(This council meeting was held during Governor Mill's State of Emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic limiting the ability to hold public meetings. Participation was by video conference - Microsoft TEAMS meeting)
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
Craig McLaughlin, WRAS Supervisor
Lee Kantar, Moose Biologist
Nathan Bieber, Deer Biologist
Jen Vashon, Black Bear and Lynx Biologist
Shevenell Webb, Furbearer Biologist
Kelsey Sullivan, Game Bird Biologist
Bill Swan, Director of Licensing and Registration
Dan Scott, Warden Service Colonel
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Jerry Scribner (Vice-Chair)
Vacancy in Piscataquis/Somerset Cty
Fern & Sylvia Bosse
James Cote, MTA
Katie Hansberry, HSUS
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Deirdre Fleming, Portland Press Herald
John Glowa, South China
Bob Parker, Wilton
I. Call to Order
Council Vice-Chair, Jerry Scribner 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: 6 in favor; 1 abstained (Mr. Duschene was not present at the previous meeting) minutes approved.
A. Step 3
- Ch. 24 Licensed Guide rules
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the only change was in section 24.08 Standards of Competency and Ethics under A.5. The statute, Section 12858 (B) stated a person licensed as a guide who has knowledge that a client has violated the provisions of this Part shall within 24 hours inform a person authorized to enforce this Part. This Part was Part 13 of Title 12 which was all of our fish and wildlife laws. It clarified in rule as a requirement of a guide to report a client that violated a fish and wildlife law. It was originally written in the rule that they would report all violations of law and it was pointed out that was more strict than the statute. That was the only change from the original proposal.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to accept the proposal as amended, and that was seconded by Mr. Duchesne.
Vote: Unanimous motion passed.
- Expanded Archery Zones
Mr. Webb stated the proposal reflected changes to road names for some of the expanded archery zones and also proposed additions to four of the expanded archery areas; WMD 24, the Augusta area, the Camden area and the Lewiston area. We provided the opportunity for a public hearing on June 17th and no members of the public indicated a desire to participate, so the hearing was not launched. The comment deadline closed on June 29th and we received one written comment. The comment was specific to the proposed addition to the Lewiston area and expressed some concern that the landowners in the proposed expansion area werent amendable to allowing hunters on their property. The Department reached out to local staff in the area including game wardens. They indicated the landowners did carefully screen hunters prior to giving permission on their property but did allow hunting. Staff indicated they felt the addition in the Lewiston area would help manage the deer situation locally. Based on that, no changes were being proposed to the original proposal.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Smith.
Vote: Unanimous motion passed.
- Wild Turkey Fall Hunting Season WMD 6
Mr. Webb stated the proposal was to add WMD 6 to the WMDs with a fall season with a bag limit of one turkey of either sex beginning that fall. All other rules for fall turkey hunting would apply. We did not offer a public hearing on the proposal, and no comments were received to hold one. The public comment period ended on June 26th and we received one written comment. The comment was quite thorough, and the points raised were carefully reviewed. Mr. Sullivan was available if the Council had questions on the data used to help inform the proposal.
Mr. Webb stated he would go through the points raised in the public comment and the Departments perspective on the concerns. The first point, he thought there was a bit of a misconception the proposal was focused on addressing nuisance issues in WMD 6, and although we did consider nuisance complaints when making a recommendation to open a turkey season such as this one, they were not put in place specifically to address those issues. That was a source of data we considered. We were not proposing a change to address the nuisance issues in Houlton, we believed it could play a role in helping address some nuisance complaints that came in from the Houlton area, but it was not specifically to try to resolve that issue. The numbers we used to inform the proposal were from the past winter. The public comment questioned whether the numbers were from two winters ago when the population statewide was higher. We agreed statewide we were seeing fewer birds in the state as compared to two summers ago and that was typical for turkeys. Their populations could fluctuate pretty dramatically from year to year and that did make it challenging to inform proposals. What we did to address that was look at a longer period of data. If we looked at one year alone, that might cause us to reach a very different conclusion about the status of the population as opposed to looking at multiple years of data and a longer term. The proposal was informed by a long-term trend in increasing numbers of wild turkeys in WMD 6 as well as an expansion of their range in that part of the state. Based on all those factors we felt confident that opening WMD 6 to a limited fall hunt with a one turkey bag limit was appropriate. We were not recommending any changes to the proposal as presented.
Mr. Smith stated he reviewed the written comment and spoke with some turkey hunting friends from WMD 6 and they expressed the same concerns, they had seen less birds in the spring to hunt. WMD 27 anecdotally the kill seemed to be down on spring gobblers and friends had only shot one bird or did not shoot any because of a reduction in population. Also, he was not getting any reports of spring polts in his area or in WMD 6. He did have those concerns.
Mr. Webb asked Mr. Sullivan to comment on preliminary projections for the 2020 nesting season based on weather patterns we had been experiencing.
Mr. Sullivan stated for this spring and production based on our telemetry we had nesting success which was not high anyway; 25%-30% of our hens were with polts which was right in line with the last couple of years. It varied based on conditions. The spring conditions in the telemetry zones which included Greenville and Kokadjo, Bangor area and a southern Maine zone, all of those areas were in line with what we expected as pretty good or on average. Maybe even a little better nesting success. In the Greenville unit we had seven birds that nested and five of those were with polts. Based on the dry conditions during the critical period had been pretty favorable. He was not surprised polts hadnt been seen up north yet, they were a little later to hatch and were small. He expected a better time to gauge reproductive success in regard to measuring polts would be later in the summer when they were larger and visible.
Mr. Webb stated one of the challenges with the fall turkey hunt was that we were going through the process to recommend changes for the upcoming fall. Due to the timing of when rulemaking needed to happen and when the lawbook came out and when we needed to inform hunters what the rules were, a lot could change with regard to the status of the turkey population in an area between the spring season and the fall season. We had a nesting season to go through which was what really drove the fall population size. That was why it was important for the Department to rely on a longer-term assessment of the data. If we were to try to react to seasonal within year changes and turkey numbers, it would be extremely challenging to manage the hunting seasons and bag limits in a way that was responsive to what was happening currently with regard to turkey production and nesting and brood success.
A motion was made by Mr. Cowperthwaite to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Sage.
Vote: Unanimous motion passed.
B. Step 2
- Ch. 16 Crossbow and Misc. Rule Clarifications
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated all the changes in the proposal resulted from statutory changes done by the Legislature in 2019 and 2020. There were three components to the proposal. One dealt with expanded use of crossbows, one dealt with the change in definition of antlerless moose and the third change was the change in definition dealing with supervision of juvenile hunters and trappers. Section 16.07 dealt with the changes in archery season with the use of crossbows. In 2019 the Legislature expanded the use of crossbows to anybody to hunt during the regular archery season. They could not take an antlerless deer without an antlerless permit. That was for seasons 2020, 2021 and 2022. Once the law passed the Department realized hunters age 65 and over and those with disability permits that were allowed to take an antlerless deer previously, now could not take an antlerless deer when the Legislature passed the law in 2019. We went back in 2020 and made the correction. The proposal included changes that were necessary in rule to implement the statute that the Legislature passed.
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated under section 16.07, (D) (2. and 3.) were the first two examples how we were changing referencing adult supervision of junior hunters. There were several places in statute that we used adult supervisor with a different definition. The proposal was the result of a statutory change but was meant to clarify what an adult supervisor was. The first example was a junior hunter supervisor. Rather than calling them an adult supervisor, we were calling them a junior hunter supervisor.
Mrs. Theriault stated to clarify on the supervisors, there had been a mix up at the Legislature the previous year. There was some confusion between the apprentice hunter supervisor and the junior hunter supervisor title. The change really set them apart. The last portion of the proposal was the change in definition of the antlerless moose. We had to make that consistent with the statutory change.
Mr. Scribner asked what drove the change in the antlerless moose definition?
Mrs. Theriault stated it was an IFW proposal due to some people harvesting animals they werent necessarily permitted for in terms of them thinking it was a cow moose but it was actually a small bull. The antlers were close to the size of the ears, but werent quite and they werent identifying the moose properly and they were harvesting a moose they didnt have a permit for. By making the change, the person had to absolutely identify that it had no antlers whatsoever.
Mr. Webb stated the proposal was the outcome of the big game planning process and essentially the issue was that previously an antlerless permit included a moose with antlers shorter than the ears. In a significant number of cases it would make a yearling bull moose legal or very close to legal. That came in through Warden Service that were involved in the planning effort that they were encountering hunters with an antlerless moose tag that were intentionally seeking out small bulls and trying to judge whether the antlers might be shorter than the ears. It created an enforcement challenge and also a biological one in that the intent of those permits was to harvest cow and calf moose not young bulls. The change clarifies that those antlerless permits were truly valid for moose without antlers and not yearling bulls.
There were no further questions or comments.
- Furbearer Rules
Mr. Webb stated the proposal did a number of things to clean up and simplify furbearer trapping rules. It would update beaver season dates and closures, clarify placement of muskrat traps, address incidental take of both muskrat and otter, remove the requirement for temporary transportation tags for both fisher and marten, amend the annual trapper survey requirement to only apply to those trappers age 16 or older, and also would increase the annual bag limit for fisher from 10 to 25. A public hearing was held on the proposal on June 16, 2020. There was one participant that spoke and provided input. The public comment period ended June 26, 2020 and we received two written comments. The first comment was focusing on the fisher bag limit portion of the proposal and expressed general support for the increase and support for the concept that fisher populations seemed to be doing very well statewide and seemed to have increased in the north in particular. The comment questioned whether or not a quota system might be more effective. We had discussed that approach in the past. There would be a statewide or regional harvest limit for fisher and once that limit was reached, the season would close. That was a viable harvest management tool that was appropriate in some circumstances for some species. Mr. Webb thought the challenge for this scenario was that would require trappers to register their fisher throughout the season as they were being harvested so we could monitor that level of harvest in relation to the quota established. It would also require trappers to pay close attention to when that season might be closed. If it were to close they would have to pull their traps immediately. From a trappers satisfaction and logistical perspective, the Department didnt view that as a good approach in this scenario.
Mr. Webb stated the second written comment we received was from the Maine Trappers Association (MTA) which was generally supportive of the proposal. They did raise some questions about the new definition of visible attractor, in particular with regard to flagging which many trappers like to use to mark the location of their trap. We would like to take some time and work with Warden Service on some potential adjustments to the language for that piece for the Council to consider to make sure that trappers had some reasonable means of marking their trap in a way that didnt create an attractant to wildlife for which the season wasnt open. The other piece we would like to look closer at with regard to the language for visible attractor were cubby sets. The current definition as proposed didnt clarify whether cubby sets would constitute a visible attractor or not. That had been an enforcement challenge. Other than that, we were not recommending any changes to the proposal.
Mr. Scribner stated he was glad the issue was brought forward the MTA raised on flagging. Reading the input, he thought that was a very legitimate concern and it sounded like that would be considered prior to moving to Step 3.
Mr. Webb stated there were some nuances to it because visible attractor was a key component to the ITP for lynx so we needed to be very careful how we framed the issue to make sure we were not running counter to the permit we had with USFWS for the trapping program.
- 2020 Any-deer Permit Allocations
Mr. Webb stated the proposal would set any-deer numbers for the fall 2020 hunting season in our 29 WMDs as well as two sub-units. A public hearing was held on June 15th and there was one participant at the hearing. The comment deadline closed on June 25th and we received two written comments. One of the comments was generally opposed with the deer management framework. It wasnt specifically focused on the permit numbers per se and was really addressing the way in which we managed deer to address things such as Lyme disease, deer/vehicle collisions and nuisance complaints. The second comment was from Mr. Cowperthwaite. He proposed a modest increase in permit numbers in WMDs 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated that winter he met with members of the Aroostook County Conservation Association they held a banquet each year to raise thousands of dollars to buy food for the deer and due to the coronavirus, they were unable to do that. Gerry McLaughlin looked at the number of any-deer permits because they were not going to be able to feed them. Unfortunately, Mr. Cowperthwaite knew the Department was not big on feeding deer, but the reality was they were not going to be able to provide the food that they would on a regular year. He also met with the Aroostook chapter of the Maine Trappers Association and again, their concern was with the number of deer and starvation. He spoke with folks in Allagash. It was an important issue for Aroostook county residents and he only proposed bumping the number of permits up by 25 in the WMDs within their communities and 50 in WMD 6. It was only a little over 100 permits, there were 110,000 any-deer permits statewide so he didnt feel it was a substantial request.
Mr. Webb stated based on the request the Department was comfortable with the changes. It was a relatively minor increase from what we proposed and fit within the variation in the biological data we collected and used to inform permit recommendations. The one WMD where we would be concerned was WMD 5 and that WMD was one in which our management system and the biological and weather data we collected indicated no permits for 2020 based on the status of the deer population in that district. Based on that, the Departments recommendation would be to not add permits to that WMD. One of the reasons was that in adding any-deer permits, it also opened up hunting of antlerless deer to archery hunters and youth hunters. That could substantially increase the overall effort directed at antlerless deer in a situation like that. Other than some concern over WMD 5, the Department was comfortable with the slight increases that Mr. Cowperthwaite suggested.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated he was comfortable with no permits for WMD 5.
There were no further questions or comments.
C. Step 1
- Bear Feeding Rule Petition
Commissioner Camuso stated we would have been at Step 2 for the bear rule proposal, but we had five individuals request a public hearing. Under the APA we were required to hold a public hearing which would be held via TEAMS. Anyone that had submitted comments, those would still be considered. This would give people an additional opportunity to comment and hear more about the request. The comment period would end ten days after the hearing. The petition would be before the Council at Step 2 at the next meeting.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Sage stated at the last meeting, Mr. Webb had discussed a scientific study that was being conducted by a separate party. What was the status?
Mr. Webb stated the contract was in place with Perdue University to look at the issue. That was a recommendation from the big game plan to use the existing information that we had collected over the past decades from the bear research project to look at the question regarding the potential impacts of bait on bear body condition, reproductive success, etc. That question had been raised with regard to hunting with bait in Maine for the past number of years. The project was underway, and they were using hair samples that we provided to look at the contribution of anthropogenic foods to the diet of bears in Maine. There was also a component where they were gathering both natural foods in Maine as well as different types of bait to allow the evaluation to occur. Once the analysis was completed regarding the contribution of anthropogenic foods to the diets of the research bears, they were going to link that to the data we collected from the bears in our radio telemetry work. Body condition, reproductive success, those types of parameters to determine if there was any relationship between the consumption of human foods and those factors.
Mr. Sage asked when the project would be finished.
Mrs. Vashon stated Covid-19 had impacted things. The proposal was approved before Covid-19 and then businesses were closed. They just started their work so we extended the grant through December 2021.
Mr. Sage stated they would have to make their decision on the proposal before they had all the true science to go by.
Mr. Webb stated the project would take some time, it was fairly involved.
Mr. Smith asked about the impact on municipalities and counties, the fiscal impact and none was anticipated. Obviously, it would be tremendous fiscal impact on both. He did not think he heard the answer clearly at the last meeting why that was listed in the proposal.
Mr. Webb stated his recollection was that again, this was a petition that the Department received. Through that petition there was no impact indicated. The issue was something the public was welcome to comment on and we had received many related to that issue.
Mr. Smith stated while it was listed in the proposal as no fiscal impact anticipated, was that accurate? It was hard for him to understand that.
Mr. Duchesne asked if it was appropriate for any members of the Council to weigh-in on an issue at a public hearing or was that something they should refrain from.
Commissioner Camuso stated in general, the Council when they attended public hearings, and it was encouraged, they were mostly there to hear what the public was saying and to absorb the comments from the public rather than engaging. It was mostly an opportunity to listen and hear from the public on the proposal.
There were no further questions or comments.
V. Other Business
- Moose Project Update
Mr. Kantar gave a PowerPoint presentation on Moose and Winter Tick and discussed the Moose Survival Study. For a copy of the presentation please contact Becky.Orff@maine.gov
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Sage asked if this approach had been tried with other states with moose populations and winter tick issues and what were their results showing.
Mr. Kantar stated to create an adaptive approach he was not sure if that had been used. The situation in the Northeast was really unique when you talked about winter ticks impacting moose. Other jurisdictions that had seen issues with declining or stagnant moose populations saw a whole host of things going on. Looking at Wyoming they pointed to carotid artery worm and habitat loss. It was very challenging to compare the Northeast with any kind of western state because of the dynamics of animals out there. We were really the leaders in what was going on with moose research with seven years of data and there was evidence that moose at low densities did not have the level of external or internal parasites that we saw with too many in Maine. Many of the parasites had the root cause of having too many animals. High densities of animals that were all together could create a lot of problems. Our densities were not ones you commonly saw in other states and provinces. Things worked really well for a long time in Maine because the winter tick was not impacting us, but as climate got more mild and falls were shorter and things were better for the winter tick it had just gotten worse in the last several years. This was a new approach, but fairly straightforward dynamic as to how somebody would approach an adaptive unit.
Mr. Sage asked if we were going to reduce the moose numbers permanently to try to combat the ticks. Would we keep the numbers low to try to prevent the ticks from exploding back?
Mr. Kantar stated step one, which we had done, was identify the area we thought this would be best done and most acceptable. The scientific approach was that wed measured the moose density in these areas, the moose composition, we had a good hold on survival and reproduction in the area; now we would go in and this was just half of one WMD and we took that half of the unit and increased the cow harvest over time. Every year we would fly the areas so we could monitor the change in the abundance of moose in that one area over time. We measured reproduction in the area as well, we collared moose calves in the area to look at survival over time and as the population hopefully decreased, we were also measuring winter tick loads. After monitoring for a number of years the approach was to look at it and see if it was having an affect or not. If there was no change, then it would have to be decided where to go from there. The starting point was to implement the hunt and to follow it over time and use the science to drive where we went on an annual basis.
Mr. Duchesne stated he was always curious about habitat changes as well. Different landowners had different forestry practices in terms of their goals and outcomes. Was there any possibility of assessing between landowner shifts when the landscape was different to measure what the impact on moose was or how would you measure that?
Mr. Kantar stated one of the debates that tended to occur when talking about a population that had depressed reproduction, and talking about density dependence where you had a lot of animals in an area that was affecting their overall health most people would talk about habitat and problems with habitat. One of the things that came out of research in conjunction with UNH and NH Fish & Game, one of the grad students looked at the harvest information on our bulls from 1980 2014 this was a proxy to the condition of the bull moose which was a proxy for was there enough habitat to keep the moose at the same level over time. The conclusion of the data was that there were no changes in the bulls over time. If bull moose were not changing as far as their size and attributes, then it would suggest there was enough food out there no matter what the changes on the landscape had been.
Mr. Smith stated Mr. Kantar had mentioned that Maine had a conservative season compared to Quebec and New Brunswick. Could he share what their seasons and bag limits were?
Mr. Kantar stated he was not suggesting we adopt Quebecs moose management. They managed moose very similar to how we would manage deer. Everyone could hunt every year over the counter. The border of Quebec that bordered Maine, every year their dynamic had been you could go get your permit and hunt a bull or a calf. Depending on the unit, every other year or every third year you could shoot a bull, a cow or a calf. In 2017 Mr. Kantar looked at WMD 4 and the Quebec unit directly across the boundary, it was the same size unit about 2,000 square miles. In that one unit they shot over 2,000 moose. Half of those were antlerless moose. He was not suggesting this was what we should do, we were worried about having the right amount of moose so that people could view moose, we understood the aesthetic value of moose, the economic, cultural values that we were trying to balance. What we had now that was unprecedented was winter tick that was taking away from the whole population of moose with depressing reproduction and having over wintering calves suffering a pretty horrible death. There was room to increase moose harvest and one of the best ways to inform that process and where we should be was to implement an adaptive unit that we could scientifically learn from.
Mr. Webb stated understandably there was a great deal of public interest in this approach as we continued to talk about it and develop plans. We had been doing a lot of work with our information and education division to get the message out to the general public about the idea. There was still a lot of work to be done. When the plan came to fruition the Council would have to consider a rulemaking proposal to put in place the additional permits and establish the framework for the experimental hunt. We wanted to make sure the Council was aware of the path we were hoping to go down and had an opportunity to weigh in and ask questions as we got closer to bringing the proposal forward.
There were no further questions or comments.
VI. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions
John Glowa stated he had a few issues he wanted to talk about. He took exception to the statement by the Council member that said the petition was an attempt to ban bear hunting, it was anything but that. The Departments comment that the fiscal impact in the document that the Department put out in response to the petition, that no fiscal impact was his viewpoint; that was a false statement. The Department was required by law to address the fiscal impact issue and the fiscal impact issue was actually on municipalities for implementing the rule. Since the municipalities were not implementing the rule, there was no fiscal impact. It had nothing to do with fiscal impact, the Department had nothing to do with fiscal impact. There was a widespread misconception about what the fiscal impact issue was. As far as moose were concerned, he just sent the Council an email. He submitted to court a petition for a judicial review of an agency rule. The agency rule was Maines 2020 moose hunting seasons. Hed asked to court to declare the rule to be null and void and have no legal affect. The reason for that was because the Department violated numerous requirements in the issuance of the rule. He also submitted to the court a motion for preliminary injunction that would shut down Maines moose hunt for 2020 until the court decided on his petition.
There were no further comments or questions.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting
There would be a meeting in August, and the Council would be notified at a later time of the date.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage and that was seconded by Mr. Smith to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.