Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

August 18, 2011 @ 10:00 a.m.
New Harbor Fire Station
Rt. 130, New Harbor

Attending:       Chandler E. Woodcock, Commissioner
                        Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
                        John Boland, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
                        Mark Stadler, Wildlife Division Director
                        Sandy Ritchie, Habitat Conservation Biologist
                        Joel Wilkinson, Warden Service Colonel
                        Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
                        COUNCIL MEMBERS
                        Steve Philbrick, Chair
                        Cathy DeMerchant, Vice-Chair
                        Ron Usher
                        Mike Witte     
                        Dick Thurston
                        Alan Greenleaf – by phone
                        Representative Jane Eberle
                        Judy Finley
                        Dan Wagner, Maine Trapper’s Association   
                        Lisa Bates
I.  Call to Order

Steve Philbrick, Council Chair, called the meeting to order.

II.  Introductions

Introductions were made.

III.  Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

This agenda item was not discussed.  June meeting minutes will be added for approval at the September meeting.

Mr. Philbrick stated we would take agenda items out of order while we waited for a quorum.

VII.  Public Comments & Questions

Dan Wagner stated he had some comments regarding the beaver trapping rule, specifically about the trigger being moved to the side on the 330’s in the spring.  It was being considered as a conservation method to reduce the harvest of otters in the spring.  Biologist John DePue had talked about moving the triggers to the side of the trap to create a larger opening for a 330 so the otters could swim through.  This was used in some states with some effectiveness.  Mr. Wagner thought we could create a lot more problems with that than we were going to fix.  It was generally used in states that had otter reintroduction programs or where they could not afford to have any otters caught so any otter that did swim through with success, would be considered a success.  He thought our priorities in Maine were different than most states.  He thought we had one of the most healthy otter populations in the country.  Our maximum sustainable otter harvest per season would be considered 1,800.  The closest we had come to that was around 1,200, and in recent years only 600 – 800.  We shifted the harvest because there’s less effort being put into beaver trapping in the winter time.  Our recent opening of new spring seasons had shifted the effort in spring to beaver.  That was where the incidental otter catch had come up higher, because of the shift in season.  He thought this change might be premature because moving triggers to the side could result in beaver being caught further back on the body, which was a violation of best management practices; realizing also that catching otter in the spring time or out of season would be a violation of best management practices.  He wanted everyone to be aware, if they weren’t, of the other problems that may come with moving the triggers to the side.

Dan Wagner stated he was an avid trapper and trapped full time seasonally.  He’d moved triggers to the side to try to avoid otters, and he knew other trappers that had.  He immediately noticed an increase in beavers caught back further on the body and they tend to stay alive for days.  The conibear trap was designed to be a killer trap, and with triggers in the center or anywhere else they did function as that.  He also noticed that some otters were caught by the tail and caught by the hind end.  An otter acts like an alligator when caught, and would spin and break the wire and you would lose everything.  He thought what might be a better direction to look in for the time being was maybe require otters to be tagged as male/female so we would know how many females we were taking in the spring and possibly require otters to be tagged within a certain amount of time of being caught which was done in bobcat hunting.  The otter season was in the fall, it ended December 31.  You were supposed to have your otter tagged by then legally.  It was a gray area and not really looked at, but some trappers would catch otter in December and not tag them until April because technically, you only need to have the otter that you incidentally caught from January to April tagged by the end of the beaver season.  Sometimes when the otters were harvested were getting skewed towards spring as well so it looked like you caught more in the spring than you actually did.  For better management for otters, we should know how many females we were actually catching in the spring.  In doing his own polls, Mr. Wagner had seen an 80-90% male capture rate on otters in the spring.  Right now, any otter caught in the spring was being treated as though it may be a female.  We needed to educate ourselves has to how many were actually being caught.  Moving the triggers to the side could be used as a back up plan maybe.  It was not a free pass for an otter to get through the trap.

Mr. Stadler stated he would like to know if Mr. Wagner was speaking on behalf of MTA or as an individual.

Mr. Wagner stated MTA held their annual spring meeting and voted unanimously not to support John DePue’s proposal.  He was speaking on behalf of the MTA.

Mr. Stadler stated, as Mr. Wagner indicated, the trapping season for otter legally ended December 31st.  Otter was a CITES species, it was covered by the Convention and International Trade in Endangered Species.  That meant for us to have an otter trapping program, IF&W had to document annually to the USFWS that our otter harvest met certain standards.  If our otter harvest did not meet that standard we would lose our ability to trap otter in Maine.  Trappers knew there were special tags required for bobcat and otter.  CITES tag is require by the Federal Government because of the Convention and International Trade in Endangered Species for look alike species.  By having the CITES designation we were able to take and export otter and bobcat as part of our fur harvest.

Mr. Stadler stated otter were part of the weasel family, and had delayed implantation.  When the female was bred, it was actually 1 year later that she gave birth.  They begin to give birth in March and April, so the females were very pregnant at that time.  We had extended the beaver trapping seasons and provided all the opportunity we could to take beaver to prevent nuisance problems.  Incidental take of beaver and muskrat could occur during the extended trapping season.  The otter trapping season ended December 31.  What we were trying to do was provide some legal cover for trappers who accidentally took an otter during that time period.  Otters were currently going at 4 times the price of beaver.  By extending the trapping season for beaver we were taking otter.  In 2010 20% of the otter harvest occurred outside the normal otter season.  In 2011 he believed it was 10%. 

Mr. Stadler stated what other states had done to minimize the take of otter is they required on conibears that trappers tie together the triggers so that there’s a trigger on the side of the trap.  That meant the otters could get through, but the beaver, because they’re fatter, trigger it and get caught.  The State of New York had done 2 levels of research on the technique.  They did laboratory studies and they also tested it in the field.  They found there was no statistical difference between the catch rates and efficiencies of the two traps and they were just as efficient and not anymore single jaw catches than with the other trigger.  They were using this in New York and North Carolina.  The proposed rule asked trappers to go from one type of trigger set to another to allow otter to pass through.

Lisa Bates asked what the sample size was for the studies.

Mr. Stadler stated the number was 105, the findings were no significant difference between experimental and standard trigger.

Mr. Wagner stated he just wanted everyone to be aware of everything associated with what may happen.  His personal experience with moving triggers to the side had been noticeable foul catch, a violation of best management practices.  The trappers were not doing this to support being able to harvest more otters in the spring when they were pregnant.  He felt it would be wise to have otters tagged as male or female.  Right now we needed to kill at least 4,000 more beaver per year in order to sustain their population.  16,000 would be a good number to kill on beaver and we had not been able to attain that. 

Mr. Philbrick asked Mr. Stadler to comment on the male/female aspect of the tagging process.

Mr. Stadler stated he felt it was unnecessary to add that level of complication because all we were asking was to move the triggers together and move them 8” off to the side.  It had been studied in NC and NY and he thought those results were transferrable to New England.  If we wanted to kill more otters we should extend the otter season. 

VI.  Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

Mr. Philbrick requested that the 2012 moose lottery in Rangeley be held on June 23rd.

Commissioner Woodcock accepted June 23rd as the date for the 2012 moose lottery drawing.

IV.  Rule Making

            A.  Step 3

1.  2011 – 12 Migratory Bird Season

Mr. Stadler stated this was an accelerated process.  The USFWS provided the sideboards within which the State of Maine could establish waterfowl seasons.  The Department met with the Waterfowl Council on August 17th and reviewed the proposal.  That evening, a public hearing was held at the Augusta Armory and Kelsey Sullivan made the presentation to those in attendance.  After the presentation members of the public were allowed to indicate whether they supported or opposed the proposal.  As part of that process, on page 1 of the proposal about ducks, not including mergansers, North and South seasons, there was a proposal from the floor that instead of October 1 – October 22 and November 8 – November 24, it would run from October 3 – October 22 and November 7  - November 24.  The difference being, the current season starts on Saturday, and with that modification it would start on Monday.  The Waterfowl Council deliberated on that and rejected it.

Mr. Stadler stated paragraph 6, the special falconry season, we had to make a 1-day adjustment in the South zone season.  The framework is 107 days and we added a second youth day in the south zone and so to compensate that additional youth day we had to subtract 1 day from the overall season.  The falconry season in the South zone would be January 7 to February 28.  That proposal was accepted by the Waterfowl Council. 

Mr. Stadler stated the most significant point of discussion was the modification to the North/South zone line.  This was something that the agency and waterfowl hunters had been discussing for a number of years; trying to fine tune the boundary line so as to provide the most hunting opportunity possible given the climatic conditions that exist across the state.  The Feds allow us every 5 years to make minor changes to the North/South line.  This was because of the Harvest Information Data (HIP) that they collected from waterfowl hunters.  The data was entered into a system that helped to provide population estimates for the waterfowl across North America. Mr. Stadler stated the proposal would add WMD 16 to the South Zone.  At the public hearing comments were strongly in opposition to that.  The Department’s sense was that out in the broader population of waterfowl hunters, this proposal was supported but those people failed to show up at the public hearing.  In addition, a member of the public presented a petition at the hearing with 50 signatures requesting that we not move forward with the change in zone line.

Mr. Stadler stated the Waterfowl Council recommended that we table that part of the proposal and bring it back for the 2012 season.  The Department would hold informational meetings to try to explain better what we were trying to do and to see if there was support.  Kelsey Sullivan checked with USFWS and made sure that a tabling motion would not disrupt the Department’s ability to move forward with the zone change in the future, and the Service advised it would not.

Mr. Stadler stated we were proposing to delete from the rulemaking proposal the zone change.  The Department would hold informational meetings to discuss the zone change so that it may be brought back in 2012.

Mr. Philbrick stated he would like the record to show that the meeting was officially opened at 11:20 a.m. and the proposal was presented.  There were no further questions regarding the proposal.

Motion made by Mr. Thurston and seconded by Mr. Witte  to accept the proposal as amended.
Vote:  Unanimous - motion passed.

2.  2011 – 2012 Furbearer trapping/hunting rules

Mr. Stadler stated last year we adopted regulations for WMDs 14, 18 and 19 to address concerns about observation of Canada lynx in those WMDs.  That was done by emergency rulemaking.  The Department felt that the conibear restrictions that were put in place were appropriate, but  we were proposing to remove the foothold trap requirement specifications as provided by the Consent Decree because WMDs 14, 18 and 19 were not part of Maine’s Consent Decree.  Under part 1-A. of the rule we eliminated the use of Hancock traps as a legal device for recreational beaver trapping.  The MTA had also requested that the use of wood base rat traps be legal devices for taking weasels and squirrels during the trapping season.  The trap would have to be recessed in a wooden box with a hole no larger than 2 ½ “ in diameter.  In paragraph K we eliminated the sunset on the setback requirements.  In the last paragraph we were providing for the use of conibears on the ground in WMDs 7, 14, 18 and 19 as long they were set within a lynx exclusion device. 

There were no further questions.

Motion made by Mr. Thurston and seconded by Mr. Usher  to accept the proposal as presented.
Vote:  Unanimous - motion passed.

3.  2011 Expanded Archery (Marsh Island)

Mr. Stadler stated the Department had been working with Old Town and Orono and the University of Maine for several years to try to develop some form of controlled deer hunting on Marsh Island due to many nuisance complaints.  After a number of years of controlled hunting, we received the ok from Orono and Old Town to include Marsh Island into the expanded archery hunting zone for the Bangor area.  University land would not be open to hunting.  The Department would post a notation on the webpage for that zone that the University of Maine lands in Orono and Old Town were not open to hunting during the expanded archery season.  We had done similar for lands associated with Camden Hills State Park in Rockport.

Motion made by Mrs. DeMerchant and seconded by Mr. Thurston  to accept the proposal as presented.

Vote:  Unanimous - motion passed.

            B.  Step 2

1.  2011-12 Beaver Season/Closures       

Mr. Stadler stated most of the discussion had already taken place regarding the otter situation.  The proposal, besides the offset trigger for conibears, made some changes in the beaver trapping seasons for 2011 and 2012.  He discussed the dates listed in the proposal.  We had received public comment that they would like to see WMD 27 added into the season opening November 1.  Biologists had reviewed and approved that request.  The rule would also correct an error and restore foothold traps during a portion of the season.

2.  2011 Fall Turkey Season

Mr. Stadler stated the proposal would make modifications to the turkey hunting zones.  It would remove WMDs 24 and 25 from Zone 1 and move them into Zone 2.  This would provide more hunting opportunity in the fall in those WMDs.  This was based on population estimates for those WMDs based on the spring harvest, they felt additional hunting opportunity could be provided.  In Zone 3, we were adding WMD 26.

Mr. Witte asked how much time the extension was.

Mrs. Ritchie stated in WMDs 24 and 25 we would increase fall hunting opportunity from a 2 week bow season and 1 week of shotgunning to a 4 week bow season and 1 week of shotgunning.  In WMD 26 we would add a week of shotgunning.

            C.  Step 1

1.  Spring Turkey Season

Mr. Stadler stated this proposal would make the spring turkey season a generic season.  Over the years IF&W had converted most of it’s hunting seasons to generic seasons so we would not have to go through rulemaking every year to promulgate exact dates.  Mrs. DeMerchant had passed on comments from a constituent requesting to open the turkey season earlier, at the end of April.  Biological staff felt that starting May 1 was better.  The proposal would start the season the Monday closest to May 1 and go for 5 consecutive weeks.  An earlier opening could be explored in the future.  The proposal also included the elimination of the even-odd birth date system of issuing turkey hunting permits.

V.  Other Business

Lily Pond petition

Commissioner Woodcock stated we held a public hearing regarding the request and petition signed by about 30 people from the area that we eliminate motorboats with gas powered engines on Lily Pond.  The public hearing had no one in opposition to that request.  We had, since the hearing, received written comments from a group of local fishermen indicating that they didn’t see need for the restriction because the overlapping nature of the fishing season on Lily Pond and the recreational swimming season was almost nonexistent.  The water was so cold during the first initial phase of the fishing season that there was no or very little swimming going on.  When the water warmed, the fishing, in effect, ended so there really wasn’t a conflict of horsepower vs. swimmer.  The group was concerned about the danger aspect of motor boats on what is an admittedly small body of water.  The Commissioner and others toured the pond following the hearing.  There was very little development around the pond, but a subdivision had been scheduled on the body of water.  He felt the request was more preventative in nature rather than an actuality regarding the conflict.  Because of all of the comments concerning Lily Pond and the opposition that was voiced, it seemed that the petition should not go forward.  We would leave it the way it was and react if there were any incidents.  To the Department’s knowledge there had been no incidents reported.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated that Council member Jeff Lewis also attended the public hearing and was supportive of not taking that away from anglers.

FY2011 Search & Rescue Expenses

Colonel Wilkinson stated this was at the request of one of the Council members, and although he was not certain what type of information was being requested, he would give it from an overview perspective.  He distributed a handout to the Council (see packet) and discussed. 

Colonel Wilkinson stated in 2011 we had an increase in calls for service for Search & Rescue (S&R) but the cost of those searches actually went down.  It was roughly $281,000 to run the S&R program last year for 513 calls.  In 2009 when preparing the 2010/2011 budget we broke out S&R from the general operations budget, and there was actually general fund appropriation that was made to cover that and it was to deal with issues that sportsmen and woman were concerned that there was just hunting and fishing dollars looking for all those people.  We received in FY11 $368,146 of which we used $281,000.  Although searches were up, we were under budget.  Budgeting for S&R could be problematic as you never knew how many searches you would be conducting in any given year.  When creating the budget for S&R we looked at 5 year trends.

Colonel Wilkinson stated we had taken our S&R database and updated it to be in line with the international S&R database.  In the past we worked by NASAR standards, but our own categories for tracking were in line with the national statistics.  National statistics are very important because that is what is used in the National database to build probabilities into lost person profiles.  In doing so, there are now 36 categories instead of 12. 

Colonel Wilkinson discussed some notable searches.  Warden Service took great pride in the S&R program.  We were very unique in Maine as most states had multiple jurisdictions that had the responsibility.  By statute, the Warden Service had sole responsibility for inland search and rescue as well as recovery for drowning victims.    

Council Member Questions and Comments
Mr. Usher asked if there was an increase to organize volunteer firemen.  Had they been participating with us?

Colonel Wilkinson stated it was regional.  Municipalities had their own organized police departments and fire departments.  We have tried, through our regional staff, to work with them and provide understanding of roles and responsibilities.  Ultimately, Warden Service was responsible.  Local municipalities had many resources and without volunteer S&R resources we couldn’t do what we do. 

Mr. Witte asked about the figures for each search.  What comprised that figure, was there overtime?  A warden’s salary, unless he worked overtime, was not part of the figure?

Colonel Wilkinson stated the cost and the grand total line would include personal services and all other. There was also a rate established for airplane hours, ATV hours, etc.  Those rates did need to be updated.  Personal services costs are meal expenses, lodging, etc.  The warden’s base salary would not be part of the figure, but overtime would.

Representative Eberle asked if the general fund money that was not spent could be carried over?

Colonel Wilkinson stated it was his understanding that money not used would be carried over.  That was done so we could clearly identify a known general fund expense so when we went through the budget exercise we had a known for that cost.  That way if there was impact to our general fund we would clearly articulate if it was taken from S&R what the impacts would be.  A lot of other S&R functions were supported by federal grants and other special revenue accounts.  If anyone had questions about our role in S&R, one thing that was really important was that a lot of the equipment used by game wardens to check fishermen and hunters were purchased through grant money because we did search and rescue.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the search and rescue phase of the Department had been emphasized more this year than need be because of all the missions they’d had to undertake.  He’d had discussions with Edie Smith about the emphasis on search and rescue and he wanted to assure them they’d be seeing press on that.  He also wanted to compliment the State Police and the DOC for their assistance in the S&R operations. 

Colonel Wilkinson stated he would like to discuss an upcoming program.  This was not available yet, but he wanted to give some highlights to the group.  We recognized a few years ago that a lot of the alzheimers, autism, special needs, were repeat searches.  We were searching for them 2 and 3 times.  Sometimes it was due to care giver responsibilities or the nature of their personalities, and it seemed to be common in the spring that these individuals needed to get out.  We were approached by members of the Maine Autism Association about a year ago and they wanted us to partner in what they call Project Lifesaver.  It’s a project that allows for telemetry gear to be deployed to a safety agency that was responding to somebody and the high risk individual would wear a bracelet.  The gear would be strategically placed around the state and the same would be deployed on our aircraft including Forestry that works with us. 

Colonel Wilkinson stated the program sounded good, but the management of it was very complex.  We had worked through all that and were committed to partnering with them to kick the program off.  The goal was spring of 2012.  The entire program would be funded by private grant money in which members of the Maine Autism Association as well as Alzheimer’s would write the grants to acquire the equipment.  Our entire aviation fleet would be equipped as well as 33 other police agencies in the state that wanted to partner with us.  We were going to have the receiver gear available to them with the registered frequencies of any of the individual patients or high risk individuals and we would administer the law enforcement aspect.  ME Autism and Alzheimer’s was working on the process of the patient side, the application process, who that’s routed through, how it’s funded, who would meet the criteria of a free bracelet vs. who would have to pay, etc.  Colonel Wilkinson thought when the program was launched we would have finds that were relatively quick and would save the state money.  Also it was funded by private monies and there were very little public dollars associated with it.

C&R Fishing Regs; partridge

This agenda item would be discussed at the September meeting.

VIII.  Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in Rangeley at 10:00 a.m.

IX.  Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Thurston and that was seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.