woodcock reached out to me to discuss how we could move forward in a less disruptive and more productive manner. After a short and friendly conversation, we shook hands, and thus began a period of eight years without a single FOAA request on my part, or the part of NFC.
I am a huge fan of email, it is efficient and provides a much-needed audit trail when working with government agencies. Commissioner Woodcock was the rare government official who not only responded to their emails, but did so in a timely manner. Rarely did I, or NFC, have to wait more than a few days for a response, and if we did, it opened up with an apology for being late.
For roughly the first year and a half of NFCs existence, Commissioner Woodcock worked directly with us to make sure we were getting the support we needed, and that the answers we were getting were representative of his positions not just those of the rank-and-file. This worked quite well for all involved IMHO, especially the resource.
Support for Rare Arctic Charr..
Within weeks of forming NFC, the Maine chapter approached MDIFW Commissioner Woodcock with a proposal to post informational signs at Maine’s rare Arctic char waters.
We asked to meet with Woodcock to discuss our idea. Having seen the proposed sign in advance, he said he thought it was a good idea, asked for a couple of small verbiage changes, and extended his hand to seal the deal.
There were no formal Memorandum of Understanding requirements placed on us, no challenges as to our agenda or ability to deliver, just a brief and friendly meeting that resulted in us getting something done to benefit a rare wild native fish.
Maine’s State Heritage Fish Law…
The State Heritage Fish (SHF) law was the most significant initiative to protect Maine’s wild native brook trout and Arctic charr in the history of the state. This landmark legislation currently protects over 580 lakes and ponds from stocking and the dangerous use of live fish as bait.
Before he became MDIFW Commissioner, Woodcock was a state senator from Franklin County. As a senator, he was one of the legislative sponsors of the original SHF legislation. His support and position on the Fish and Wildlife legislative committee was a major reason this critically important bill was passed.
While it took nearly a decade to happen, the so-called “B-List,” waters that had been previously stocked but not in twenty-five years or more, were added to the SHF list. This happened during Woodcock’s tenure at MDIFW, and doubled the number of protected waters. Due to dangerously vague language in the “Adding Waters” section of the law, he could have easily limited, or worse, the number of waters added.
Woodcock also presided over MDIFW during the Audubon/TU/MDIFW “Remote Pond” and "Coastal Stream” survey projects, the two most extensive in-the-field volunteer efforts involving MDIFW and the public up to that time that I am aware of. This resulted in even more waters being added to the SHF list.
While I had recommended signage at the time of the original SHF hearings, nothing happened for over a decade. Wanting to address this dangerous shortcoming, NFC went to Woodcock with a proposal. There were many reasons Commissioner Woodcock could have balked at it: Recent agreement to allow NFC to post charr signs, scope of the project, landowner relations, intra-NGO politics, etc. But like the charr signs, after presenting our case we left his office with permission to move forward, including using the MDIFW logo to strengthen the message, and again, with nothing more than a handshake.
In addition to a huge volunteer effort, posting signs on Maine’s 580+ and growing SHF waters was going to cost thousands of dollars in signs and hardware, a real challenge for a small start-up non-prof like NFC. To his credit, Commissioner Woodcock helped us navigate the waters and obtain a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant which gave us what we needed to get things off the ground.
A year or so later we were faced with a proposal to remove two waters from the SHF list, one to allow for the stocking of nonnative Arctic charr, the other for what were said to be biological reasons. After personally visiting the latter to see for himself, Commissioner Woodcock removed it from consideration. As to why he removed the former, I am not sure, but had he not the impact could have been huge as it would have set a dangerous precedent.
To be clear, while we didn’t get everything we wanted in regard to the SHF law, we made significant progress during Woodcock’s time at the head of MDIFW. And in some cases, in all fairness we simply never got to propose some of our ideas which based on previous projects would likely to have been supported by Woodcock.
Live Fish as Bait…
The use of live fish as bait is a contentious issue in Maine, and a significant threat to our wild native fish. In fact, Maine is losing more wild native trout and salmon populations to nonnative minnows than nonnative gamefish.
George Smith submitted legislation to try to extend the protections afforded our State Heritage Fish waters (SHF) to their tributaries. While NFC had not been formed yet, current Maine Chair Emily Bastian and I both supported the effort. And interestingly, our failure to get the law amended is what led to the formation of NFC.
One of the problems with the proposal was that the term “tributary” has a very specific meaning under Maine law:
“Tributary: A river, stream, or brook flowing directly or indirectly into a lake, pond, or another river, stream, or brook. A lake or great pond shall not be construed to mean tributary. The tributary to a great pond shall not be considered a tributary to the outlet of that great pond (Title 12, §10001-66).”
In a nutshell, this means inlets only and only up to the first great pond, or lake or pond ten acres or larger. It does not include outlets, a dangerous shortcoming. But changing the meaning of tributary would require an amendment in and of itself so we moved forward with the understanding that while not perfect, it would be a step in the right direction.
While we were unable to convince the legislature to amend the SHF law to protect the tributaries, MDIFW was told to address the problem, albeit by policy not law. After nearly two years of negotiations, most of which occurred during Woodcock’s tenure, while not perfect, what has been proposed will protect far more water than we had asked for or could have ever hoped for.
Due to a change in governor and the obligatory changes at the department head level, this landmark proposal is now in the hands of new MDIFW Commissioner Judy Camuso who will need to sort through the facts and inconsistencies and address some problems regarding what waters will be exempted.
Chandler Woodcock came into his position as Commissioner of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) with very high expectations, and it would be fair to say, too high. This as much, or more, than anything else is why some feel he should or could have done more.
Few are as beholden to a more diverse and conflicting constituency than state fish and game agency heads. There are highly consumptive anglers and strict C&R anglers, hunters and anti-hunters, etc. The sporting lobby is strong, especially in Maine, the bait industry is influential, and the hatchery system deeply ingrained in department culture. For every point there is a counter-point, and for every group trying to do one thing there is another working against them.
Woodcock also worked under a governor who was not known for his support of the environment, conservation, or conservation organizations. To what if any extent that affected Woodcock’s positions and actions we will never know.
What Commissioner Woodcock did bring to MDIFW is civility, responsiveness, openness, and in my opinion, fairness — at least as fair as this game can ever be. He was great to work with and we always knew where he was coming from. I can’t remember ever leaving his office angry, even when we didn’t get what we wanted…
Things could have been a whole lot worse, and in fact, have been. And we can backslide as easily as we can move forward, and where we will go from here is yet to be determined. But in my near twenty years of advocating for Maine’s fishing and wild native fish, things were never better than they were under Commissioner Woodcock.
Maine NFC, and me personally, owe a great debt to Chandler Woodcock for working with us in good faith and for supporting our vision and initiatives. We consider the relationship a highly successful one and wish the commissioner nothing but the best in whatever life after MDIFW brings him.
Rather than worry about what Commissioner Woodcock didn’t do, let’s be objective and look at what he did do. And consider how he did it as that is equally important. Was Commissioner Woodcock perfect? No, no one is, especially in this game. Was he more good than bad? Absolutely, and considerably so.
Thanks Commissioner for supporting NFC, we truly appreciate it…