Meeting Minutes

March 28, 2023 @ 9:30am
353 Water Street, 4th floor conference room
Augusta, ME
(and virtually via Microsoft Teams)


Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Mark Latti, Communications Director
Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director
Kelsey Sullivan, Game Bird Biologist
Lee Kantar, Moose Biologist
Bill Swan, Director of Licensing and Registration
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Kristin Peet (Chair)
Eric Ward
Al Cowperthwaite
Bob Duchesne
Tony Liguori
Ed Pineau- via Teams
Mike Gawtry via Teams
Jennifer Geel via Teams
Vacant Hancock County

1 in person
6 additional staff and public online

I. Call to Order

Shelby Rousseau, Council Vice-Chair, called the meeting to order.

I-A. Pledge of Allegiance

II. Moment of Silence

III. Introductions

Introductions were made.

IV. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting
A motion was made by Mr. Pineau to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Duchesne.

Vote: unanimous in favor minutes approved.
V. Rulemaing

A. Step. 3

There were no items under Step 3.

B. Step 2

1. 2023/24 Migratory Bird Seasons

Mr. Sullivan stated there were two written comments received. One was related to extending the coastal zone season a couple of days into January by shifting it in the beginning of November. By doing that, they would lose a 3-day window for guides who had expressed interest in having the first opportunity for guided hunts in November for 3 days which made sense for guided trips. Based on the comment, the season would only move from January 9 to January 11. The second comment was a letter from Fred Hartman in Whiting. He had several comments, much of what he suggested was against the general concerns and desires of the waterfowl council. Most of his points were the opposite of what was presented and proposed. There were no questions regarding the comments. Mr. Sullivan stated based on what had been received, he didn't see any reason to make adjustments to the proposal.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Duchesne stated the sea ducks had vanished. He didnt think it affected the proposal, but something was happening.

Mr. Sullivan stated it was based on habitat, there were a lot of variables.

Mrs. Peet asked if there was any work between Maine, Canada, etc. to address the issue.

Mr. Sullivan stated there was the Sea Duck Joint Venture with the USFWS that annually received research grants/proposals and we met with Canada/New Brunswick a few years ago specific to eiders. It was on the radar and there were studies going on for scoters and eiders as a regional effort.

Mr. Webb stated if the Council was supportive the proposal could be moved to Step 3 for adoption.

There were no further questions or comments, and a motion was made by Mr. Duchesne to move the proposal to Step 3. The motion was seconded by Mr. Cowperthwaite.

Vote: Unanimous proposal moved to Step 3.

A motion was made by Mr. Duchesne to accept the proposal as presented and that was seconded by Mr. Pineau.

Vote: Unanimous in favor motion passed.

C. Step 1

1. Ch. 5 rules Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area (Swan Island)

Mr. Webb stated the proposal was in reference to Swan Island in the Kennebec River. It had a lot of public use with a campgrounds on the north end of the island that for quite a number of years we had provided access from the Richmond side. Historically, we had a member of staff from the Sidney regional office spend about 6-8 months per year operating as a full time Swan Island manager and we hired two seasonal staff during the summer. There had been a number of changes over the past couple of years that caused us to rethink the model which we facilitate public access to the island. Staff housing used for seasonal staff was condemned due to mold and other issues. There was also a determination by the Coast Guard last year that the ferry needed to meet Coast Guard requirements for a ferry in tidal waters. For the Department to continue operating the ferry in the way that we had we would have to make significant upgrades to the ferry (which we were pursuing) and we would have to hire someone with a captains license to run the ferry for the trip across the river to the island. A captains license required a significant amount of training. We opted not to continue with that, and felt the path forward was to switch to a self-access model where the island would stay open for public use and camping, but the public would have to provide their own access or contract with a Maine guide to get them back and forth across the river.

Mr. Webb stated given that transition and the model for public use there were some changes necessary in the rule. One of the changes was removing the requirement for a reservation. We would also not require a fee and go to a first come first served approach which was similar to remote campsites across the state on the Bureau of Public Lands land base. We retained the option to charge a fee, the Commissioner would have the authority to charge a fee but it was not something we anticipated doing in the short term. We were proposing to limit campers to three consecutive nights rather than two. The rules pertaining to campfires had also been amended. There had also been discussion around providing more opportunity for mentored hunting on the island. There was no hunting on the island currently.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Liguori asked about upgrading the ferry.

Mr. Webb stated we were pursuing that. We owned the ferry and used it routinely to transport equipment, including heavy equipment to the island for habitat management work. We needed to retain the ferry to support other objectives on the island, we felt it made sense to upgrade the ferry to meet Coast Guard requirements. It would also give us the option to hire a captain for future events.

Mr. Duchesne asked if there was any kind of registration necessary once you got to the island?

Mr. Webb stated there would probably be some type of sign in. We intended to continue to have a staff presence there and hire two seasonal staff for the summer.

Mr. Pineau stated he thought it would be important to watch what the numbers were of people using the island. He thought it was positive going to self-access. What kind of expense would upgrading the ferry be?

Mr. Webb stated he believed it was around $15,000.

Mrs. Peet asked about outreach to let people know about the change.

Mr. Webb stated staff was having discussions with the town and well as members of the legislature, and we did intend to let the public know. In our favor was that during Covid, use was restricted and transportation to the island had been suspended. All of last summer it kind of functioned in this way, but reservations and fees for camping had been required.

Commissioner Camuso asked if local communities had started renting canoes and kayaks there last year.

Mr. Webb stated there had been discussions, but he was not sure if that happened. There was potential for business opportunities for private individuals or the town to provide rental watercraft or transportation.

There were no further questions or comments.

2. Moose Permit Allocations 2023

Mr. Kantar stated the Department had a process for dealing with moose management and permit allocations. The process begins with the collection of data throughout the year and meetings with regional staff. Flights were conducted as well as winter tick counts. We had the lowest tick count on moose since 2006. That was a predictor of what spring mortality may look like from winter ticks. One of the worst years, of the 70 collared moose we lost 61 from winter ticks and the next year things changed. Because of the changes in climate and shorter winters and the way the forest was harvested, it was really complex. He was appreciative of the collaring efforts, when doing research you wanted to capture the extremes and we were now two years in a row of extremes. We collared another 70 moose in 2022 which we were monitoring. To date, only 2 moose had been lost.

Mr. Kantar stated staff had come together and made some recommendations. A lot of what they did came from the Big Game Management Plan which was developed in 2016 and was in place from 2017 2027. This plan was very different from the 2000-2015 plan which was based on objectives looking at how many moose could we have on the landscape and figuring out how many moose there were. With the onslaught of winter tick, that big game plan shifted to the idea of health and trying to reduce disease issues and increase productivity and get more healthy moose out there. Along with that, we recognized in the core range of moose (WMDs 1-11 & 19) when you have a system as we did in the past where you just depended on harvest data to manage wildlife, you didnt have a lot of data. With the new big game plan, we moved to looking at the amount of access in the areas and how many moose permits would you have based on hunter density. Part of the new plan was about what hunter expectations were, and when access was lost and success rates went down and it was hard to find a moose at what point was the state providing opportunity to hunt moose or just not have any permits there.

Mr. Kantar stated for the core range this year we were not proposing any changes except for WMD 8 where we were adding another 50 cow permits. WMD 8 was our research area starting in 2014 for seven years. For a lot of the areas with good habitat, there had been too many moose. When there were too many moose, we had a problem with winter ticks that was driving the population. This was talking about utilizing moose and harvesting moose so that winter ticks werent doing it for us. WMD 8 is 2,000 square miles and has a massive amount of moose habitat. 150 total cow permits in that WMD was not even touching it. The other recommendation that was in the peripheral range. Several years ago, one thing that came out of the big game plan we took WMDs 27 & 28 and made that a combined unit. On paper, we had the same amount of permits but you had the ability to hunt in both WMDs. Based on that model and the shrinkage of WMDs, in WMD 13 recently there were 5,000 acres that would no longer have access for hunting. We were recommending combining WMDs 7 & 13. Looking back, in 1980 our units for hunting were very large. We had large units and small permit numbers. Now, we have really small units with really large permit numbers. The recommendation to combine WMDs would give hunters flexibility and provide opportunity. We were also recommending combining WMDs 12 & 15. WMD 15 used to be part of the southern Maine moose hunt. What no one could foresee was what the impact of winter tick would be and the shrinking of the states moose range. We did have WMDs 22, 23, 25 & 26 open for the southern Maine moose hunt and it has since gone to zero permits. Weve now added WMD 16 with zero permits. We wanted to retain permits in WMD 15 as there was moose habitat there, but it would go to an October bull season and fall in with WMD 12. WMDs 14 & 17 were also being combined. WMD 17 had a 0% success rate last year.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Commissioner Camuso asked about the application process for combined zones.

Mr. Kantar stated there wouldnt be any change you would list your preferred choice of WMD.

Mr. Pineau asked about permits in WMD 9 the Moosehead region. Looking at dates was there a reason the upper part of WMD 9 did not have a September hunt. In October it was a cluster with bird hunters.

Mr. Kantar stated the issue was currently being discussed in the Legislature. Biological staff had recommended a September opening in some of the western units previously. It was written in the big game management plan to open those units in September.

Mr. Kantar discussed the adaptive moose hunt. There had been 2 years of the adaptive hunt, success rates in year two were half of what they were in year one going from 52 to 26. In trying to make adjustments to the adaptive hunt and increase success, the sideboards were very limited due to other seasons such as bird season, bear season, etc. There was also limited infrastructure. We were hesitant to increase the number of permits there. We wanted to expand the amount of time an adaptive moose hunter could hunt, so we were proposing two weeks. There would be three different segments, each segment being two weeks. For each two-week period there would be 200 permits issued. The dates would limit conflicts with other hunters. This would be year three of the adaptive hunt with the goal to increase harvest for decline in winter tick numbers.

Mr. Pineau asked if there was a way to find out from moose hunters from the survey if they stopped hunting mid-week. Numbers of hunters seemed to drop off mid-week.

Mr. Kantar stated traditionally, 75% of the moose harvested occurred in the first three days of the hunt. We had also surveyed hunters of the adaptive hunt regarding their experiences.

Mr. Cowperthwaite stated at the beginning of the adaptive hunt he tried to find places for people to put campers. There werent that many roads compared to the rest of the zones and it was extremely thick, it was a lot of new growth. The hunters would be able to see each other because of the limited number of roads to travel on. He was impressed with going to two weeks because that would help the people that were patient. The Maine moose hunt was a quality hunt and trying to get a moose in 6 days was extremely stressful. He thought the proposal was a comprehensive reasonable plan.

Mr. Duchesne asked about the land that was being locked up, was that private owners or timber management companies?

Mr. Kantar stated it seemed western Maine was being hit harder. The land was not necessarily closed to walk ins. The issue sometimes was how to get a moose out if you did harvest one if vehicle access was not allowed.

Mrs. Peet stated a meeting was held recently about access. Part of the land being locked up was some of the environmental organizations that were doing conservation. Some left it up to the landowner to restrict access, but some organizations that had easements or were buying the land in fee wanted to see culverts pulled and gates up. She appreciated that regional staff had started the conversation and it was something conservation organizations needed to think about. They often brought in IFW part way through the process of an easement, and she thought they needed to ask earlier in the project planning process to say "what is the important access" for the area. Hunting hadnt been in their foresight at the beginning of projects and her organization was going to try and do better.

There were no further questions or comments.

VI. Other Business

1. Legislation Update

Commissioner Camuso stated there were a number of bills being discussed with the legislative committee. Upcoming Sunday hunting bills were anticipated to have a lot of interest. 60% - 80% of landowners were opposed to Sunday hunting. The Department spent approximately 6 hours at the legislature discussing wake boats with the Committee. There were known effects such as erosion from the wake boats and they were trying to figure out how to navigate that. There were a number of bills regarding free permits, bonus points, lifetime license, etc. to veterans or a new segment of the public. The Department supported veterans, but the bills would have to be written in a different way i.e. NJ veterans received free permits but the Legislature provided funding to the Department and they were still able to receive federal match dollars. Antlerless deer permits and moose permits were topics being discussed. A stakeholder group to look at the issues would likely be assembled. Bills may be carried over to the next session. There were upcoming hearings on the coyote bills, and they were anticipated to have the largest attendance.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Ward asked about the adaptive moose hunt and individuals not losing their bonus points.

Mr. Webb stated a hearing had been held on the bill and it would be discussed further when the work session was scheduled.

Mr. Ward stated he was in favor of LD 1049. He would keep speaking to protect Maines native fish populations.

Mrs. Peet asked about the bill to move the IFW headquarters.

Commissioner Camuso stated we had a proposal in as part of the budget to move to the East Campus. The former Augusta town manager had put in a bill for the headquarters to be moved to another property where we had originally proposed the move. There were too many obstacles to be able to move the headquarters there and the bill was killed.

Mr. Cowperthwaite asked if it would be a new building or an existing building to renovate?

Commissioner Camuso stated it would be combination. The new location was on the East Campus adjacent to other natural resource agencies. It would reuse a historical building with additions. A presentation on the new building could be provided at the next meeting.

Mr. Duchesne asked about the ATV club liability issue.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated there was nothing new and no bills moving forward.

Mr. Cowperthwaite asked about the wake boat issue.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated we were not in favor of the 500-foot buffer regulation that was part of the bill. There was an existing law for operating with prudent speed, that you cant have a damaging wake coming ashore currently. The warden service had spoken about headway speed and the water safety zone, but not on any type of damaging wake. The current law could deal with the wake boat if it were damaging the shoreline. We had options for education with mandatory boater education pointed towards wake boats if that was what the Committee wanted to do. There were studies across the U.S. regarding wake boats. We didnt know a lot about them in Maine and wanted to look at that information. Mandatory boater education would go into effect January of 2024, for anyone born after 1999 (age 25). The Legislature had the opportunity to make amendments to the age, etc.

Commissioner Camuso stated other bills of interest were relevant to lead sinkers, threatened and endangered species protection and funding for wetlands and large scale solar and wind projects.

VII. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VIII. Public Comments & Questions

Claire Perry stated it was hard for her to see the reaction some of the committee members had when the coyote bills came up. She felt deeply sorry. She believed the science of the animal was not being looked at and only the hate seemed to be well understood. She would encourage the members to read the testimonies that would be coming in from people who had experience with them and who cared about science. She knew 4 out of 5 wildlife biologists on the subcommittee were strongly in favor of a well-regulated season for the coyote. She was not a coyote lover anymore than she was a deer lover and she was not anti-hunting she just couldnt not say something.

Commissioner Camuso stated she wanted to clarify that the Advisory Council would not be the ones making that decision, it would be going to the legislative committee.

Claire Perry stated she fully understood that.

Mr. Duchesne discussed the Maine Bird Atlas; it was an astonishing project.

Christa Rose stated she wanted to introduce herself and bring some attention to a wildlife and ecology initiative that was developing throughout the northeast. She had started the Northeastern Puma Project and there was also a puma research collaborative that had been fundraising and generating peer review research on different aspects of cougar recovery in the U.S. There were also two events that spring she wanted to put on the radar, the first was a session on catamounts at the Northeastern Natural History conference in Burlington, VT during earth day weekend. The second event was a symposium on rewilding North American species at the Northeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conference in Hershey, PA in May. She would be at both events and would enjoy connecting with wildlifers and ecologists from the Department.
IX. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, May 9th at 9:30am at IFW, Augusta.

X. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Ward and that was seconded by Mr. Duchesne to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:15 a.m.