May 24, 2020

Sticker fee to target milfoil Noncompliance with law likely, state officials say

This summer anyone who launches a boat into Maine’s inland waters is supposed to obtain a special sticker that aims to raise money for state efforts to combat invasive plants like milfoil. However, state officials are estimating only 40 percent of boat owners will comply with the new law.

The stickers cost $10 for residents and $20 for nonresidents and are available from town offices and establishments that sell fishing licenses.

Those who launch boats into lakes and rivers without the triangular green and blue stickers face fines of up to $250.

Fines for launching a boat that is contaminated with invasive plant fragments or in a quarantined area range as high as $5,000.

Still, the head of the Maine warden service believes that the majority of boat owners will not buy a sticker.

Speaking at a milfoil summit in Augusta Thursday, Col. Tim Peabody said he estimates that less than half of boat owners will comply with the sticker law this year.

He said he did not believe town clerks and agents who sell hunting and fishing licenses and will now sell the stickers have any way to compel people to buy them.

That leaves him wondering how his wardens, who are responsible for enforcing the law in the woods, are going to uphold the law. It also leaves store owners wondering what to tell customers who refuse to buy them.

Peabody said he and his wardens are meeting next week to discuss how to enforce the sticker law, which was passed by only a one-vote margin in the Legislature last year.

Should they immediately kick a family off a lake because their boat doesn’t have a sticker? Should they issue a warning? Should wardens carry stickers in their pockets and sell them to people who don’t have them?

These were questions Peabody asked rhetorically to the 100 people who gathered at the Saint Paul Center to hear about combating invasive plants, which have yet to choke off lakes in Maine as they have in many other states.

Although the new law commits money from the sticker program to hire up to six new wardens to enforce it, Peabody said he doesn’t expect to raise a lot the first year. The money won’t be available until well into the summer, when it will be too late to hire and train new wardens to help with the invasive species program. Peabody said he can’t hire the wardens up front and hope for the money later.

In addition to ensuring that boats display the new stickers, wardens will be expected to be on the lookout for boats and trailers that are carrying invasive plants.

Peabody estimates that there are 129,000 boats registered in Maine with 120,000 of them being used for recreational purposes. Although there is no way to count them, Peabody estimated 40,000 boats from other states are used in Maine waters.

If 40 percent of these boat owners buy stickers, approximately $800,000 would be raised. The sticker revenue is divided between the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which includes the warden service. DEP will get 60 percent of sticker revenue, with the DIF&W getting 40 percent. The agents who sell the stickers take $1 off the top.

The money that is raised will be used to pay for DIF&W’s enforcement and education efforts and DEP’s monitoring of Maine lakes to watch for infestations.

Thelma Thomas of Rangeley, however, wondered what she should tell boat owners, especially those from Massachusetts, who resist buying the stickers. Thomas helps run a convenience store owned by her niece, and she said she is concerned that some people may become upset when told they must buy a sticker.

Peabody acknowledged that it could be problematic to some people that the sticker is solely a means of raising money for the state and that it in no way means that a boat has been declared free of invasive plants.

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