Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

ADVISORY COUNCIL MEETING
February 16, 2012 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, Upstairs Conference Room
Augusta, ME

Attending: 

Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
John Boland, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
Jim Connolly, Wildlife Division Director
Lee Kantar, Deer & Moose Biologist
Gregory Sanborn, Deputy Chief Game Warden
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
                       
COUNCIL MEMBERS
Steve Philbrick, Chair
Cathy DeMerchant, Vice-Chair
Mike Witte
Dick Thurston – by phone
Jeff Lewis
Lila Ware
Bos Savage
Wade Kelly

GUESTS
Don Kleiner, Maine Professional Guides Assoc.
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Fern Bosse, Norway
Steve Tobin, Norway
                       
                       
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

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and seconded by Mr. Savage to accept the Council minutes for the last meeting.

Vote:  unanimous – minutes accepted.

IV.  Rulemaking

            A.  Step 3

1.  Horsepower Restriction Petition, Travel Pond, Jefferson

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated a public hearing had been held and there were 5 public members in attendance.  Most of the issues that were brought forward were not for safety, they were environmental concerns.  Because the Commissioner was not moving forward with the petitioner’s request, there was no action necessary by the Advisory Council.

            B.  Step 2

1.  2012 Moose season permits

Mr. Kantar stated he felt we were in a new era of moose management.  We had the ability within the last year to do a couple of things we’d never done before.  We had adopted a helicopter survey to estimate moose numbers and felt that was very successful.  The Department had tried many different methods over the years and at its best point used forward looking infrared to estimate moose numbers in WMD 9 and then in WMD 19.  Mr. Kantar stated they had just completed surveys with reliable scientific based estimates on moose in WMDs 1 – 6, 8, 11 and 19.  That was a large portion of the best moose habitat in Maine.  Given WMD 11 we had also gotten a look at a more low population for Maine standards to a very high population estimate in WMD 4.  Three surveys had been completed for WMD 4.  That increased the sampling intensity.  When the sampling intensity was increased you increased the reliability and robustness of the data.  To have an estimate of abundance we would gain confidence and hopefully this summer he would be able to put together an estimate for the state. 

Mr. Kantar stated the second thing we had done was flown the same helicopter and done composition counts so we could look at bull, cow, calf ratios.  In the past we had relied on hunter sightings for that information.  That was good data, but we’d like additional data.  What was more important about the aerial survey during the winter was looking at adult bull, cow ratios.  The calf ratios gave us an excellent ability to model what the population looked like.  That had not been done in Maine before.  We were not able to fly up and over big mountains in the helicopter like in the Rangeley region as it would be too dangerous.  In WMD 8 we were able to figure out at way to fly one of the blocks even with the terrain. 

Mr. Kantar stated the third thing we were beginning to collect because of the later season was reproductive data on moose.  Reproductive data was incredibly important because when we looked at the ovaries, it gave us an index to carrying capacity.  It would help determine if we were carrying too many moose for that habitat.  In the past that was something we measured using yearling spread of moose.  The problem with that was we did not get a robust sample size as moose hunters in Maine were still biased against shooting yearlings.  When they selected a moose to shoot they usually selected something older.  We should always have a later season so that when we harvested cows we could collect their ovaries and get the reproductive data to inform our decision making to manage the moose population.  As a biologist they needed the ability to collect data in order to make appropriate decisions.

Mr. Kantar stated for moose management, as with deer, we had a management system that had been reviewed by the Wildlife Division.  It started with a public process so that our goals and objectives for managing moose were set by the public.  We valued public input and used that in our decision making.  Biologists meet and go over the data that’s available and make permit allocations by district.  A change was made to WMD 11 from the original proposal.  That was based on the fact that after flying the district and doing so many surveys (100 hours of flying) we got an estimate of a low moose population there.  We had spent a decade on the current permit situation so WMDs 3, 6 and 11 on the east side we had been pounding that district.  Relative to other districts it was really not as high as how Quebec harvested moose.  WMD 11 it was clear that we were below objective.  200 permits was still too high to meet management objectives in that district so we were cutting that in half to 100 permits.  We had cut back in WMD 6 as well from last year’s permit numbers.

Mr. Kantar stated the other caution we wanted to make was, when we came out with a population estimate that looked big, it shouldn’t be assumed we could just take a big slice off the top.  The variability of our moose populations from the Northwest corner up against Quebec going to the Southeast was very highly variable.  People assumed if we had a certain number of moose we could take so many, it did not work that way.  Each management district had its own goal and objective and we needed to look at that and manage appropriately. 

Mr. Kantar stated with the flying we were doing it was almost like up to the last second, and his feeling as a biologist was if we had the data right now we should use it right now and not sit on it for another year.  He gave WMD 11 as an example.  Having flown that the week before and having an estimate, he felt it behooved us to say we had a chance to change permit allocations and it was justified.  He appreciated the fact that rulemaking was happening now instead of in the fall while we were still hunting moose. 

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Savage asked Mr. Kantar where the funding came from to do the flying we were not able to do before and how did he decide which WMDs to fly.

Mr. Kantar stated originally he had tried to convince his peers that we could do helicopter work.  When he worked in the Western United States they used helicopters routinely to do their work, composition flights on big game species was a pretty common thing.  We also benefitted from Quebec and New Brunswick used this double count method in a helicopter to do the survey.  Mr. Kantar was very close to the New Brunswick provincial biologist and he was able to discuss with him the nuts and bolts of what it would take to get the program off the ground.  Mr. Kantar had a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund (MOHF) grant for deer that he asked to have modified to use to fly surveys.  We were also doing the double count survey for deer.  When the deer survey was completed, flights were done for moose in WMDs 2, 3 and 6.  Mr. Kantar and his counterpart in New Brunswick were both submitting papers to the Moose Research Journal on using the technique for moose.  Last year we were able to secure monies through MOHF and Pitman Robertson Federal funds to continue deer flights and also to do moose flights.  Last fall Mr. Kantar went to MOHF again, and thanks to a member from Aroostook County that sat on the Board, was able to get $8,000 for the moose survey.  $8,000 from MOHF turned into $32,000 through Pittman Robertson funds because of the match.  Winter of 2012/2013 the Legislature had earmarked $20,000 for moose to continue flying.  Mr. Kantar stated we were able to do this because of the help of the Maine Forest Service.  We needed to have a Bell Jet Ranger, it was the only helicopter that could fly with enough fuel capacity, it had bubble windows incorporated which we purchased, and a radar altimeter that gave the elevation above ground level.  We also had partners that helped us with flying and made themselves available on short notice.  The survey technique worked if you had enough critters on the ground that you could count them.  You would fly 7 transect lines within a survey block, and that was based on habitat work the biologists did.  If they were flying 25 miles on a line and saw 0 animals, they weren’t going to get anywhere.  You would not use this technique in

southern Maine to count moose and you would not use this technique in northern Maine to count deer.  We chose WMDs based on highest moose densities and topography. 

Mr. Witte asked what Mr. Kantar saw as far as coyotes.

Mr. Kantar stated they barely saw any coyotes.  It was a viable tool, but any small animal would duck for cover.  In 100 hours of flying, if he saw 10 coyotes he’d be impressed.  In WMD 11 snowshoe hare was abundant.

Mr. Kelly asked what the reason was for no bulls during the November hunt.

Mr. Kantar stated he looked at September as being a world class bull hunt.  It was something that should be marketed.  He felt we should guard the September bull hunt.  In our management system we had a dynamic for how we issued bull permits.  The November hunt, being a late hunt, there were mixed emotions from the public.  Either they loved it or they hated it.  The late season should be a cow season.  Based on conversations with other North American moose biologists, we should have a late cow season where the cow and calf that are out there now stay together as long as possible.  That would mean having either an October or November hunt for cow moose, and not September.  The cow calf bond was going to benefit as long as they could carry them, and then we would harvest the cow or potentially that calf.  We could have some November bull permits in there if

that’s what people wanted to do.  From a biological perspective, people could debate that but it shouldn’t take away from the antlerless harvest in October and November.

Mr. Kelly asked if biologically it would hurt if we harvested a low percentage of bulls in November.

Mr. Kantar stated you would not want to add bull permits in November.

Mr. Kelly stated he brought a petition down to the Deputy Commissioner from up north for WMD 3 and 6, no moose permits in November.  The reason for it was that they were afraid people were shooting deer while they were moose hunting, and deer were a big issue up there.  There were 150 permits in zone 3 and 125 in zone 6 in November.  Was there any way to incorporate those permits in those two zones into the other two?

Mr. Kantar stated regarding the petition, if we wanted to base our decision making on science and what we had for data, last year he took all the November moose hunters, resident and nonresident and looked at how many deer they legally harvested.  In WMD 2 there was 0.  In WMDs 3 and 6 it was a small percentage.  He found it confusing that we wanted people to come and hunt Maine; the original part of the November hunt was because guides and outfitters wanted to have opportunity in November.  He was confused that they would not want to have permits in November.  Obviously there was a debate going on up in the County about the issue.  WMD 3 remained a district where we had a lot of moose and we needed to maintain the permit numbers where they were at.  WMD 6 we had pulled back on. 

Mr. Kelly asked about spreading those permit numbers through the September and October season.  If they were coming to Maine to hunt already those people would still come, just in September or October. 

Mr. Kantar stated our mandate by the Legislature was to have 3 moose seasons.  We had the Legislative Committee, we had the Advisory Committee and we had the public and we were getting conflicted views on how we should manage moose up there.  That was an issue because they were telling us we had to have November moose permits up there and we needed to spread that out for various reasons.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we would address the petition.  He was aware of the debate that had been going on up in Aroostook County.

Mr. Kantar stated it was difficult from a management perspective to have things keep changing all the time.  If we had 3 seasons, we would work from a biological perspective on how season framework should look to best manage those species.  To have a late season hunt, that was fine, but we should really move forward and stick with something.  We needed, where we were able to, to harvest cows at a late period of time past October where we could collect reproductive data so we could manage our population.  He was also working closely with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension both on the winter tick disease issues and on moose reproduction.  The thought was that October was too early to collect that data.  He was hoping to meet with the NH biologist to discuss the issue.
 

Mr. Lewis stated he agreed the latest information was great, but maybe if the Council could receive little bits of information as it came in that would be helpful.  The information was late coming to them.  He felt the public needed to be educated also and somehow get this information out to them.

Mr. Kantar stated there was a lot of data that had come very quick in the last year.  It would take time to assimilate that.  Biologists were critical evaluating the data.  He had also been trying to film some of the work they were doing in the air.

Mr. Philbrick stated he had a number of meetings and phone calls from people in WMDs 7, 8, 12 and 13 regarding the economic value of moose.  Above and beyond what they were looking at from a biological standpoint and how moose were harvested and management techniques.  He disagreed a little with some of the techniques.  Being a pilot he looked at WMD 7 not so hazardously as others did, but he respected that and didn’t want any accidents.  The meetings that had been held in the Rangeley Lakes region down into southern Oxford and Franklin County all came up with the same notion, a live moose was more important

in those four zones to travel and tourism than a dead one.  The numbers were not there for travel and tourism so he asked a number of organizations to gather some people to talk about the issue.  He gave shed hunters as an example.  This spring there were a number of moose found dead in the woods for no apparent reason.  No carrion birds on them, no coyotes eating them, just dead carcasses.  They assumed ticks.  The numbers were staggering and he had directed those people to contact the Commissioner’s office.  They were looking for a reduction in permits for zones 7, 8, 12 and 13.  No cows in 7 and down to 100 bulls.  In 8 the numbers were suggested to go to 250 instead of 295 and no cows.  In zones 12 and 13 take away the 20 and 10 in the October cow area.  They recommended this because they were just not seeing moose and they were scared we were entering a cycle of things getting out of hand.  Mr. Philbrick stated he would bring the data back to them, but unfortunately we were at Step 2 and this was the time for discussion, and he was reading the data for the first time that day.  It would have been helpful to have the information sooner or shift Step 2 to next month.  Just more time to educate his constituents would help them understand the work that was put into it.

Mr. Kantar stated we flew with professional helicopter pilots.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to fly WMD 7 but there was no way that was possible with any kind of safety.  He did not think the Maine Forest Service would do that.  We were able to get a flight in WMD 8 and did a composition count in 8 because we wanted the data to form our decision making.  The economic comment, Mr. Kantar spent time with the folks as well.  Our management system validates and values the economic side of moose as strongly if not more strongly than the hunting part.  The dynamic of not seeing moose, was it because there were less moose or was it the habitat and not being able to see through the trees?  Regarding winter tick, Mr. Kantar had received e-mails and was working with a shed hunter from Paris, zones 7, 8, 12 and 13 and had talked with the press.  There was a lot of miscommunication.  We were acutely aware of the disease issues about winter tick and lungworm.  We had two students working at the University of Maine on the lungworm issue.  We had never had a working relationship with the University like this before, and we would need more money to get this done the way it should.  NH did research on it.  We wanted to be able to quantify the losses and to understand what the losses from winter tick or lungworm meant.  We had to look at losses from natural mortality which included disease vs. losses from hunting mortality.  We never wanted to be in a situation with moose in the recreational zones, unless we needed to bring the population down, where hunting mortality would add to the total mortality.  Mr. Kantar stated one of the comments he received from the Rangeley Guides was they wanted a lower permit level, because didn’t we want to be conservative?  Mr. Kantar stated the numbers as they stood at that level was a very conservative number.  On the other side there would be people commenting we should be harvesting more moose.  It was the biologists job to balance all the aspects of moose and come to a permit allocation that made sense biologically and for the population goals and objectives for each WMD.  In WMD 7 Mr. Kantar looked at NH and Quebec’s harvest rates and we were just below NH as far as the intensity of our harvest.  It was a very small percent.  If we looked at the complete population in WMD 7, based on flight data, sighting rates, habitat, reproduction, even if we had 100% success rate we would be removing 1% of that population.  The adult female harvest with 30 permits we probably harvested about 16 cows, and that was over 1377 sq. miles.  If anything we probably should be harvesting more cow moose.  One of the dynamics we were beginning to see were areas that had browsing impacts.  When we had browsing impacts we were starting to have too many moose for the habitat and then we would run into issues with repressed reproduction.  We were starting to get samples in the western area on reproduction and starting to see that it was lower than the reproduction in the eastern part of the state.  The other thing we were seeing in WMD 8 was a great example, we were starting to see a skewed sex ratio.  We had fewer bulls and more cows.  To equalize that you had to have some balance with having a population where you want it to be with harvesting some level of cows.  In WMD 8 we had an estimate of 4 ½ moose per square mile, which right now was above our objectives for that population.  Adult sex ratio was more important with moose than with deer to try to have somewhat of a balance.  Mr. Kantar stated that NH had struck on this, but if we had a high winter tick population and getting mortalities from winter tick, why more winter tick and mortality?  Because of higher density.  Whether that was a high density of moose at 2 per sq. mile, 3 per sq. mile, etc., it didn’t matter if densities were high enough where you had a lot of ticks.  Some would suggest, like they do in Quebec, that you take out your calves every year, that’s what you would harvest.  Those were the calves that were going to die anyway over the winter and we could not grow the population that way because they were already succumbing to winter tick.  What we knew about winter tick and lungworm was that likely, based on the best science available, it was not an annual thing.  We had some years where we had a bad tick event and lost a certain amount of animals and that was what we needed the resources to investigate across Maine.  Mr. Kantar stated if they wanted to reduce permit levels to have moose out there to view, he didn’t know if it worked that way.  Every year some moose were going to die and we had compensatory mortality, that’s what the hunting role would play to take out some level of moose that were probably going to die anyway.  We didn’t want to place permits there above and beyond what was happening for mortality.  Mr. Kantar had done some population modeling to look at the dynamic and what it looked like in WMD 7 and even though it may be difficult for people in that area they needed to understand we were fully aware of the economic issues, the winter tick and we were doing our best to investigate that.  We felt the current level of permit allocations was not going to add to driving the population down in that area and that it was probably a very adequate level to have for that population.

Mr. Philbrick stated Mr. Kantar mentioned density levels being a contributor to the compensatory mechanism that harvest moose annually due to death.  People that had their feet to the ground in zone 7 in particular, those were people in the woods on a daily basis that did not see the biologists out there, they didn’t see anything but game wardens and even the game wardens were telling them the density was down in 7.  Mr. Philbrick stated he flew zone 7 a lot and he had only been able to identify in the last 4 weeks flying only calm days, one day with a spotter, 4 different areas where there were greater than 15 moose in a yarded area.  He had a personal concern with the density of moose in WMD 7.  When the data was correlated from like zones to zone 7 he thought they were talking apples to oranges.  The people were adamant they wanted to see the numbers reduced. 

Mr. Kantar stated then they should go to 0 permits if they were really that concerned.  The helicopter survey was a 200 ft. elevation, it was a marked sight model of seeing moose on a transect line.  The boots on the ground part he heard every day.  The biologists used information and data, understood the boots on the ground and listening to people, the moose sightings rates in zone 7 had gone up.  Biologists worked as a team with Warden Service and got feedback from them on winter mortalities.  We had solid data we were using to make informed management decisions.  They could do what they wanted with the permit numbers; it was his job to present the biology.

Mr. Philbrick stated he had a job to represent his people and he wanted to make sure their voice was heard.  They didn’t want to see as many moose killed in their area and were concerned about it.  If we took a more conservative approach for 1 year and showed the people in that region that we did something at their request and then revisit it, if it didn’t work then go with the biology. He was looking for a compromise.

Mr. Witte stated anecdotally he’d heard many times people were not seeing moose, statewide.  We were not clear cutting like we used to, we were strip cutting.  If people wanted to see moose they had to get off the road and into the woods.  The State’s habitat was changing.

Mr. Kantar stated even at 200 feet they could miss seeing a moose.  They had discussed with Plum Creek in WMD 9 that we should be working with landowners at doing some small clear cuts in moose country where we could improve viewing opportunity. 

Mr. Lewis discussed moose populations in the 90’s.  Was the moose population now more where we wanted it as far as healthy carrying capacity compared to what it was in the early 90’s?

Mr. Kantar stated one of the concerns was browse.  Some areas were really hammered by moose and was that because of the hard wood growth that the moose just loved to be in or were there too many moose in that area?  We had some very high moose densities in some areas and that had to be balanced.  We didn’t want to grow moose to the point where it was imbalanced with the habitat.  WMD 4 was a prime example where there was a lot of browse and was it too much.  That was a question we needed to answer. 

Commissioner Woodcock stated the challenge was the timing of the proposal.  We had the hunting season and collection of data, the analysis of data, the proposal, the analysis of the proposal, permit numbers, permit selling, lottery draw, all in a small amount of time.  We would try our best and there were quite a few dynamics in the discussion.  It was the Commissioner’s job in the end to make a decision. 

Mrs. Ware asked Mr. Kantar if the data from the surveys was public information yet.

Mr. Kantar stated it was all public information.  He would provide any of the data that was requested. 

Mr. Kelly stated in the zones they had been discussing, if they wanted to change permit numbers was there a great detriment to what Mr. Kantar was doing?  If it was not going to hurt either way we should let the people have a sense that they accomplished what they wanted to do and what they felt was better for them in their zones.  We were currently at Step 2, had there been any thought to extending Step 2. 

Mr. Kantar stated the winter tick, lungworm dynamic had unknowns.  What we did know was that it affected the calf crop more than anything.  There had been a lot of misinformation out there about NH’s study.  He would still submit that the current levels of permits were conservative.  Maine had always been conservative.  We were going to use the best data we could to make decisions and recommendations based on the needs of all the different districts.

Commissioner Woodcock responded to Mr. Kelly’s comment regarding extending Step 2.  There was an urgency to the process.  Moose permit applications were already being submitted and the process had to go forward.  The public comment period was open.  The petition Mr. Kelly had delivered would not be valid for this year’s process.  If they wanted to submit the list as public comment that would be fine.   

Mr. Kelly stated he just wanted to know that we were going to go to Step 3 at the next meeting so he could share that with the folks at home. 

Mrs. Ware stated regarding WMD 7, she supported the passion but she found it difficult in the face of scientific data to accept what they knew was anecdotal sighting information.  The groups should organize and do their own census and present it in a manner that carried more weight for next year’s numbers.  She could not support a reduction in the numbers at this time.  Regarding the harvest ratios in WMDs 17-28, did the overall management plan have targeted success rates? 
 

Mr. Kantar stated he felt success rates were not down.  However, it was a terrible year for hunting last year during all three seasons.  With respect to WMD 7 people were saying they were not seeing any moose, but they had a 73% success rate.  In any other state these success rates for hunting were unbelievable.  You could have a low moose population and have a high success rate.  It was not like deer hunting and we had to look at it over time.  It was the same with the moose hunter sighting rates.  These are the deer hunters sighting moose when they’re out there.  We didn’t look at just one year (2011) a three year running average was used because of the ups and downs of temperatures. 

Mr. Savage asked about Step 3.  Would the Council would be voting on the package as a whole.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated they would be voting on what the Commissioner brought forward.

Mr. Thurston stated he had learned a lot of valuable information from Mr. Kantar and thought it might be a good idea for him to attend Council meetings every few months to keep them updated on the moose.

Fern Bosse stated he had some concerns.  His first concern was the fact that the online application was available and the Department had not set the numbers of permits per zone.  Regarding WMD 7, he spent some time gathering information and comments received from 4 different people in the area was when the cows were added to WMD 7 the wardens covering that area were asked by the Department their take on it, and they all said no.  They did not believe WMD 7 could stand the cow permits.  As far as the guides and hunters in the area he spoke with, they supported what Mr. Philbrick had stated.  From his own observations, he was not spending as much time in the woods as he would like, but last fall he helped out during the bear season, right when the bulls shed their velvet and you would normally see a lot of them.  The area was Azicohos down to Wilson’s Mills and then over on the backside towards Mooselook and in back of Sturdevant.  He did not see one moose.  You don’t see the moose on Rt. 16.  He was in support of no cow permits.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated regards the numbers on the website.  In the past, we had tried to get the numbers by January.  This year there was a decision made that we would delay that in order to bring Lee’s information back from the work he had been doing to the Council for consideration.  The application on the website should have a disclaimer that the numbers were preliminary.  We had to give people an appropriate amount of time to submit their applications. 

Gary Corson asked Mr. Kantar if there was any consideration during the angling season for people to report moose sightings.  That was the time of year you saw moose.

Mr. Kantar stated in the past there were aerial surveys done over ponds in the summertime to look for moose.  One of the problems with sighting indices was that it had to be constant year after year.  It would take several years to get to that level of data.  We did it on a random sample survey with hunters.  On one level we got data very strategically in a very specific way and on the other hand we always accepted comments and observations from people. 

Mr. Kelly asked if there was a way to find out how many deer were actually taken during the November moose hunt.

Mr. Kantar stated he could provide that for 2010 and 2011.

There were no further comments. 

            C.  Step 1

1.  Add WMD 9 to Spring Turkey Hunt; shot sizes

Mr. Connolly stated the proposal came from the National Wild Turkey Federation.  The proposal was reviewed by staff and they found that the new loads were available and they would like the opportunity to use them.  The turkey population in WMD 9 had gotten to the point where we were able to have a spring season there.

Mr. Lewis discussed the one public comment that had been received.  The research was impressive.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we were checking to make sure the comment covered the entire scope.

Mr. Witte asked what prompted the proposal.

Mr. Connolly stated the Turkey Federation met with Department staff periodically.  They attended all the conferences and were aware of what was happening country wide.  They hunted multiple states and came back and advocated and supported the Department’s program and brought new ideas to the table. 

Mr. Lewis discussed the proposal and Mr. Humphrey’s comment that many of the mixed loads were 7 ½ not 7 so why just choose 7.  Go to 7 ½ so we weren’t cutting out 3 other shell manufacturers. 

Mr. Connolly stated the comment had been forwarded to the Bangor staff and they would be checking into that.  He believed it would be the recommendation of the Commissioner if the information was accurate to amend the proposal.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he believed this was Maine coming in behind other states.  Other states had used this particular diversity load already. 

There were no further comments.

2.  Controlled Moose Hunt

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated at the last meeting she had briefed them on the meeting she had attended in Ashland with Rich Hoppe, Lee Kantar, one of the tagging stations and Dave Hentosh.  The proposal reflected the details that came from that meeting (see packet).

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Ware asked if there was any discussion of ending the controlled hunt.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated she had asked that question at the meeting.  They indicated they were already seeing some effects, the hunt was doing what they intended. 

Mr. Kantar stated the controlled hunt continued to be a dynamic way to control moose.  At the debriefing they concurred that they were now in the maintenance phase.  They recognized that no matter what levels the recreational hunt reached in WMDs 3 and 6 which was dealing with the long term population in those areas,

there was likely to always be some issue with the farmlands and with road collisions.  There needed to be some level of moose hunting to deal with that.  Our measure of success had been whether we were seeing less crop depredation, were the farmers happy with that and were the road collisions declining.  It was nice that all the people involved could come to the same collective thinking, that was why there would be a reduction in permits.  It was also the by-product of an aerial survey conducted in WMD 6 demonstrating we were at about 3 moose per square mile which was where the population objective was.  Our population objective in WMD 3 was pretty much at target as well, which was a much higher number of moose.

Mr. Witte asked if when people completed the training course were they given an identification card that they had completed the course.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated she did not think so, but there were only a couple of managers there for the Smith and Ayer farms.  Dave Hentosh basically managed everybody hunting on the Smith farm land so he knew everyone hunting there.

Mr. Kantar stated they signed off after the course.

Mr. Thurston commented on the disabled veterans, had we given thought to children with lifetime licenses being able to participate.

V.  Other Business

1.  Department perspective on antler point restrictions

Mr. Kelly stated he had a petition he brought down for antler restrictions up in the County in those zones.  The reason they wanted an antler restriction was to reduce the number of deer being killed.  The theory was that those young bucks were breeding just as well as the big bucks.  In his town there were 33 deer tagged, 1 was over 200 lbs. and the closest one after was 180.  Everything under that were 4 pt. spikes.  The thinking behind that was if they left those deer there eventually they would have a better quality buck.  They could only hunt bucks there.  Maybe that would help the population if there were any unbred does.  If the buck to doe ratio was so skewed that some of the does were not getting bred then with an antler restriction, by leaving those bucks it would help in making sure all the does were bred.  It may also prevent closing the season which some had talked about.  If it was not going to cause any detriment to the deer herd and the people from the County wanted it, was it a possibility they could have that put in.  They knew it would take 3 to 4 years to see any benefit from an antler restriction program as far as bucks were concerned.  They may see quicker results than that if it was going to help with the reproduction side.

Mr. Kantar stated antler point restrictions had been used in places south of Maine.  Deer biologists across the Northeast would agree the last place you would put point restrictions would be in a northern area because you couldn’t stockpile deer.  You couldn’t take a young deer and potentially save it to shoot 5 years from now because of winter mortality.  The herd in northern Maine would live and breathe by how much snow we had.  Mississippi State had been a leader on the research about breeding behavior.  There was a mythology that there was one big buck that precluded all the other bucks from breeding with the does.  In fact, some does would have offspring from multiple bucks.  The idea that some does were not getting bred was not accurate.  Why did some does not have a fawn?  It was probably related to nutrition, body condition, age, and things of that nature.  Mr. Kantar had used information from guides, surveys they completed in the past and done the numbers and there was a lot of evidence that a point restriction would not grow the deer herd. 

Mr. Kantar stated that at best what it had done in southern states, and he used Pennsylvania as an example; there was so much buck hunting pressure that they started to change the age distribution.  We didn’t get that in Maine.  What happened when people used point restrictions in the south, instead of shooting a bunch of yearlings which every state did; there were more of them on the landscape because as the deer got older something would get them, it shifted so instead of shooting a bunch of yearlings they were shooting a bunch of two year olds.  We had excellent data to show if you had a point restriction you would wind up shooting a bunch of nice racked yearlings, the deer you were trying to save.  In NH and VT where they had done point restrictions they liked to call it “buck structure management.”  They were very concerned and trying to pull out, they didn’t want it anymore.  VT was concerned about what they were doing to the genetics.  The deer were high grading, they were protecting all the runty spikes from being shot and they were killing all the yearlings that had multi-branch antlers so they defeated their purpose and wanted to stop it.  NH was not happy with their restriction either. 

Mr. Kantar stated WMD 3 had always been a problem.  If they put on a point restriction it was basically telling hunters they couldn’t shoot an antlerless deer, and they couldn’t shoot any bucks with less than 3 points on a side.  We needed to provide some level of hunting in WMD 3, or just have no hunting.  If we went to no hunting, and he used New Brunswick as an example, it did not bring back deer and was difficult to reopen the season.  What would grow the deer herd in the North was an easy winter. 

Mr. Kelly referred to the fishing initiatives.  One of the big pushes was to produce large trout.  The larger trout we could produce the more people we could get to come up and better for the economy.  They could only hunt bucks in his area, so a point restriction that would increase the size and would increase the growth, was there no way to sunset that?

Mr. Kantar stated it would not affect their quality because we had winter mortality.  The problem Maine had with deer was not an issue of quality it was an issue of quantity. 

Mr. Kelly stated a deer had to live to a certain age to be of quality.  That was part of what an antler restriction would do.  It would allow that age structure in what we did have for deer.

Mr. Kantar stated the age structure, with the exception of WMD 3 was great.  People would shoot yearlings no matter what.  We couldn’t pick and choose which deer to protect and guarantee they would be there next year.  You’d have to go pretty high with the number of points to do that.  What would people hunt there?  They’d have to wait for the one big buck of a lifetime to come out.

Mr. Kelly stated for their area they didn’t have the hunters there anyway.  There was a method with antler restrictions that had been proven in states to work.  He had people that came from VT that had 8 and 10 pointers in their back yard now where they had yearlings.  There was a conflict of opinion.  If it was not detrimental to the herd to have it, why not give the people up there what they wanted.

Mr. Kantar stated in WMD 2 where they shot 15 deer over 2,000 square miles, that would go down to 5.

Mr. Kelly asked if that would hurt us.

Mr. Kantar asked if it would help us.  It was perception.  The biological recommendation would be, the people were asking to advocate for something that was shown not to work, but people might perceive it was going to work. 

Mrs. Ware stated a conflict she constantly heard was what the purpose was.  She heard quality, and she heard quantity.  She didn’t think it was clear in stating their overall objective.  What she did hear regards managing the deer herd were things we could not control; weather and landowners and what they did with their property.  This was something that the local public was asking for.  If it didn’t hurt, we didn’t have local data to say it was a flaw to try it.  

Mr. Kantar stated we did have the data that it would hurt.  If we had an antler point restriction and said 3 per side then we would have the high grading phenomena.  We would protect the yearlings that were robust and made it through winter and had nice racks and then shoot them.  What we would protect would be the runts that came through. 

Mr. Kelly asked if there was a way to manage that.  We knew there was high grading, we knew at what point we had high grading and what year of the program.  Say it was a four year program and we knew at year three we were going to start seeing high grading, could we pull then pull it off and say any buck is a legal buck.

Mr. Kantar stated he was not sure how to measure that.  The biologists would have to look at the bucks that were coming in and the age of those bucks and look at their head gear and see how that changed over time. 

Mr. Kelly asked if that was something the Department could take on.  Was it reasonable?  We put a lot of effort into moose.

Mr. Kantar stated the County was always very difficult to collect biology for deer.  There were only two biologists in Ashland.  He was not sure how that data would be collected and how to get everyone who shot a buck to bring it in and have it looked at.  We would have to mandate that wherever the deer were registered that they get the antler beam diameters and the points counted, etc.

Mr. Kelly stated if that was the only problem and we could make rules to make sure we did get the data, why couldn’t we try it.

Mr. Connolly stated if they were focusing the pressure on the strongest most capable deer of surviving a winter and left behind the weakest most inexperienced deer that were more likely to be taken by coyotes and not survive the winter, weren’t they at risk of causing the population to decline further?

Mr. Witte stated if they had to go to something that drastic, close the season.

Mr. Kelly stated it was not just from a biological standpoint, some of it was from a social standpoint. 

Mr. Kantar stated the social standpoint now as Mr. Kelly was stating, everybody wanted to have quality big bucks out there, and an antler point restriction would do it somehow.  There were a lot of people out there that just wanted to shoot a buck, and now we would have to tell them we were going to restrict them more as to what they could shoot.  Regarding the social aspect, that might be nice for some that perceived they would have more big bucks out there, but then there were others that just wanted to shoot a buck.

Mr. Kelly stated from his area the only people they were hearing from were the people that wanted it, not the people that didn’t want it.  There was not a petition from people that didn’t want it, only from people that did.

Mr. Connolly stated part of the outcomes Mr. Kelly was speaking to were really best addressed when we updated the management system and we had public inputs and we looked at what we were trying to manage for.  That was the place where the discussions should come in and we could look at what management options would accomplish that.  It was difficult to talk about a social outcome and tinkering a management system to try and accomplish that in a single year.

Mr. Kelly stated if we knew it was not going to hurt the population, then why not try it and let the people up there see that the Department was trying to do something for them.

Mr. Connolly stated he was still not sure what the outcome was Mr. Kelly expected.

Mr. Lewis stated it would show the people that the Department was trying to do something.  If we did it and they were happy with that and then 5 years later it didn’t work and the Department did something they didn’t believe in, now we had a bigger problem.  The people were reading magazines and watching TV shows in Missouri and Illinois and it was totally different and the people in the County wanted that.  It was an education thing.  We needed to educate the people and hear from Mr. Kantar why it wouldn’t work.

Commissioner Woodcock asked if it would be helpful to have a public informational meeting in Mr. Kelly’s area.

Mr. Kelly stated they had a public meeting up there about coyotes and deer were brought into that.  As far as the people up there were concerned, nothing happened.  There was no benefit to having the meeting.

Mr. Kantar stated from a biological perspective it would be hard to say they were going to try something just because it hadn’t been tried.  It would be hard pressed to have a recommendation come from the biologists to say it was right and it went against the grain of having a system in place on how we managed something and doing what we thought was plausible to get us something that people wanted which was more deer.

Mr. Kelly asked if the Board voted on it and decided to have an antler point restriction in northern Maine, it would be Mr. Kantar’s job to put together a plan for that.  Did the Department not have the time or money for it?

Commissioner Woodcock stated part of the issue was people focused on one part of the discussion.  He had discussed the topic at length with both Mr. Kantar and also Gerry Lavigne.  Both of them said the same thing independently that some things were tried but we had to be very cautious about what the expectation would be.  As long as you openly stated that the expectation may not be achieved, then going forward with some things you needed to be cautious.  People expected a result out of it because they desperately wanted that result; biologically history showed that it may not create that. 

Mr. Kelly stated the people there would try it, they wanted change.

2.  Coyote reduction program, how is money being spent?

This agenda item was at the request of Council member Steve Philbrick.  Mr. Connolly distributed a handout to the Council for discussion (see packet).  We had $50,000 budgeted for the coyote predation program.  We were working on 9 priority wintering areas.  We had 11 hunters and 1 houndsman under contract and the end result was we had 47 coyotes removed.  There were 35 additional coyotes that were taken by volunteers.  It had cost $9,500 in expenses to date.  Part of the issue had been that we get people to do this on their own.  The fact was people did not go to the most difficult places to do something normally.  The money was the incentive to get them to go there.  The idea was to have them in a place where the deer were in order to effect the survival of those deer in that particular deer wintering area.  Removing a coyote in Augusta did not help the deer in northern Maine.  In order to really impact the deer herd you had to have the coyote removal take place where the deer were at the time when it mattered to the deer.  Good news for deer this year was that conditions had not been severely restrictive and so deer had been moving around.  From the coyotes perspective there were easier things to catch than deer.  They were opportunistic hunters. 

Mr. Kelly stated he had an e-mail from a trapper that attended a meeting in New Brunswick.  In New Brunswick they use their funds for coyotes and actually pay any hunter or trapper $20 per coyote.  The coyote had to be presented for sale.  Last year they had 500 trappers that were involved and they took out 2,500 coyotes.  Would we be able to consider something like that?

Mr. Connolly stated the challenge was in Maine, if someone hunted coyotes in Corinth and turned them in for $25, we wouldn’t impact the deer herd population at all in the area of the state where you had an interest.  To be effective you had to have deer yarding, good cover and deer in an area of the state where we’re concerned about increasing the population.  We had found people to volunteer to do that for a small amount of money.

Mr. Kelly asked about drawing a line and trappers above a certain zone be paid to harvest coyotes.

Mr. Connolly stated the challenge with bounty programs had always been identifying where the animal came from and the logistics of that.

Mr. Kantar asked if Mr. Kelly was referring to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Mr. Kelly stated Nova Scotia.

Mr. Kantar stated there was a big difference.  New Brunswick had coyote snaring.  The deer harvest in New Brunswick was not good.  It all went back to the winters.

Commissioner Woodcock stated bounties had been discussed for a long period of time.  He was aware of clubs that were offering money for coyotes.  The Department was not ready to discuss a bounty as it would be statewide management, not just northern Maine.  We were being cautious with the new program.  The winter had been strange and the plan was to target the most

important deer yards.  The focus needed to continue to be on the management of the species, not on the extermination of another species that would help you manage the species.

Mr. Kelly stated if we were able to do something like that it would go under the management system.  There were people out there being paid to hunt coyotes.  This could be in that same program and maybe we could get more trappers out there and trap more coyotes.  This might be a way to get more people involved so it wasn’t costing them an arm and leg to catch a coyote.  With the program now they averaged about $50 per coyote.  That was a very good incentive for people to go out.

Mr. Savage asked from a biological standpoint, other than in targeted areas, reducing coyote populations really wouldn’t help improve the deer population would it?

Mr. Kantar stated he was not the coyote biologist.  We had seasons for moose and deer, but you could kill coyotes all you wanted.  All you needed to do was go outside and do it.  People wanted us to spend extra monies and that was what we were doing.  There had been a lot of debate on the effect on the deer population.

Mr. Connolly used out west as an example.  They poisoned coyotes, shot them from airplanes, they snared them, they did everything you could do and they did not eliminate coyotes and reduce the population.  What we’d seen is that in deer there were a couple places, looking at mortality, that you could impact and have a result.  When they’re wintering you can impact that.  The other piece is that shelter is still going to come into play.  Even if there were no coyotes, shelter was still an issue.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the initiation of the program.  He asked Warden Service and the biological staff to identify the most important deer yards.  He then asked others, Gerry Lavigne, etc. who would be the best people in the area to address a particular deer so they wouldn’t have to travel extensively.  We had a list and selected a minimal number for the first year.  We would move on from that. 

3.  Legislative Session update

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated we put one bill forward to make minor changes either to correct errors or to put forward items that didn’t warrant a separate bill.  The bill had gone through with some amendments.  One of the amendments was to the taxidermy board composition.  Other issues taken up were deer.  There were some reports required that we went back to them with.  The Committee was still working through one of the bills that would create another deer management group.  What had been suggested was to combine existing groups and have one group with focus.  Another item was the Landowner Relations program.  The bill was voted out ought to pass as amended.  There wasn’t a lot of change from what was currently in statute but they wanted to give the Commissioner some flexibility as far as setting the fee.  The Supersport which provided money to the landowner program was $20.  When it was increased from $15 to $20 there was a decline in the number of people participating.  Again with the Superpack license being offered there had been a lot of confusion.  The Supersport certificate would be repealed from law and the Agency would then be able to rename the program and it would be offered in our licensing system as a donation with a Landowner Relations Fund being established.  The funding bill was still up for consideration.  The Department had been asked to provide information if additional funding was approved what would we use it for; what would the Department’s priorities be.  The Supplemental Budget was also going through.  The Department had some items in it to go along with the reorganization plan. 

VI.  Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII.  Public Comments & Questions

There were no public comments or questions.

Commissioner Woodcock asked Mr. Boland to speak to the group regarding comments they had all received from the Maine Blade Runners on the closing of Grand Falls Flowage to bass fishing tournaments.

Mr. Boland stated Grand Falls Flowage was an important bass water that we had been watching for a number of years.  We had done a lot of work there sampling the bass population from juvenile to adult and we’d tracked angler records and catches.  All the data suggested a 10 to 15 year downward trend.  This was a water that used to produce a lot of trophy bass fishing and a great fishing opportunity.  The last time we did fishing regulations we raised the issue of catch and release bass fishing.  We had discussed it with people in the area, the Passamaquoddy tribe and we did not build a good public consensus to make it catch and release fishing.  This year however, the locals and others recognized the trend that the fishery was having problems.  We enacted for the upcoming regulations booklet catch and release bass fishing on the Flowage. 

Mr. Boland stated the bass lottery draw had taken place and one club, the Blade Runners, identified 3 different tournaments to be held on that lake.  After the lottery we decided that since we had taken these extreme steps at Grand Falls Flowage to protect that resource, was it appropriate to have bass tournaments there.  We did not think so and contacted the bass tournament folks and told them we would accommodate them by finding them another location but we were not going to allow tournaments on the water.  These were weigh in tournaments.  A catch, measure and release tournament would be ok.  We had received a lot of e-mails.  Mr. Boland wanted to point out that there had been a lot of direct attack on Mr. Wheaton and he had not been involved in the discussions.  This was a decision made by the Department and we thought it was a good one.

Mr. Witte asked if they had planned their tournament for this year.

Mr. Boland stated they had gone to the lottery and picked the date.  In hindsight it probably would have been better if we identified that prior to the lottery and taken it off.  At that point he did not feel any significant planning had been done by them other than picking the dates.

Mr. Kelly asked if there was an exemption like with a live well where they would be penalized for a dead fish.  Were there any exceptions they could apply for?

Mr. Boland stated there was a higher mortality associated with tournaments.  The bass would get carried around for the day in livewells.  We did have strict tourney rules.  There were a lot of requirements already in place but there was still increased mortality and we didn’t think it was appropriate to be doing that on a water where they had concerns regarding the population.  At Cobbossee and a few other situations there had been large floating livewells and the bass were put back into that and then taken out and released around the lake.  We also permitted catch, measure and release tournaments.  That permit allowed them to keep the fish alive and in some cases keep more than the existing bag limit.  Catch measure and release required they catch it, they can weigh it and measure it and then release it immediately.  They could still hold that type of tournament they just couldn’t keep them alive all day and then weigh them in.

Mr. Boland stated with small mouth bass they were much more sensitive to these types of tournaments.  If the tournament fell on a real warm day that was even more difficult for the small mouth.  For all those reasons we decided to ask the club to abandon the tournament on that water and we would work with them to find other local waters to have the tournaments.  We were also working with them to provide the information our decision was based on.

VIII.  Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. at IF&W in Augusta.

IX.  Adjournment

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