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Advisory Council Meeting
December 10 , 2019 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (upstairs conference room)
284 State Street, Augusta
Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Craig McLaughlin, WRAS Supervisor
Bob Cordes, Special Projects Coordinator
Charlie Todd, E&T Species Coordinator
Amanda Cross, Wildlife Planner
Mark Latti, Communications Director
Lauren McPherson, Wildlife Promotional Coordinator
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Diano Circo, Chief Planner
Bill Swan, Director of Licensing and Registration
Dan Scott, Acting Colonel Warden Service
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Matt Thurston (Chair)
Jerry Scribner (Vice-chair)
Shelby Rousseau - by phone
Jeff Reardon, TU
I. Call to Order
Matt Thurston, Council Chair, called the meeting to order.
Introductions were made.
III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting
A motion was made by Mr. Smith to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Sage
Vote: seven(7) un favor; two(2) abstained (Mrs. Peet and Ms. Ware were not in attendance at the last meeting) - minutes approved.
1. Ch. 5 Water Access Rules
Mr. Circo stated these were rules that would apply statewide for our water access sites. We had 150 of them across the state. The original proposal included two specific rules for Mere Point and those had been removed from the final proposal. We had set up a meeting to discuss Mere Point with the town and residents on January 9, 2020 at Brunswick City Hall.
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated it would be an information gathering session, it would not be part of the official rulemaking process. We would be gathering information from the public to help craft the rule.
A motion was made by Mr. Smith to adopt the proposal as amended and that was seconded by Mr. Sage.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed
B. Step 2
1. Ch. 2 Bass Tournaments
Mr. Brautigam stated this was an effort to provide more opportunity for organized bass fishing tournaments to increase the number of participants at club events. Currently, they were allowed up to 15 boats and we were proposing to increase that to 20, but only on waters that were 1,000 acres or larger in size where the clubs were utilizing off site parking. The hope was that would reduce some of the concerns with congestion at existing boat launches. No public hearing was held and only 3 written comments were received. Two were in support and one was not germane to the subject matter. We were proposing a slight clarification to the language. There were questions from the organized bass fishing community about whether or not only 5 of the boats would have to find off-site parking. We were trying to relocate parking associated with the entire event to off-site parking. The additional language accomplished that.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Sage asked about the increase to 20 members, was that to help with congestion at the boat ramp?
Mr. Brautigam stated the clubs had been advocating for an increase in the number. Bass fishing had become popular and the clubs were growing. It would provide the clubs additional opportunity for full participation. Many of our boat launches were small and could accommodate 15+ boats. We were trying to manage the social aspect while trying to provide opportunity for the growing clubs.
2. Captive Wildlife rules
Mrs. Theriault stated we were making a small change to section 7.18, we would be including any species native to Maine as a Category 1 restricted species. This was never clear in rule. If something was a native species to Maine we wouldn't allow someone to possess that without a Category 1 permit. The second proposal was more in depth and stemmed from a bill in the last legislative session, LD 355 - An Act To Exclude Domesticated Species Used for Agricultural Purposes from the Laws Governing Permits To Possess Wildlife in Captivity. We had a constituent that wanted to keep some domestically raised, wild animals in agritourism and wanted to go through the DACF for permits and not get an exhibitors permit through IFW. The bill sponsor felt it was unclear in our rule as to which agency someone would work with for the correct permits. The bill did not move forward and the Department agreed to go through rulemaking to clarify the language.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mrs. Peet asked for an example of a species used for agricultural products that would fall into this category.
Mr. Webb stated Barbary sheep. It was a wild species native to Africa that was pretty common in Texas. Some people were starting to farm them, but it was a wild species.
Mrs. Theriault stated she thought Water Buffalo was included. It would be considered wildlife but used for farming purposes. There was some question as to depending on what the purpose was what kind of permit they needed and which agency to deal with.
Mr. Sage asked if the warden service oversaw the facilities to ensure the species would not be escaping.
Mr. Webb stated that was what the rule would help clarify. There were certain species, were they to be imported into Maine, that did present risk of disease transmission or becoming established in the wild as an invasive species. The language required IFW and the state veterinarian and ACF to make sure the risks were considered before there was a determination as to which agency regulated that importation and management of the animal. In the case of Agriculture, the warden service did not deal with those. If it was an exhibitor or some other type of captive wildlife facility, then staff worked with warden service to ensure they were following the regulations.
Mrs. Theriault stated if there was a type of animal someone wanted to use for agritourism and it was something not already listed as prohibited or restricted or unrestricted they could request a review of that species.
Acting Colonel Scott stated for the species, it really depended on the use. If it was for exhibition we would regulate that, but the same species may be used strictly for farming and that would be agriculture. Some might be both. Thats what the clarification was, it was the activity associated with the species.
Mr. Sage stated we were bringing these animals in and what if the farm animals escaped. Who took care of that for agriculture?
Commissioner Camuso stated most of those having exhibitors permits had one or two animals that were being exhibited, as opposed to farming which generally had a herd or large volume of animals. We would work with the state vet to determine what the use and permit need was. We did not want the warden service or the regional biologist inspecting farms. The Dept. of Agriculture had inspectors that worked with wildlife services and had contract staff by county. This was for all their agricultural purview.
Mr. Thurston stated he had heard there were domestic feral hogs in a Maine community. They were an epidemic across the country.
Commissioner Camuso stated the state had a feral swine working group that met quarterly to discuss any reports of wild boar being released on the landscape. If there was a swine detected lose the farmer had a time frame to retrieve the animal or it would be dispatched.
Mr. Webb stated the same applied for captive cervids as well. We had the strictest captive wildlife regulations in the country.
C. Step 1
There were no items under Step 1.
V. Other Business
1. R3 Presentation
Mr. Cordes gave a PowerPoint presentation to the group. For a copy of the presentation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
R3 was a nationwide effort for the recruitment, retention and re-activation of outdoor partners or participation. It followed the outdoor recreation adoption model and was broken up into phases.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Scribner stated he had attended the furbearer informational meeting, and looking back on the big game management plans, there was a lot of reliance on survey data. Did we have any way of assuring that the action we were taking was matching up with what was getting in the way of folks participating whether it be ideology, cost, support, etc. Did we have a database that provided that type of information.
Mr. Cordes stated part of the effort was to survey participants. Anytime we had an event we would follow up with a survey and that included hunter education or other safety programs. We were working on an online system to enter that. One of the standard questions was barriers, or what other programs people would like to see. Related to the mentored deer hunt on Swan Island, prior to that we did a survey of hunter education participants that never followed up with buying a license and surveyed them to see what the barrier was.
Commissioner Camuso stated for most of the state agencies the license sales were the cornerstone of how the agency was funded. The surveys had been done on national scale. We were trying to not duplicate those surveys that had been conducted across the country but learn from those. We would continue to do follow up surveys.
Mr. Thurston stated one of the barriers at least in his area was where to go. People were much more apt in highly residential areas to have bowhunters or things of that nature in their backyard. They felt safer and not as impacted. We could look at each specific thing and try to drive participation into those certain areas. Access had become a real challenge in the southern part of the state.
Mr. Cordes stated one of the online resources being worked on was an application to drive people to locations. We would be able to email people to let them know there were hunting or fishing locations were in their area. We were hoping to develop a trip planner so people could pick their preferences and find a location.
2. Harvest Statistics 2018 vs. 2019
Mr. Webb stated the numbers in the handouts were preliminary numbers. We would have the final numbers much earlier than before with the new web-based system. The deer season numbers were on track with about 28,000. That was about 4,000 less deer harvested than last year which was in line pre-season projections. We issued about 16,000 fewer any-deer permits which was the primary explanation for the reduction in harvest. In the northern part of the state due to the severity of the winter last year we were seeing a lower harvest there.
Mr. Webb stated for moose, the September season was warm and the weather did impact the success rate. It was low relative to what we typically saw at 66%. Typically, we saw success rates of 80% in the September season. October was more in line with what we typically saw. For that season the overall success rate was 70%. We were continuing to see low submission rates for ovaries for antlerless moose that was a critical piece of information that allowed us to assess pregnancy rates as well as twinning rates which were both key metrics in establishing permit numbers. A compliance rate of 30% was pretty low and it was now mandatory. We were discussing how to increase compliance. We did a good job with outreach to moose hunters on a variety of subjects, but on this particular issue we ramped it up even more with repeated email contact. We had also put together videos so instruct someone how to remove them. Hunters could also bring the entire uterus or parts they thought contained the ovaries and the biologist would locate them.
Mr. Smith stated he didnt remember in years past the rut continuing so late in WMDs 27 and 28, were we looking at different dates for seasons?
Mr. Webb stated typically there was one week between the first and second season, this year because of the calendar there were two weeks between seasons. The second season this year was late relative to what it usually was. We had received some feedback it was too late, but the success rate was good. We heard comments that they were still able to call in bulls. It was a recommendation of the big game plan to look at the issue. The general perspective of staff was anytime we might hold a moose season there was risk of warm weather. Certainly, the risk was higher the earlier the season. There were good ways even on very warm days to properly care for the moose. It was a cultural thing and Maine people were used to bringing animals out whole, not skinning and quartering in the field which was common practice in many other states.
Mr. Webb stated the wild turkey hunting season opened two weeks earlier than it had in the past. We had an increased bag limit from 2 to 5 birds in certain WMDs. Despite the changes, the harvest was on par with what we had seen in similar years with similar conditions. There were just over 1,900 birds harvested. The number of hunters that tagged more than two birds was just under 150. There were 29 that tagged 5 birds which was the maximum. The mast crops were universally high across the majority of the state and when that occurred, we tend to see a lower turkey harvest.
Mr. Webb stated there was a low bear harvest in 2019. We predicted a low harvest and it was a record low year. Their natural food was plentiful, and they were not coming to the baits. There was a bill carried over in the Legislature that would give the Department more authority to set season dates and bag limits in the fall. It would not give the Department authority to establish a spring season. If the bill were passed we would go through the rulemaking process in terms of potentially increasing the bag limit and minor adjustments to season dates. What we really had was a participation problem with bear hunters. We had about 5,000 Maine residents that pursued black bears out of 160,000 licensed big game hunters. There was very limited participation by resident Maine hunters in pursuing bear. Recruiting more hunters into bear hunting would be a more impactful and long-lasting solution. It also tied into R3.
Mrs. Peet asked if the Department had considered a second bear permit?
Mr. Webb stated if the bill passed in its current form it would allow us to do that. Currently, the statute only allowed one bear by hunting and one by trapping.
Mr. Sage asked how many bears would we like harvested each year to keep the population stable?
Mr. Webb stated about 15%, we had approximately 40,000 bear; our goal was to exceed 4,000. As part of our big game planning effort we did ask on the surveys hunters that hunted other species but not bear why they did not hunt bear and there were a variety of reasons. For some it was purely economical or practical; most hunters lived in place where they would have to travel a fair distance for the opportunity to harvest a bear. There was also a wide spread perspective among hunters that bear meat was not good to eat. That was unfortunate.
Mr. Cordes stated it was almost 30% that answered that way. That was a huge barrier and one of our goals in R3 was to get people to try properly handled bear meat.
Commissioner Camuso stated the legislative proposal did propose a reduction in the resident permit fee from $27 to $5. We did see a decline in the number of people buying permits when the fee was raised from $5 to $27. We were hoping that might help recruit more people. We still wanted to track the number of people participating. We knew that overwhelmingly people did not support a spring bear hunt, and we were not going to bring forward a proposal for a spring bear hunt unless it was something the public wanted.
3. RAWA letter of support
Mr. Todd stated Recovering Americas Wildlife Act (RAWA) was growing in support in the House of Representatives; there were currently 162 co-sponsors in the House. A public hearing had been held on the bill and later in October the bill was voted out of Committee and was on the floor of the House of Representatives. The Council packet included a funding vision for Maine which laid out a concept for how the funding would be used. The idea was the money was ear marked for species of greatest conservation need which were identified in the action plan. If we were to average out current funding and divide it by the number of species of greatest conservation need in Maine wed have about $1,200 per year to spend on species conservation projects to keep them from becoming threatened or endangered. RAWA would multiply those funds by 25. Over the course of the development of the bill several states had taken the step of having their commissions a.k.a. Advisory Council offer up formal resolutions for RAWA. It was one thing for the Commissioner or Governor to acknowledge the potential funds, but when a citizens oversight committee said the same thing, it was quite powerful. A resolution had been drafted with an emphasis on Maine. He was not sure how to describe what might happen next in Washington, D.C. with the bill. The vote out of Committee, just like the volume of co-sponsors for RAWA was highly bi-partisan and he thought the vote in the Natural Resources Committee was 26-6 in favor.
Commissioner Camuso stated the total funding allocation for this would be $15.2 million annually. That would be 1/3 of the current annual budget. We would have an additional 30% of funding that would be dedicated to species of greatest conservation need. We had a tentative outline of how we would utilize the funding; managing species of greatest conservation need, land acquisition and management and outreach and education.
Mr. Duchesne stated there was a survey released that summer that stated millions of birds were disappearing from the continent. A lot of those birds were common birds. Blue jays had dropped by to 1/3. We kept looking at endangered species because we were already late on those, we were seeing a lot of other species that were going endangered. Barn swallows in Nova Scotia were now on the endangered species list. Things were getting bad and we needed to take a holistic view on what was going wrong and how to fix it.
Mr. Smith stated a few years ago Pittman Robertson funds had skyrocketed, were they stable or declining?
Mr. Circo stated Pittman Robertson was down slightly and Dingle Johnson had seen a small increase.
Commissioner Camuso stated the money came from the sales tax on hunting and sporting equipment, but about 80% of the money came from shooting sports, guns and ammunition.
Mr. Thurston stated if Maines portion of the funding was 11.4 million and if we had to match it to get to the 15 million, what was the total expenditure of the bill across the country?
Mr. Todd stated the money flowing out was 1.4 billion. Federal aid administered the money, but it was state money and that was different. Currently, the only pathway from having a species in trouble and having support from other sources was to federally list it. We were caught in a vicious cycle of identifying what was at risk and coming back to the courtroom.
Commissioner Camuso stated the concept was initiated by business with their approach being it was less expensive to prevent listing than to have to deal with the listing regulations. When they were trying to do their work and they had listed species on their property or nearby it was onerous to deal with the regulations and they would prefer to do the work and prevent the listing.
Mr. Webb stated we did a lot with our Pittman Robertson funding such as nongame conservation, i.e. bald eagle recovery. If the bill were to pass it would allow us to fund some of those programs with the new funding source and do more with Pittman Robertson funds.
Mr. Todd stated both the Commissioner and Governor had submitted their support through the Maine Delegation. The resolution signed by the Council would also be forwarded to the traditional Maine focused contacts. The National Alliance, there was one document that was produced by them which was the coalition of all the conservation organizations and sportsmans groups and business leaders that supported it. They would like a copy of the resolution.
Mr. Thurston asked if the steering committee and things of that nature determined where on a yearly basis we were going to spend the incoming money, or how was it determined where the money would be spent.
Commissioner Camuso stated that would be a budget discussion within the agency. We would probably have a committee of people working on a budget of that level. There had been a request in the past for a group of people to consult with to help determine priorities for non-game species. The budget went before the Legislature for a full public review.
VI. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions
Mr. Smith asked about auto-renew for licenses.
Mr. Swan stated it was being called "easy renew" and when you bought an online license you would have the opportunity to opt in. You could specify a date the following year and an email would be sent to you automatically as a reminder to purchase your license. When you clicked the provided link, it would take you 1/3 of the way through the process with your information and license added to the cart. You would be able to make updates if needed. You would also be signing up for the Department to retain your credit card information. If you did not need make any changes you could easily purchase your license in one minute or less.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting
The next Advisory Council Meeting was scheduled for Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. at IFW Augusta
A motion was made by Mr. Smith and that was seconded by Mr. Sage to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 p.m.