Important Progress on Strengthening Maine’s Endangered Species Act

We’re one step closer to strengthening Maine’s Endangered Species Act (MESA). Today, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted Ought to Pass as Amended on LD 713, An Act to Strengthen Maine’s Endangered Species Laws, sponsored by Representative Cathy Nadeau.

This is great news! A unanimous Committee Report means that the bill is very well situated as it proceeds to votes in the House and Senate.

MESA has been instrumental in ensuring that populations of listed species remain viable. Currently, 26 inland fish and wildlife species are listed as endangered under MESA, and another 25 are listed as threatened. Some species, like the Golden Eagle and Harlequin Duck, are found in other states but are rare in Maine, while others, like the Katahdin Arctic butterfly, live nowhere else in the world.

In addition to providing state-specific protections, the benefit of a state Endangered Species Act is that it can pick up slack when federal rules are under threat. MESA works in concert with both the federal Endangered Species Act and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act – but both of these important laws are currently at risk. The federal Department of the Interior (DOI) said it would no longer enforce critical aspects of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Trump administration has proposed rules that would significantly weaken the federal ESA.

It’s more important than ever that MESA is strong and effective to ensure the protection of Maine’s most vulnerable wildlife. This could be especially meaningful for species like the piping plover – a species Maine Audubon monitors and helps every breeding season – which is federally threatened and state endangered. Currently the US Fish and Wildlife Service usually takes the lead on investigating crimes related to harassing or killing plovers, but if the federal law is weakened or undermined, we will be depending more on our state wardens to play a lead role. And they will need better tools to be able to do just that.

LD 713, as amended, would remove language in MESA that requires wardens to issue simple warnings to first-time violators of the law, even if someone intentionally harms a threatened or endangered species. The bill would give wardens more flexibility over whether to issue a warning or a citation for a violation. LD 713 also sets minimum penalties for violators in line with penalties for big game laws, putting the public on notice to the seriousness with which Maine takes protecting threatened and endangered wildlife species.

Thank you to Representative Nadeau for sponsoring this important legislation. Stay tuned — we may need your help getting this bill to the finish line.