GREENVILLE — Wardens with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are gearing up efforts to keep snowmobile trails safe for winter enthusiasts.
Within the next few days, wardens will start their snowmobile trail checks to ensure that drivers are sober and their vehicles are registered. These trail checks are similar to roadblocks conducted by police in search of motorists who are operating while under the influence of intoxicating liquor and for motor vehicle violations.
As wardens devote more time to these efforts, however, less time is available for the department’s original mission — the protection of fish and wildlife. That doesn’t please some department employees, especially Lt. Pat Dorian of Greenville headquarters.
“This snowmobile issue is getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and there’s just no way that we can continue to deal with all the different things that we are responsible for,” Dorian said Friday.
Time spent on special snowmobile details, searches for missing people, investigating of snowmobile accidents and following up on court cases cuts severely into the enforcement of fish and wildlife issues, wardens claim.
“I guess we’re all a bit taken aback by the volume of [snowmobile] accidents we’ve had already,” Dorian said. So far, two fatalities have occurred this season.
It doesn’t help the department’s safety efforts to have snowmobile manufacturers advertise the high speeds that these machines can reach, according to Dorian. He said the Maine Snowmobile Association and his department have worked hard to ensure that people drive responsibly, but it doesn’t help when an advertisement depicts snowmobiles traveling like rockets, he said.
“That’s sending the wrong message,” Dorian said.
For Dorian, scheduling wardens to cover all the work in his division has not been an easy task.
“I’ll tell you, it’s tough trying to do everything,” he said. When Dorian places wardens on special snowmobile details, those not involved on the details must cover their own territory as well as that of those on the special assignments.
Dorian said that last year 51 to 52 percent of the snowmobile accidents in the state were in the section that includes Moosehead Lake to Jackman. Because of this, the wardens covering this territory spent the least amount of time enforcing fishing regulations, he said. They obviously spent significant amounts of their time through four months last winter covering snowmobile accidents, he added.
“Game wardens were put here originally to protect the resource, i.e. fish and wildlife, and this is one more responsibility that we’ve taken on, and we’re [the department] not being compensated for it,” Dorian said.
In his division alone last winter, Dorian said that a minimum of $104,000, including salaries and overtime pay, was spent for snowmobile enforcement from Jan. 1 through April 30.
“We’re putting a heck of a lot of effort into something that we’re not even getting a small percentage of return back [from snowmobile registration funds],” he said.
And that effort continues. Dorian said much emphasis will be placed this winter on trail checks both during the daytime and at night in the Millinocket, Greenville and Jackman areas, which are considered high-use areas for snowmobile traffic.
“Our mode this year is, no question, zero tolerance [of intoxication], and we’re very on top of it,” he said.