Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

 

Commissioner's Conference Room
284 State Street
Augusta, Maine 04333-0041

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 @ 9:30 a.m.

 

Attendance

This meeting was held in conjunction with a meet and greet session with members of the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Staff

Joel Wilkinson, Acting Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Assistant to the Commissioner
Becky Orff, Secretary
Sandy Ritchie, Habitat Conservation Biologist
Beth Swartz, Wildlife Biologist
Tom Hodgman, Wildlife Biologist
Bill Swan, Director of Licensing and Registration
Gregory Sanborn, Major, Maine Warden Service
Mark Stadler, Wildlife Division Director
Shawn Haskell, Supervisor, Wildlife Resource Assessment Section

Advisory Council Members

Stephen Philbrick, Chair                                            
Ron Usher, Vice-Chair                                              
Al Goodwin                                                               
Mike Witte                                                               
Frank Dunbar                                                                     
Cathy DeMerchant                                                    
Alan Greenleaf                                                           
Dick Thurston

IF&W Committee Members
                                                                                               
Senator Thomas Martin
Representative Stacey Guerin
Representative Herb Clark
Representative Eleanor Espling
Representative Sheryl Briggs
Representative Stephen Wood
Representative Paul Davis
Representative Dale Crafts

Guests

Pat Keliher, DMR
Judy Finley
Fern Bosse, Norway
Steve Tobin, Norway
Suzie Hockmeyer, Northern Outdoors
Skip Trask, MPGA & MTA
Robert Carrier

 

I. Call to Order

Mr. Philbrick called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

Motion made by Mr. Usher and seconded by Mr. Witte to accept the minutes of the previous Council meeting.

Vote: unanimous - minutes accepted.

IV. Rule Making

A. Step 3

1. 2011 Crow Season

Mrs. Ritchie stated the proposal would establish the 2011 – 2012 crow season.  We were approached by some avid crow hunters in Maine

to consider allowing greater overlap between our crow season and the opening week of our waterfowl season so they could take advantage of both opportunities.  The idea was discussed among staff and it raised several law enforcement issues because there are very different law enforcement issues associated with crow season vs. the waterfowl season.  It was not recommended to proceed with the overlap in seasons.  We worked within a 120 day Federal framework and that was still available for crow hunting.  We were proposing to open the season earlier on the front end and ending a week earlier to avoid potential overlap with the early Canada goose season in September.

Mrs. Ritchie stated we had received one comment from an avid crow hunter who was a little bit concerned with the timing of the rulemaking schedule.  In an effect by the time the rule would be adopted, he would be losing some opportunity on the front end of the crow season and we had taken a week off from the back end.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Goodwin stated he was concerned about the dates.  It did nothing to assist the farmers planting.  He considered the dates from May 15 to June 30 to be crucial for the planters and farmers.  That had been eliminated.  That was when the crows were most destructive with the farm produce that was just going into the ground.  He found it hard to believe we were actively pursuing a season to shoot crows.

Mrs. Ritchie stated we had a crow season because we had crows in Maine and some people wanted to hunt them.  Part of the Department’s mission was to promote and find recreational pportunities.  The reason we did not have a crow season from April 15 through the first part of August was because that was the breeding season for crows.  To ensure that we had consistent breeding stock in Maine we did not allow hunting within that period of time.  For farmers that were having issues with crows there were opportunities for them to seek assistance through depredation permits issued by USDA – Wildlife Services.

Mr. Goodwin asked how difficult it would be to get a depredation permit during the farm planting season.

Mrs. Ritchie stated there was about a 24 hour turn around time for those permits.

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

Vote: Unanimous - motion passed

B. Step 2

1. Opening WMD 19 to Spring Turkey Hunting

Mrs. Ritchie stated we now had turkeys in every county in the state.  We used a public working group to help set management directions for these birds.  The goals and objectives that were established by the public working group was to provide as much hunting opportunity as we could without diminishing the quality of the spring hunt while expanding the population throughout the state.  We exceeded the goals and objectives of the 2000 wild turkey working group.  We now have a spring and fall season in many areas and where possible, we are always looking to expand and open up new areas to turkey hunting, but only once the population reached certain levels.  We received some interest from the public as well as a few members of the Advisory Council to consider opening WMD 19 to spring turkey hunting.  The proposal would open WMD 19 to spring turkey hunting beginning in 2011.  This was the same proposal that was presented at Step 1.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Goodwin asked Mrs. Erskine if she had received a petition from a group in the Princeton area with about 50 names on it.

Mrs. Erskine stated she had not.

Mr. Goodwin stated he would see that she got it.  It was in support.  They were very anxious about the hunt.

Mr. Dunbar stated the hunt did not include the fall.

Mrs. Ritchie stated it did not.  Once we had the spring turkey season established we had a number of criteria we looked at regarding the spring harvest and the number of gobblers harvested per square mile of habitat and once the spring harvest reached certain levels, we could then consider a fall hunt.  We would have to wait probably 2 or 3 years to gather trend data before we would consider opening WMD 19 in the fall.

2. Saturday Pond Horsepower Restrictions

Mrs. Erskine stated she had received a valid petition from 300 residents of Otisfield asking the Department to restrict horsepower on motor boats on Saturday Pond.  It was about a 180 acre pond in Otisfield.  The unusual thing about the request was they asked for a 75 hp limitation.  Currently the highest limitation on the books was for 10 hp.  The statute that gave us the authority to limit horsepower was pretty tightly linked to safety reasons only.  Administratively a decision was made a long time ago that anything over 10 hp really wouldn’t do anything to impact safety risk.  The Commissioner decided to hold a hearing.  Normally Mrs. Erskine would have had a break down of the comments received, but these would break down into 3 categories.  There were people at the public hearing 100% opposed to any restrictions; some were opposed to 75 hp, but thought a 10 hp restriction should be implemented; some wanted the 75 hp.  People on the pond that currently owned motor boats had to comply with the same restrictions.  Most of the people around the pond that had pontoon boats, if a 10 or 15 hp were implemented they’d have to sell their boats. 

Mrs. Erskine stated we held a public hearing on January 4, 2011.  Mr. Philbrick was in attendance and there were 64 members of the public that signed in.  The two gentlemen that petitioned gave a PowerPoint presentation showing what they felt was unsafe boating taking place on the lake, but the video showed not a particular boat on that water, it was a demo from a boating company.  They were very concerned about the environmental impact of the big boats on the pond more so than the safety.  There was a long presentation done at the public hearing on the environmental impacts.  The comment period ended January 14, 2011.  She would be doing a summary of all the comments that had been received and forwarding that to the Council.  Another complicating factor, the petitioners ended up going to the Governor’s office to try to plead their case and we had been asked to brief the Governor.  Mr. Philbrick stated it was very clear to him from the onset that the petition was brought together by a couple of people.  They positioned themselves at the town hall on voting day and plead their case to people going there to vote to sign the petition.  The relevance of that point to him was that the folks effected by a rule of that magnitude may or may not have been represented on the petition.  The Department had to respond to a valid petition, you had to be a registered voter of that area but they may not be effected by a rule that the Department may make.  The person that brought this to a head was at the public hearing and he couldn’t have been more apologetic about his big boat.  He had since sold the boat.  The video that was played was a promotional video for a Mastercraft wake boarding boat.  They also brought on board a lady who was a self proclaimed botanist of the lake.  Very informative, brought up a lot of good biology points, but he felt that would need to go before the Department from a biological standpoint.  He wouldn’t feel comfortable on ruling based on her presentation.  The Department staff would need to review her findings and make sure they were valid.  It was Mr. Philbrick’s recommendations to former Commissioner Martin that the proposal not be moved forward.  He felt it would be setting a dangerous precedent.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Witte stated he was opposed to setting a precedent.  If we started doing 75hp we would be doing 45hp, 35hp, etc.  His feelings were a 75hp motor on a 14 foot boat could do just as much damage as a 200hp on a 20 footer.  He would be willing to consider 10hp or less, but not 75hp.

Mrs. Erskine stated the amount of contention at the public hearing, even if we were going to consider a lower horsepower limit, she would ask for a new petition.  Apparently it was a newly formed committee, Save Our Saturday Pond.  New enough that the members of the Saturday Pond Association knew nothing of them, didn’t know about the petition.  There was another watershed association in the area that was also unaware of the issues that were brought up.

A motion was made by Mr. Usher and that was seconded by Mr. Goodwin to table the proposal at Step 2.

Vote: 7 in favor; 1 opposed (Mr. Witte) - proposal tabled.

Acting Commissioner Wilkinson stated we would be putting together a summary sheet for the Governor’s office and briefing him.  A very large packet came in through constituent services on the issue.  We would not be taking action until the Governor had the opportunity to be briefed on it.

C. Step 1

1. Whitewater Rafting Order of Launch

Mrs. Erskine stated every year we established an order of launch for whitewater outfitters on two sections of rivers; the Kennebec and the West Branch of the Penobscot.  The proposal was to fill a vacant slot with a new company and adding them to the end of the order of launch. 

V. Other Business

1. Saltwater Fishing License Statute

Mr. Keliher distributed a handout to address frequently asked questions (see packet).  The official term was salt water fishing “registry”.  This came about in 2007.  Congress passed the Magnuson Stevens Fishing Conservation Act, which is the Federal policy used to manage marine fish.  During that reauthorization they included a component to register all salt water anglers on the coast.  They did so to help get a better handle on what types of participation was happening on the coast.  Within the reauthorization NOAA was tasked with creating the federal registry.  They did that, and it was in place one year.  The language stated that a state that met the criteria of the federal requirements could create its own license or registry.  That was what Maine had done.  There was much legislative action back and forth during the last session, and the result was the current state law that existed for DMR to create a Maine registry which exempted us from the federal registry.  There were not two registries in place, it was strictly a state fishing registry or license. 

Mr. Keliher stated for residents that held a freshwater fishing license, it was free.  If you bought an IF&W fishing license and you answer a question, “did you fish in the tidal waters of Maine last year?”  If you answer yes, great, if you answer no that’s fine too.  When Marine Patrol was checking licenses and they show they’re a resident of the state and they have a freshwater license they are legally covered for fishing in the tidal waters of the state.  If you are a resident and you do not have a freshwater license, you can go to an agent or online to the DMR website and register.  In doing so with the registry they give the required information and they are registered.  There was an agent fee.  If that person was going to target striped bass or be in a situation where they would incidentally catch striped bass they would be required to get the striped bass endorsement.  For a resident that was $5.  For nonresidents, they would still have to register.  If they were not going to incidentally catch or fish for striped bass, they could register for the agent fee.  If they were going to target striped bass they would have to purchase a $15 striped bass endorsement.  The agent fee was $2 for an outside agent and $1 through DMR.  Mr. Keliher referred to the handout and discussed exceptions that were part of the registry.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Witte stated when he bought his license for 2011 he was asked about a check off.  Looking at his license he saw nothing on there.

Mr. Keliher stated before he cut the license out, all the verbiage on the right hand side was where it was printed.  As long as he possessed the freshwater license, he was covered on the salt water.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked about smelting, they did not have to worry about that for smelts.

Mr. Keliher stated yes, they did have to worry about it.  All anadromous species were covered by the license, including smelts.  If they were going to go smelting they would have to register.  The freshwater license covered it, or if they were going to rent a commercial smelt shack, they were covered for no cost or registry because they were covered under the commercial component.  Charter Boat operators and anyone fishing with a licensed charter captain/guide, they had what was considered a boat license.  People on the boat were covered. 

Mr. Keliher stated the funds from the registry went into a dedicated account within DMR.  Those funds were specified for fishery research and restoration and conservation efforts for the targeted species as well as enforcement activities.
 

Mr. Witte asked if this permanently satisfied the Federal Government.

Mr. Keliher stated yes.  There were only 2 states left that did not have a state license, NJ and Hawaii.  They still fell under the federal requirement which was $15 per person.  If Maine went back to the federal requirement everyone would pay $15, resident or nonresident and you wouldn’t be able to go to other states to fish that had a state license.  Their state license would be required.  We did have reciprocity with NH. 

Mr. Usher asked about putting the information in the Sunday Telegram or another paper.  It would help to eliminate phone calls.

Mr. Keliher stated DMR had received $170,000 grant from NOAA through Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission to do a press release push.  They would be purchasing full page ads in the Maine Sportsman, Northwoods Sporting Journal, major newspapers, etc.

2. Collection of fees from tagging stations and "write-off's"

Mr. Swan distributed a handout listing tagging agents that had not reported fees.  It was a compilation of several different tagging seasons.  We currently had 298 active tagging agents.  Before we implemented the new system of getting fees back we had 317 tagging agents.  Mr. Swan referred to the handout and the column stating “date closed.”  That would mean that agent was no longer a tagging agent for a variety of reasons. 

Mr. Goodwin asked if we would receive that money or if it would be written off as a loss.

Mr. Swan stated we had not written off anything yet.  The Department financials worked that we did not recognize revenue until it was received.  The general concept of a write off is you would recognize the revenue and then write it off.  We had not given up on any of the revenues listed on the handout.  Of the 16 agents listed, 9 were already closed.  The total money was $3,300.  $1,200 of that were tagging books the Department felt were not used, but were not accounted for.  We would not be sure of that until we saw the tagging books come back.  If an agent still owed the Department money or tagging books, ie: tagging books from the 2010 turkey season, when we sent supplies for the coming turkey season that agent would not be sent supplies.  Agents did not receive supplies if they did not reconcile.

Mr. Philbrick asked what the largest complaint was from tagging stations relative to their

association with the Department.  A number of tagging stations in Franklin and Oxford County had contacted him and they were all happy with their association with the Department except for snowmobile registrations where they only received $1.  Summer time they sold a fishing license and they only got $2.  There was some angst as to the amount of work they were doing for only $1 or $2 in return.  He felt that needed to be addressed; we had a better opportunity to serve our customers by increasing agents and making it more beneficial for them.

Mr. Swan stated an increase in agent fees would have to handled legislatively.  There had been several moves in the last few years to increase agent fees and they had not passed.  Some agents felt it was a burden but it did bring people into their stores.  Tagging agents were different than license and registration agents.  License and registration agents we had 850 agents throughout

Maine.  Most of the tagging agents were not license agents. 

Suzie Hockmeyer stated her business, Northern Outdoors, was an agent.  They only did it as a service to their guests, especially snowmobiles as they only received $1.  If the customer paid by credit card they lost money because they had to pay 3% to 5% to process the card.  The business was losing money not to mention the processing time.  At times it got to be very expensive to be a license agent.  They were the only ones left in her area because everyone else pulled out as they could not afford to keep doing it.

Mr. Philbrick stated that was common in his area.  From a Department standpoint we needed to be proactive in how we got stations back up and running.

Mr. Dunbar stated that his local rod and gun club had contributed to their tagging stations to help cover their fees.

Mr. Philbrick asked if the Department would be supporting bills in the Legislature to increase agent fees.

Acting Commissioner Wilkinson stated there were three things we’d have to look at as a Department.  On the business owner end, covering the cost; would it result in an increased fee to our users (sportsmen); if the Committee wanted to meet the first two challenges would it reduce funding to IF&W. 

Mr. Usher stated most of what they had talked about was out of the Council’s jurisdiction.  As a Council they should put together an agenda endorsing certain things they would like to see or endorse.  The bills had not been printed yet. Give them the Council’s feelings ahead of time before they got the bill.

Mr. Goodwin stated he agreed with Mr. Usher.  He felt there should be a sub-committee from the Council to attend Committee meetings and push for certain bills.

Mr. Philbrick stated the Department would be in a better financial position if we took care of those selling our tickets for us.

Acting Commissioner Wilkinson stated when the bill was printed, he would take advice from the Council and staff on what the issues were when we provided testimony.

Suzie Hockmeyer stated she would like to work with the Department, she had some ideas.  It could be broken out and labeled an agency fee, and not touch the license fee. 

Mr. Philbrick suggested she work with her Advisory Council representative.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if we were able to capture any of the tagging information from any of the books that were not returned.

Mr. Swan stated if we did not get the books back, we would lose the biological data.  In some cases we can and do send a warden to retrieve the books. 

Major Sanborn stated wardens would collect the books if there was biological information to be gathered.  There were issues with sending wardens to collect money.

Mr. Witte asked how many books were still outstanding with the closed agents.

Mr. Swan stated it was $4 per tag.  Every book had 50 tags.  The list was a compilation of

agents, some were turkey tags, some deer, etc.  3,300/4 = 825 tags, that was the total number of animals that could have been tagged and not accounted for.

3. Freshwater Mussel assessment

Mrs. Ritchie discussed the wildlife planning process.  The Department is responsible for wildlife, and the definition of wildlife included all wildlife in Maine that was not under the responsibility of Marine Resources.  The species most common were birds and mammals, but we were also responsible for reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates as well.  The fisheries and wildlife divisions use a public involvement process for setting goals and objectives setting within the agency.  It was a process that was in place in one form or another since the late 1960’s.  The process began with the preparation of a species assessment.  The species assessment was a compilation of everything we knew about a particular species, or group of species.  For each category we looked at what happened in the past, what was happening currently and make projections for the future.  The species assessment informed the public stakeholder group and provided the biological sideboards for the public to develop goals and objectives. 

Once the assessment was prepared, it was reviewed by staff and then a public working group was convened.  The consistency of the public working group varied depending on the species under consideration.  We tried to identify the various stakeholder groups that would have an interest in that particular species.  The department’s role in the public process was to serve in an advisory capacity and have a dialogue with the stakeholder group, which develops the goals and objectives.  Once the stakeholders provided the goals and objectives we would provide feedback back to them.  Another step in the process is that the Department would identify potential problems and strategies that would over come those problems.  Another step was to bring those goals and objectives before the Advisory Council so they would be informed.  The final step in the process was to develop the management system.  The management system talked about the data we would need to collect, the decision points we would need to make and the actions we would take depending on the data.
 

Mr. Stadler stated that none of the non-game work was paid for with Pittman-Robertson money or hunting license revenue.  It was entirely paid with federal funds or state funds that were dedicated specifically to non-game and endangered species management.

Beth Swartz, wildlife biologist with the Department’s reptile, amphibian and invertebrate group in Bangor discussed the goals and objectives that were developed for freshwater mussels.  A PowerPoint presentation was given (see packet).

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Greenleaf stated in Old Town they had two dams that were going to be removed.  He knew the river was full of mussels, and the water was going to drop a lot.  What would happen to the mussels?

Ms. Swartz asked if he was referring to the Penobscot River.  (Yes) The Department was very involved in that process.  We were working with the Trusts to do a recovery effort.  As the water went down there would be people going in.  All 3 listed species occurred in that river.  We were targeting the rare species that occurred there.  They would go in and do the best they could to move the animals that would be de-watered to an area of the river where they would be stable.

4. Grasshopper sparrow and upland sandpiper assessment

Tom Hodgman, wildlife biologist with the Department’s bird group in Bangor gave a PowerPoint presentation and discussed the assessment (see packet).

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Thurston asked if they would trap the birds to move them to a new location.

Mr. Hodgman stated no, “if you build it they will come”.  It was a matter of working with landowners and forming a plan.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked about the funding objective.

Mr. Hodgman stated the only management we were doing now was one grasshopper sparrow

site, the most important one, and we were doing it through cooperation with the Nature Conservancy.  They were essentially providing the labor and time and we were providing the land.  In terms of monitoring, Mr. Hodgman had been traveling there to monitor that with assistance from a biologist from the Nature Conservancy.  He would like to be able to pull together a small chunk of money that could be used to continue that monitoring.  They would really need someone local that could do it year after year.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if that would be done through grants.

Mr. Hodgman stated probably, through a contract.  It was a few days work.  When the birds were here it was fast and furious.  The more he could bring in partners and others in contracts the better.  The working group was concerned without a funding objective written out, it might get glossed over.

Representative Guerin asked what would have been the historical habitat for them aside from the blueberry barrens before the forests were cut in Maine.

Mr. Hodgman stated these populations very likely would have been small.  There were places like the Kennebunk Plains that would have been prone to fire.  The blueberry barrens would have been there.  The upland sandpiper population may have been slightly larger or smaller during pre-Colonial times because of the Native American burning of the blueberry barrens.  He had a slide that showed the distribution of the upland sandpiper across the northeast, and it was peppered in a few places.  When you got to Washington County that was where they were.  For Grasshopper Sparrow, probably more than we have today, but not a whole lot more.  There would have been habitats like sand plains grasslands that like the Kennebunk Plains, like the Wells Barren in southern Maine that would have burned because they were such a fire dependent eco system.

Mr. Goodwin stated the blueberry barrens were burned in September and October, had new chicks left and gone south by then?

Mr. Hodgman stated yes, that was safe.  The traditional management of blueberry lands and upland sandpiper had worked together for decades.  There had only been recent concern that the mechanization of blueberry harvesting and the more aggressive harvesting where there’s fewer grasses, more of a shrub mix, there’s windrows of trees placed, things like that we’re not sure if that’s good or bad but we are pretty confident that the every other year burn cycle that dominated blueberry cultivation for decades was good and compatible with upland sandpipers.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

Mr. Philbrick distributed a handout to the group and stated that he would be pursuing, through a State Senator, a Constitutional Amendment regarding the “right to hunt and fish” in Maine.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Representative Wood commented on the success of food plots for deer in PA.

Robert Carrier stated a farmer would not let him hunt coyotes on his property because of problems with turkeys.  The farmer had contacted the Department regarding the nuisance turkeys and their response was to issue him blank shells or “noise-makers.”  The farmer was Tony Carroll from Limerick and Mrs. Ritchie was going to try to contact him regarding a nuisance permit for turkeys.

Acting Commissioner Wilkinson discussed the importance of the deer situation in Maine.  This was a top priority for the Governor.  George Smith and Dave Trahan had submitted a “Deer Action Plan” and the Department was working with them on that.  A fact sheet entitled “Life on the Edge – Recovering Maine’s Northern, Western, and Eastern Deer Herd” had been put together and was distributed to everyone attending the Council meeting.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. at IF&W in Augusta.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Usher and that was seconded by Mr. Goodwin to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 1:30 p.m.