Moose, Deer, Fish, and Landowner Relations - Today at the Legislature

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The legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee received a number of reports today on issues from moose to coldwater fisheries. Following those presentations, the committee worked on a number of bills on deer, moose, fisheries funding, and landowner relations.

Lee Kantar, deer/moose biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, presented the moose management report. The report is very interesting and I’ll write more about it later.

Kantar claimed that Maine would be leading the nation in moose research and management and described new research initiatives, including surveys using Maine Forest Service helicopters and pilots. With very limited funding, Kantar has launched an impressive number of projects – sometimes with the help of volunteers such as hunters of shed antlers. But without doubt, this is another example of how a very valuable resource is getting insufficient attention because the agency lacks funding.

“We’ve gone a long way… but it’s limited,” acknowledged Kantar. When asked by Rep. Jane Eberle how many moose we have, Kantar said he couldn’t answer that question definitively. But he did provide an estimate of 75,000 moose, a very high number that will embolden those calling for more hunting permits. Kantar warned against that, noting the importance of balancing all demands for moose from tourism to hunting.

Committee members praised Kantar for his work and presentation, including detailed answers to their many questions. Later, DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock called Kantar, “the top moose biologist in the country.”

Coldwater Fisheries

Several members of DIF&W’s Cold Water Fisheries Working Group were on hand for that report, presented by Dave Boucher, recently promoted from regional fisheries biologist to fisheries management supervisor.

Before he began his presentation, Commissioner Woodcock announced that he would be organizing working groups for brook trout and landlocked salmon, to provide ongoing advice to his fisheries division on the management of those two species.

I’m not even going to try to summarize the 60-page report but will write a detailed report as soon as possible.

Boucher reported that lack of staff and resources was severely limiting the agency’s fisheries work. “We’ve had nearly 25 percent of our staff positions vacant for a long time,” he said.

Dennis Smith of Otter Creek, a fisheries activist whose advocacy for landlocked salmon led to the legislature to direct DIF&W to issue today’s report, was on hand for its presentation.

Streamlining Task Force Report

Yesterday the Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on recommendations to achieve $25 million in savings in the state’s current-year budget. $188,000 of those savings was targeted for DIF&W. The agency met the target with a couple dozen small reductions, including heating for a game warden’s home and eliminating the annual printing of law changes. One of the biggest items, $10,831, would be achieved by eliminating advertising in The Maine Sportsman and the Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Work Session

LD 274, An Act to Increase Moose Permit Allocations for Zones 2 and 3. The bill was unanimously killed, as unnecessary.

LD 1613 An Act To Strengthen the Relationship between Land Users and Landowners. This bill, proposed by the Small Woodland Owners Association in collaboration with DIF&W, is a work in progress. So the bill was tabled.

LD 1652, An Act to Ensure a Reliable Funding Stream for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye, the bill remains tabled at his direction, in order to give him time to create a definitive proposal through a stakeholders group including a few legislators and representatives of the Maine Tourism Association, SAM, The Nature Conservancy, and Maine Audubon. March 7 is the target date for coming back to the committee with a definitive proposal.

LD 1242, An Act to Restore the Deer Herd in Certain Wildlife Management Districts in Maine, sponsored by Rep. Dave Burns of Washington County. The bill started out as a comprehensive proposal to rebuild the deer herd. It’s moved into a discussion of the creation of a permanent DIF&W advisory group on deer management.

Rep. Burns explained how far Washington County has fallen, from leading the state in the annual deer harvest at one time, to trailing the rest of the state today, and emphasized the need for a group separate from the existing Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council, to focus all of its attention on deer.

My opinion is that the Deer Task Force (an exceptional group chosen by DIF&W) that worked with DIF&W to create the new Maine Game Plan for Deer and a plan to reduce predation could be created in law with an enhanced role as the department implements and revises its plan down the road.

After hearing from a bunch of people including Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine and SAM’s Dave Trahan, the committee endorsed a motion:

Create a Maine Deer Task Force charged with looking at deer management issues and implementation of DIF&W’s Maine Game Plan for Deer, including representatives from the DIF&W Advisory Council (who will chair group), Maine Forest Products Council, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Trappers Association, Maine Bowhunters Association, Maine Audubon, a farm group, and the University of Maine.

Rep. Eberle had many questions about how the group would be governed and what it would do, and whether it would be duplicative of existing work. Rep. Herb Clark passionately complained about the lack of effort to rebuild the deer herd in his Millinocket region, and asked if the existing Advisory Council was doing anything, “to buck the department.”

Rep. Ellie Espling noted that the public wants to contribute to this effort to rebuild the deer herd, and we need to give them the chance to do something – a very good point. Our expectations for what DIF&W can do to rebuild the deer herd are far too high, in my opinion, especially given the agency’s lack of funding and staff. Rep. Dale Crafts made this point too – and used the example that DIF&W is able to protect deer from coyote predation in only 10 deeryards out of 2000.

The committee decided to table this bill so it can be taken up along with Senator Raye’s funding bill in March.

And then it was time for lunch!

PHOTO: DIFW's Lee Kantar presented a moose management report today at the legislature.



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