Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012 @ 9:30 a.m.


Attending:       Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
                        Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
                        John Boland, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
                        Jim Connolly, Wildlife Division Director
                        Mike Brown, Fisheries Division Director
                        Gregory Sanborn, Deputy Chief Game Warden
                        Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
                        COUNCIL MEMBERS
                        Steve Philbrick, Chair
                        Cathy DeMerchant, Vice-Chair
                        Mike Witte
                        Dick Thurston
                        Lance Wheaton
                        Jeff Lewis
                        Lila Ware
                        Bos Savage
                        Representative Jane Eberle
Carlisle McLean, Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Governor’s Office
                        Don Kleiner, Maine Professional Guides Assoc.
                        Judy Finley
                        Gary Corson, New Sharon
                        Dennis Smith
                        Rick Denico
                        Kevin O’Brien
                        Harold Brown                        
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 Mr. Thurston and seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant to accept the Council minutes for the last meeting.
Vote:  unanimous – minutes accepted.
IV.  Rulemaking

            A.  Step 3

There were no items at Step 3.

B.  Step 2

1.  Horsepower Restriction Petition, Travel Pond, Jefferson

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated a public hearing had been scheduled for January 31st, and we would bring the recommendation to the Council at the February meeting.

Mr. Witte stated he had done some research.  In the last 2 years there had been no formal complaints on the pond.  There was an issue with an individual that had purchased a float boat and a small motor boat and put in a dock.

Mr. Savage stated that it would have to be a safety issue for the Department to agree with the petitioner’s request.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated yes.  We would find out what the issue was a the public hearing.

            C.  Step 1

1,  2012 Moose season permits

Mr. Connolly read a paragraph from Lee Kantar stating the key points regarding the moose permits…

Regional biologists and I met on January 13th to discuss moose permit allocations.  For the first time in IF&W history we have succeeded in directly estimating moose abundance across the northern tier of the state in WMDs 1-6 which comprises our best moose habitat and highest moose densities. 

Mr. Connolly stated that they had been doing double observer helicopter counts in the northern part of the state and implemented that.  That was huge for us in having actual moose data on the ground and population estimates.  He continued from Mr. Kanter…

In addition we have completed composition flights in three of the management districts WMDs 2, 3 and 4 which provide insight into WMDs that have sustained the highest harvest rates in WMD 3, highest bull only harvest rates in WMD 4 and harvest rates under a changed management strategy which is WMD 2 which is a recreational and compromise zone. 

Mr. Connolly stated the composition counts were the sex and age structure so they started looking at bulls vs. cows so they’re starting to get that good information data.

We’ve also collected and summarized reproductive data in the northern WMDs for the second year in a row.  The overall collection of 222 sets of ovaries in 2011 marks a significant increase in sample size providing the Department with a clear understanding of moose population dynamics.

Mr. Connolly stated when they’re getting the ovaries they can get the reproductive history of the cows and start to look to see what the reproduction was as well.  We had gotten terrific data for moose, it’s a historic time.  Mr. Kantar was really excited moving forward with our ability to manage moose in Maine.  We also had the cooperation of the Maine Forest Service in doing the surveys.  It had given us valuable information along with the reproductive data from the cows.  We were also using the helicopter surveys to monitor deer at the same time.  In the past, part of the moose management system called for us to use observations of moose by deer hunters as one of the key interests.  With the change in the deer situation in northern Maine that was not reliable anymore.  We had to have a new way to do this and going forward we would be updating the moose management system to incorporate this more directly.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Lewis asked if the numbers were indicating what we thought they would.

Mr. Connolly stated Mr. Kantar did have time to incorporate the numbers and presented that to the regional biologists and he felt some adjustments had been made as a result.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked about the numbers from last year and how they compared.

Mr. Connolly said that could be provided.

Mr. Wheaton stated he would like to see the kill ratios for each WMD, cows and bulls.

Mr. Connolly stated the one thing Mr. Kantar cautioned about was success rate changes based on weather and hunting conditions.  Sometimes people began to make a correlation between success and population levels.  If you have a warm fall, you have rainy conditions you begin to impact that ability for a hunter to be successful.  It wasn’t related to the population, it was related to the hunting conditions.  They shouldn’t focus on success rates, but look at the fact that we had population information behind that, reproductive data and indicators that were independent of that.

Mr. Witte asked if Mr. Kantar was going to compile the information from the research into a report.

Mr. Connolly stated we could schedule Mr. Kantar to attend future Council meetings.

Mrs. Ware stated she was looking forward to the compilation.  Northern Somerset County was really unhappy with the late cow season.

Mr. Thurston asked if the November cow shooting was being studied.  There was a lot of flack about it.  Why were we shooting cows after the population was low.

Mr. Connolly read more from Mr. Kantar’s statement, “September moose hunts in Maine are world class.  We recommend September hunts as bull only hunts to provide a world class moose hunt in Maine.  Cow calf bonding is critical to calves.  Placing antlerless permits in primarily November or October allows the cow calf bond to remain longer in time.  November cow harvests allow for collection of critical reproductive data.” At that point and time you’re able to get that reproductive data so you’re not only counting numbers, but then you’re beginning to look at how successful those animals are going to be in replenishing the herd the coming year.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there would be a comprehensive report from Mr. Kantar through Mr. Connolly and the Commissioner’s office.  He thought there were about 20 fewer permits than last year’s total.  The ratio of bulls to cows was an important consideration for Mr. Kantar and the number of antlerless permits were not solely for research purposes, it was mostly for the balance of the ratio. 

Mr. Lewis asked if we were managing any of the WMDs for size, older age class, maybe trophy moose.

Commissioner Woodcock stated up north we did have a consideration in WMDs 1 and 2 mostly.

Mr. Savage asked if there were any of the WMDs that were being managed for safety around the moose/car collisions.

Mr. Connolly stated we had some, specifically WMDs 22, 23, 25 and 26, that were considered safety districts where we were focused on that solely.  There were also WMDs for recreational hunting and the compromise where there was a balance between recreational hunting opportunity, moose/car collisions and also depredation issues with crop damage.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we also added to that particular areas for moose viewing.

Mr. Wheaton discussed WMD 11.  He found 4 moose last spring where the ticks had sucked the blood out of them and they were dead.  During the summer he noticed moose he thought had brain worm.  He also thought in WMD 11 the kill ratio was way down and he was waiting to see the numbers.  Were the ticks and worms getting worse?  Were there any statistics to show how many moose we were losing to that?

Mr. Connolly stated that was something Mr. Kantar could report on when he put together his information.  That had been a concern of his and trying to monitor that by working with wardens and regional biologists to collect animals and assess them for that.  Also talking to NH and VT to see what other states were observing as well regarding ticks and lungworm.

Mr. Philbrick stated relative to the cow moose hunt in the fall and the success rate of that, would that impact the cow permit numbers in the areas that it was allowed.  There was a potential when you killed a cow moose that you may have killed two.

Mr. Connolly stated a cow that died in September wasn’t any more or less dead than one that died in November.  We anticipated that in the permit structure.  There wasn’t the inability of moose to breed.  When they dropped out of the population you weren’t effecting the population more or less.  The factor was we set the permits for that to occur.

Commissioner Woodcock clarified Mr. Philbrick’s statement.  Would we diminish the moose in his area significantly by killing off too many cows?

Mr. Connolly stated when the permits were set, they looked at the harvest and what had gone on as well as the population information they had as well.  It was all taken into account to see that things were on track and look for changes in the sex ratio to understand if we’re impacting the population. 

Mr. Philbrick stated there was still a concern and it needed to be discussed in the sporting community in WMDs 7, 8, 12 and 13 that made them understand that even though there was a cow hunt, they had a hard time understanding it would not impact future years.  The numbers were the same as last year, 125 and 30.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the numbers were different in 7 and 8.

Mr. Connolly stated in WMD 8 they were dropping from 118 to 60 permits.  In 7 there was an 18% decrease in permits overall.

Mr. Witte asked what those decreases were based on.  Apparently we didn’t have the results back yet.

Mr. Connolly stated they did have the harvest numbers for those WMDs.  They also had the flight population estimates where they had surveyed.  In WMDs 7 and 8 they took a conservative approach, normally they tried to look at 50 cows per 100 bulls when developing the sex ratios and the harvest and setting the permits.  They decreased that to ½ in 7 and 8 recognizing there was a concern in that area and the fact that we hadn’t been able to do the composition counts or to do the flights to determine the population levels at all.  Mr. Kantar was hoping to get to WMD 8 to get some data to firm up the numbers.

Mrs. DeMerchant stated it would be helpful to have the information at the meetings so they could make the comparisons.

Mr. Connolly stated part of the challenge was that Lee had been flying daily.  We had to wait to get the harvest information in from the stores and then all the data had to be analyzed.  Resources were an issue and it was a tight schedule to meet.

Mrs. Ware stated the rulemaking process had dates that had to be followed and the process had to get started.

Mrs. DeMerchant stated she was concerned they have the information prior to Step 2 so they could review it.

Mr. Connolly stated that was the intent.

The Council discussed the process and when they would have to have the numbers approved.

Mr. Philbrick stated the process could not be held up and March was when they would finalize the numbers.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated we were going to get the application period started with the proposed numbers with a disclaimer stating there may be potential for change.  Shortening the application period to 2 months even though the majority of people applied online would be a huge administrative burden. 

Mr. Philbrick asked about the online vs. paper applications.  Should we be looking at ways to capture back the people that weren’t going online to do it?

Commissioner Woodcock stated online was the way to go; in the future more of a percentage would be applying online than we had now.  90% of applicants applied online.

Mr. Wheaton stated they did not have all the data before them regarding the moose season.  It was the Department’s ruling that when they came to Step 3 there was no discussion, just a vote.  He wanted to change that so they could discuss it before they took a vote.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the process was the Council’s process and it was set up to be protective of the process.  They could do whatever they wanted for a process, but it needed to function in a reasonable fashion.  The timetable of the moose application process was a little condensed because we had to put it out to the public.

Mrs. Erskine stated the reason for the change in Step 3 probably was because of a conflict in law.  The Administrative Procedures Act allows a public comment period and it’s a 30-day public comment period if you don’t hold a public hearing.  If you do, it’s at least 10 days after.  What was happening in the past was we would have put the notice out, the Council would have had a meeting and seen the notice and in 30 days the comment period would have ended and the Department would adopt the rule and then discuss with the Council.  In the past, the comment period would have ended but the public was still allowed to attend Council meetings.  After the comment period had ended people would come to the Advisory Council meetings and lobby Council members and might affect change when the rest of the public had been shut off.  That was why at Step 3 when there was no discussion allowed, it didn’t mean they couldn’t talk about, it meant at that point the Department was bringing its recommendations forward and asking the Council’s consent.  Everything should be worked out prior to that.  If the Council was not comfortable with the process they could look to change it.

Kevin O’Brien asked when the public comment period closed at Step 2 and there’s not to be any public comment beyond that point, are the Council members if they receive phone calls between the end of Step 2 and Step 3, are they refusing to talk to their constituents?

Mr. Philbrick stated he did not refuse to talk to them, but did inform them the public process was completed.

Commissioner Woodcock stated Deputy Commissioner Erskine would like to debrief the Council on her recent meeting regarding the controlled moose hunt.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated this was the second year the debriefing had been held on the controlled moose hunt.  Ben LeBlanc was in attendance who did the registrations.  Dave Hentosh, land manager for Smith Farms was also there.  By all accounts the hunt was very successful.  Some of the recommended changes would be getting the permits out to the people and changes in the permit numbers being given out.  The Department issues permits to 3 groups, guides, landowners and disabled veterans.  The permits issued to disabled veterans was looked upon very favorably and for 2012 they would like to increase the number of permits issued to disabled vets and also recognize the monetary burden placed on the guides providing the service.  Peter Ogden from Veteran’s Services was also acknowledging the fact and was looking into providing gas cards for the guides that were driving the veterans and taking them out. 

The number of permits issued to landowners was reduced last year because the success rate was low.  Towns had been identified to address moose/vehicle collisions in addition to the crop damage that’s occurring.  The landowners in those towns were choosing to not hunt on their land.  They were taking the permit and going to either the Smith’s or the Ayer’s land, where the hunt was easier.  Landowner permits were reduced and they could only harvest a cow.  They were opting to go after bulls turning it into a recreational rather than a controlled hunt.  For 2012 they discussed reducing the permits from 100 to 51 breaking the permits into thirds with disabled vets, landowners and guides.  There would be 7 guides that would obtain 3 permits each; 15 landowners and 15 for disabled vets. 

The only negative that was discussed was from Mr. LeBlanc.  Being at the registration station and hearing all the talk, people that weren’t part of the process were seeing it as having a negative impact on the moose population as a whole and impacting the recreational hunt.  She felt that Lee’s flying was indicating that it was not an issue.

Mr. Savage asked if the controlled moose hunt numbers were reflected in the proposal or was that completely separate.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated it was separate. 

Mr. Lewis asked what the cost was to the Department for the controlled hunt.  There was training the Department had to put on and it had gone on for a couple of years.  Had we thought about doing it like out West.  If the landowner had damage they were issued a permit to do with as they wished and we could charge them to do that.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated that had been discussed.  The hunt took place during the time the farmers were trying to harvest crops and they didn’t want to manage hunters.  By law a farmer could take 2 moose that were damaging crops and keep those, beyond that they would go to the Hunters for the Hungry Program.

Major Sanborn stated if they were paying a large sum for a permit, they would be targeting trophy bulls.  Farmers wanted the cows gone too; they did as much damage as the bulls.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked about enforcement issues.

Major Sanborn stated the controlled hunt was handled differently than the recreational hunt.  The purpose of the controlled hunt was to kill moose and get them off the farmland.  That’s why the farmers got upset if the guides passed up cows and only harvested large bulls.

Mr. Philbrick stated Mr. Lewis’s point was well taken about the economic impact to the Department, what was his suggestion?

Mr. Lewis stated at some point he thought the Department needed to put the burden back on the farmer.  In the West, they got their landowner tags because the wildlife drank from the water that they provide.  It seemed like a lot of cost and work for the Department.  Eventually it would be nice if it could run itself and it didn’t cost.

Mr. Savage stated it seemed strange that a farmer could get a permit and then go to somebody else’s farm to get a moose.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated it wasn’t the farmers that were doing that.  We gave permits to landowners of 80 acres as well in addition to the guides that were issued permits to go on the farms.  There was some concern that permits went to guides, but that was what the farmers wanted.  They didn’t want to say no to the guides because they knew the guides were going to manage it.

Mr. Savage stated somebody with 80 acres of non farm land that was not being damaged by moose was eligible to draw a permit?

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated there was also a concern for moose/car collisions in a certain corridor.  A lot of the land was in that corridor. 

Mr. Connolly stated there was also access.  The landowners provided the opportunity for hunters to go on their land.  When dealing with depredation or crop damage permits there was resentment from hunters next door that watched animals being taken that could have been taken by someone that bought a license.  When speaking of land out West the landowner owned the water, not the State.  There were many differences across the country and so the perception of State of Maine owns the wildlife and there’s an expectation by the residents of Maine that we’ll manage it for all people and not parcel it out to individuals. 

Mr. Wheaton discussed car/moose collisions.  If we killed every moose but 1 there was no guarantee that moose would not cross the road.  We knew of areas that moose crossed more often, but there were many ways to approach the management of that.  He discussed different signs he’d seen that he felt were effective.  The farmers had to take some responsibility as to their land.  He felt we shouldn’t give them the license, we should sell them the licenses.  The farmers could then sell the permits to whomever they wanted for whatever price they wanted. 

Mr. Witte stated when the hunt started the farmers were saying they would take care of the moose, but would close their land to recreational hunting.  He asked Deputy Commissioner Erskine if anyone had met with the management people that started the process.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated Dave Hentosh was the manager for Smith Farms and he did an incredible job managing the permits after we issued them.  It was the administrative part of it that took Department time.  Every year we made changes to make it more manageable.  The hunt was successful.  The moose were actually changing their habits because of the hunt taking place and they were not requiring as many permits to be issued.

Mr. Philbrick stated possibly looking at the hunt as strictly an opportunity for disabled individuals to go in and harvest.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated that would be great if we could find a way to compensate the guides.

Dennis Smith stated since the last meeting on the fishing regulations he had been talking with people about what happened especially regarding Jellison Hill Pond.  The attention that was placed on Jellison Hill Pond and the wild trout population and given the conditions this year, the pond had frozen over and everyone could get in there easily and it had really had an impact on the wild trout population.  They had caught trout up to 4 lbs.  The Commissioner’s emergency powers might be a discussion for the Council sometime to see if he could intercede on a situation like this.  Mr. Smith stated he was not in favor of denying opportunity to anglers but he was in favor of bag, length and tackle restrictions to achieve the protection of the wild trout.

V.  Other Business

1.  Allagash Wilderness Waterway presentation

Rick Denico stated the Department had been very helpful with their nonprofit helping them accomplish certain things in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway which was very important to make the Waterway function properly.  The nonprofit talked with the Bureau of Parks and Lands to find out where the needs were and then tried to correct them.  He then gave a Powerpoint presentation pointing out accomplishments of the Loc Dam Preservation Limited Association.

VI.  Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

Commissioner Woodcock discussed a letter that he and Council members had received from 13 year old Peter Michaud regarding antler point restrictions and doe permits for youth deer day.

Mr. Philbrick stated, after much discussion amongst the Council,  that a presentation would be beneficial to the Council on antler point restrictions.  A presentation would be scheduled for the February or March meeting.

VII.  Public Comments & Questions

Harold Brown hoped the Council would recognize the letter from the 13 year old and encourage he and others to do more of that.

VIII.  Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. at IF&W in Augusta.

IX.  Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and that was seconded by Mr. Thurston to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 p.m.