ADVISORY COUNCIL MEETING
March 26, 2020 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
(This council meeting was held during Governor Mill’s State of Emergency due to Covid-19 limiting the ability to hold public meetings. Participation was by teleconference - TEAMS meeting)
Attending: Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director Bureau of Resource Management
Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director
Lee Kantar, Wildlife Biologist
Emily MacCabe, Director of Information and Education
Steve Allarie, Game Warden Corporal
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Jerry Scribner (vice-chair)
Don Kleiner, MPGA
I. Call to Order
Commissioner Camuso 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: unanimous minutes approved.
- Step 3
There were no items under Step 3.
- Step 2
1. Migratory Bird Season 2020-2021
Commissioner Camuso stated she had reviewed the calendar and this particular item; the public hearing had been held and the comment period had closed so it could be moved to Step 3 and adopted. There were no comments in opposition, the only real change was to the Brant season.
Ms. Orff stated no written comments had been received on the proposal. There were some comments at the public hearing but nothing that stood out as recommending changes.
Commissioner Camuso stated the rulemaking schedule as it pertained to moose permits, we could not meet at Step 2 until after May 1st. In order to enact the migratory bird rules, the council needed to meet before then. If the council was willing to move the proposal to Step 3 the next meeting would be after the end of the comment period for moose.
Commissioner Camuso asked the council if they were in favor of moving the proposal to Step 3 and the council voted unanimously in favor.
Mr. Webb stated the migratory bird rules were adjusted annually for calendar dates and to fit the seasons within the federal framework. There was a minor change to the framework that we proposed starting the coastal waterfowl zone hunting season on November 6th in order to include an additional weekend that would otherwise have been lost if the hunt started on November 9th. That was the only change out of the norm and it was just a couple of days and gave the coastal zone waterfowl hunters an additional weekend. There was a public hearing on March 10th and there was general support. The only additional change since the initial proposal was advertised was a minor adjustment to the brant season dates.
Mr. Duschene stated a constituent had asked him a few years ago why there was still a rail season. Did anyone hunt rails any longer and was 25 a good bag limit?
Commissioner Camuso stated it was a good question and had come up many times in the past. There were still people that hunted rail in Maine. It was not as popular or common as many other migratory bird seasons, but there were a small number that still hunted rail and there was no evidence to suggest that the bag limit was inappropriate or in any way impacting the bird population. The bag limit was consistent with the federal framework and supportive of rail populations based on the data the USFWS reviewed. Short of any evidence that the season should be closed or reduced, we did not have any indication that was warranted.
Commissioner Camuso stated she would entertain a motion for the migratory bird proposal.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to accept the proposal as amended and that was seconded by Mr. Smith.
Vote: each council member participating voted separately verbally in favor unanimous, motion passed.
C. Step 1
1. Moose Permit Allocations 2020
Mr. Kantar stated we were dealing with a new management plan from 2017 to 2027 and the big change was that instead of managing for some moose density based on a management district we were really looking at moose health. We defined moose health as looking at cow productivity over time, survival rates over time with cows and calves and looking at the overall health of the population. In a healthy moose population we’d see animals with less instances of parasite burdens, whether that was winter tick or meningeal worm and seen improvements over time. The concept was different than in the past management horizon. The broad management goals and the most important one for the issuance of permits was the idea of moose goal number one which was maintaining a healthy, sustainable moose population while providing hunting and viewing opportunities. One of the driving factors we knew about for moose was the dynamic with winter tick. We were in the seventh year of a significant GPS collar research project and we continued working with the University of New Hampshire and also with the University of Maine in Orono on a quantitative research part of looking at winter tick itself and winter tick as it related to moose.
Mr. Kantar stated last fall the moose hunt was similar to past years where the weather itself drove success rates. Last fall the September season opened with a poor hunting day, it was mild and raining. It was a challenge for moose hunters and moose may or may not be moving around as much which affected success rates. We had high success rates in Maine and when we hit a bump it didn’t really mean much when looking at population dynamics. Also, along with the fall weather when doing research on moose and ticks we saw that when we got early or normal fall weather, early snow precipitation or freezing rain, that could shut down the time period when ticks were getting on moose. We had those conditions the previous year, but also had so much snow the winter extended into the spring which could also affect the energetics of calves.
Mr. Kantar stated overall last year we had about a 69% success rate across all the WMDs. When we looked at permit levels with moose, if we were issuing 2,820 moose permits, the expectation was we would harvest that many moose. It was very different from the deer management system where we knew to harvest a certain number of female does we had to have an expansion rate because people preferred to shoot a buck. We did not do that with moose. When we looked at success rates as high as they were and if we had a 70% success rate, there was an expectation in the harvest that we would fill the entire harvest. When we talked about hunting mortality that was something important to realize, and we had not built that into our permit system over time to compensate by providing more permits to provide more opportunity. Regarding the allocation of permits, last year we divided the moose WMDs into two different areas. One, we acknowledged that in central Maine units and some of the southwestern and downeast units we did not have a lot of information and we allocated permits based on permits per square mile and the amount of available moose habitat. There were not a lot of permits in those areas but it provided hunting opportunity and was certainly a sustainable way to approach moose hunting in those areas. In the core range, which was WMDs 1-11 and 19, we had a very significant data set over the last decade. We had one of the best data sets of any jurisdiction. Mr. Kantar was heavily involved in the North American Moose Conference which was the global entity and moose range for moose management and research. They could compare and contrast states and provinces and what they collected for information. Maine was in a very positive space for what we knew about moose. The Province of Quebec, which was similar to Maine’s moose, had a new provincial biologist out of Quebec City and last summer at the moose conference they communicated and what was happening across the border in Quebec and Maine where the population of moose was the same was very appropriate and relevant to what we did. It was very positive to be able to communicate and share data as they were launching a moose research project very similar to Maine and New Hampshire’s.
Mr. Kantar stated in WMDs 7-28 it was the status quo and moose permit allocations last year in the peripheral range which was WMDs 12-18, those all stayed the same. The Moosehead area WMDs 7-9, status quo, we were advocating for changes there that we’re still consulting with the public on. The changes in permit numbers were in WMDs 1-6, we had a recommended incremental increase in bull permits in WMDs 1-6 and cow permits in WMDs 1-5. He viewed the recommendations as a bare minimum for permit levels because we were operating in moose winter tick system where because of having such high densities of moose that culminated in the late 90’s we reached densities that few saw in many jurisdictions and that followed suit by having an increase in the winter tick. With climate changing it had enabled winter tick to do well and resulted in moderate to high overwintering calf mortality that was unprecedented on an annual basis. To many people, increasing hunting was counter intuitive and we understood that, the Department was continuing outreach and education. In the core range of moose our moose densities were still at a level where cow reproduction was depressed, and overwinter calf survival was low. These were all due to infestations and impacts by winter tick. Again, it was counter intuitive, why would we want to harvest more animals when reproduction was depressed, and calving losses were moderate to high? It was because we were losing animals at some level every year, we had a population that in terms of health in some areas with GPS collars some of the animals were not healthy and it was affected by ticks. There needed to be less hosts (moose) to reduce the impact of the winter tick so we were not incurring this type of mortality on calves. This was the concept of density dependence. The other concept that was challenging was that in Maine, hunting mortality had not affected our population growth or decline over time. This was difficult and challenging for everyone to understand. All the information was supported by quantifiable data we had collected over the last decade.
Council Member Questions and Comments
Mr. Duchesne asked if he were questioned, would it be fair to say that winter tick had affected our carrying capacity?
Mr. Kantar stated that was a great way to look at it. When we did our aerial surveys and cow/calf ratios there was a lot of variability depending where you flew, and they were not very good. That was before we lost calves in the spring. Our reproductive rates that we got from aerial surveys, ovary information and from looking at survival rates with our cow/calf study if you did not see ticks at all and looked at all the factors you would say we had a carrying capacity problem meaning we had too many moose for the amount of food on the landscape. It was similar to that, but it was not the food that was limiting our moose it was that they had this parasite that was removing so much blood that not only did it result in calves dying before they became a year old but it also put stress on our cows such that they were losing body condition and weight but were still going to carry their calf to term in May that would likely not make it through the first three weeks. It was a similar concept but driven by winter tick.
Mr. Scribner stated in his last Safari Club International newsletter there was an interesting article about Vermont. The Vermont study seemed to be pretty much aligned with Maine and they probably could learn more from Maine. Were Maine biologists taking with Vermont about their study and the direction they were going regarding higher harvest in high density areas?
Mr. Kantar stated yes. Vermont was part of our capture efforts for several years. Our survival work started between New Hampshire and Maine in 2014 as a partnership between the two states and a couple years later Vermont joined, and we cost shared the capture team. We had a close relationship with the other states. We were going to propose an adaptive management unit that was basically along the same line as what Vermont was trying to do.
Commissioner Camuso stated we were going to have Mr. Kantar give a more in-depth discussion on an adaptive management proposal but thought that would be easier done in person rather than over a Teams meeting. Mr. Kantar would discuss the concept of a more aggressive adaptive program in one of the WMDs at another time.
Mr. Webb stated that would not be something that would happen this coming fall so it did not have bearing on the current proposal.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated he was supportive of the numbers being proposed and thought they were extremely conservative. North Maine Woods had a group of foresters that met in January to discuss moose and a lot of the foresters in WMDs 1, 2 and 4 were seeing a tremendous amount of moose in their harvest operations and were having a hard time in some townships growing hardwood trees because of the over browsing that was taking place in addition to the health of the moose due to the tick loads. He felt the proposal was extremely conservative relative to what was occurring in our forests when we weren’t even taking 1% of the population through hunting and the animals were suffering as well as some of our forestry species.
V. Other Business
1. Ch. 24 Licensed Guide Rules
Mrs. Theriault stated the proposal had been in the works for about a year. She gave a brief update on the formatting adjustments. There was a consolidation of the qualifications to apply for a guide license to one section rather than having them throughout the rule. A new addition was the requirement for a background check that was now in statute. Some of the substantive changes included a proposal for first time applicants that would allow anyone testing for their hunting or fishing classification to pay the $100 exam fee and also test for the recreational classification at the same time. This would be implemented January 1, 2021 to allow staff time to create new tests. It would also require that IFW create two new tests, one that covered both the fishing and recreational exam and the second would cover both the hunting and recreational exam.
Mrs. Theriault stated there would be several modifications to explain how the current testing process was for the oral and written exams. Persons wishing to take their oral and written exam on the same day may choose to do so. In the past, we would have required them to pass the oral exam and then reschedule to take the written at a later date. This would be much more efficient. Also, a person that took their test and failed one of the three portions of the oral exam or all of the written exam would be notified that day so they no longer had to wait for mailed notification. If someone failed the oral exam they would still be able to continue and take the written exam that same day rather than wait to retake the oral exam and then the written on a different day.
Mrs. Theriault stated another section of the rule was removed which dealt with testing and grandfathering of master Maine guides. We no longer did a testing procedure for master guides and the language was outdated. Currently, if someone wanted the master guide designation would apply and the guide advisory board and the chair would review the application and determine if the person qualified. Another substantive change was a new section that was constructed to list standards of competency and ethics for guides. Within statute the Commissioner had authority to establish standards of competency and ethics to direct when a licensed guide may be subject to a license revocation. We reviewed other state laws and guide association standards for competency and ethics to help create the proposal.
Council Member Questions and Comments
Mrs. Rousseau stated in reference to those reapplying for their license, there didn’t seem to be any standard for them to have CPR or first aid qualifications.
Mrs. Theriault stated she did not feel that was addressed in the proposal and was something they would review before it went to public comment.
Warden Allarie stated the whitewater guides, the applicant and license guides were required to have first aid and CPR. Some consistency on both sides would be helpful.
Ms. Ware stated regarding the new structure where they could test for the hunting and recreational or fishing and recreational at the same time, was that still pass/fail separately or could they pass one and fail the other?
Mrs. Theriault stated that was detailed in the rule so people would understand if they chose to apply for both classifications and test the same day it would be a complete pass or fail. If they failed they would have to come back and retake both.
Don Kleiner stated the MPGA had not been made aware of adding first aid and CPR for renewals. They were different from whitewater guides as whitewater guides did not require a background check. There was already a pretty significant difference in the law.
Mrs. Theriault asked if MPGA was not in favor of having a required CPR and first aid.
Don Kleiner stated they had not discussed it. His caution would be as a small business owner of the additional cost of doing business.
Mrs. Theriault stated if we were to include renewal applicants having to be required to have current first aid and CPR in order to renew Mr. Kleiner’s concern was that it would take additional time?
Don Kleiner stated to book a course it was $100 and two days time. His day rate was $700, it would be $1400 plus the $100, that was a $1500 cost. He worried in light of what he saw the economy was going to be in the next two years about extra costs. They would need to see an actual proposal to react to as it was nothing they had discussed to date.
Commissioner Camuso stated it had come up at the Legislature during the session and a pretty significant critique of the guide process and the renewal process, that was really the first time it had been discussed. The proposed rules were not shared until it went to the Advisory Council. They could be discussed but we couldn’t share the rule with stakeholders until it was part of the rulemaking process.
Commissioner Camuso stated she had a few updates where we were working from a civil state of emergency. The fishing season had been opened up a week early and released the requirement to have a fishing license until the end of April in an effort to try and get people outside. Most people were staying at home and we wanted to give people an opportunity to be outdoors and recreating in many of the activities that we managed. We viewed recreational fishing as an opportunity where people could be outside and be physically distanced from each other and meeting the Governor’s request that people socially distance themselves and maintain more than 6 feet from each other. We felt we could offer that and still maintain public health and safety and give people an opportunity to get outside. There had been some confusion around Commissioner Keliher shutting down the elver season, and it was important to know the two activities happened very differently. The elver season was very congested and there were 100’s of people on one river at the same time in a very small area so that was why the elver season was handled differently than the general recreational fishing season.
Commissioner Camuso stated we also had discussion around the turkey season, requests to open the season early as well as some rumors we were closing the season entirely. Neither were being proposed. The start of the turkey season was of much debate and had been for several years. Mr. Sullivan was still convinced and committed to the phonology of turkeys as timed more to photo period than weather conditions and turkeys had always started fanning out and displaying in February. Not to say we might not consider in the future an earlier opening when we had data to show that the birds were actually breeding earlier than they were. The goal of the turkey season timing was so the majority of females had already been bred and were on the nest. People were sometimes critical because they thought the birds were already nesting, and that was the goal. The purpose of the spring turkey season was to not interrupt the breeding of the females. It was timed so the majority of the hens were already sitting on eggs and not impacted by the spring hunt.
Commissioner Camuso stated given the requirement for boat registrations, those typically ended December 30, with many municipalities being closed down or not being readily accessible to the public we had requested to extend the date by which people had to get their boats registered until April 30, 2020. That would give the Department time to work with the towns to make sure we had a system in place so that everyone could effectively get their boat registered and adhere to the challenges we had around not having public interface right now. We were also requesting for the guides that were in the process of renewing their license that we extend their license. The renewal process required a background check and the third-party vendor that did them was not performing those. Applicants had no ability to get the necessary background check, so we were extending those people who were in the process of renewing by one year. We had suspended new applicant testing for the foreseeable future. We did not have the capacity to appropriately socially distance people and still perform the tests. Likewise, we had a number of people signed up for the mandatory ethics course. Those were typically taught in groups of 10-25 people at one time. We had extended the timeframe in which those customers had to take the ethics course so they would be able to participate in activities and have an additional year to take the mandatory ethics course. Those were all requests, they had not been written up as executive orders as of yet.
Commissioner Camuso stated we would be talking about ways to address the smelt season. Smelting was not quite as condensed as the elver season, but some of the smelt brooks when smelt were running could have more than what was allowable for the number of people on a brook or stream. We were meeting with DMR to discuss ways we could still allow smelting to occur while maintaining physical separation between the smelters. We did not want to have to shut down the smelt season but needed to come up with a way to do it safely so the public was spread apart. States across the country were handling things differently. California and Washington both had shut down state parks because there were too many people and the parks couldn’t handle the congestion of people on the landscape. Other states like Maine and Connecticut had opened up free fishing to try and spread people out. There would be a joint message going out from IFW and Parks and Lands encouraging people to go outside but to do it safely and spread themselves apart. We were trying to make sure that we had places for people to go outside so they could continue to be safe, but we were recognizing at the same time that the state parks were at their summer season levels with virtually no staff on site and no bathroom facilities. There was a struggle if the parks could manage that number of people without anybody on site or facilities to accommodate them.
VI. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions
John Glowa stated he had submitted three petitions for rule changes. The first one involved coyotes and would end predator killing contests and would place additional restrictions on the killing of coyotes primarily to protect wolves in the state. The second one would ban recreational coyote trapping and the third one would end Maine’s bear feeding program. The statute did not define bear baiting. The proposed rule would phase out feeding bears over a 10-year period and it would continue to allow the use of bait as long as the bears could not access it to eat it. Recent indications the he read showed that Maine’s bear population was approaching 45,000 animals and that was nearly double what it was in 2004 when we had the first bear referendum. It was very obvious that IFW’s bear management program was not effective. He thought evidence showed bears were reproducing more and that could well be because they were getting all kinds of supplemental food. He thought we needed to phase that out over a 10-year period to accommodate the industry and help the bear population get back to natural levels.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting
Ms. Orff stated the Council would be notified at a later time of the next meeting date.
A motion was made by Mr. Scribner and that was seconded by Mr. Sage to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.