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ADVISORY COUNCIL MEETING
October 20, 2020 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (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)
Attending: Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director Bureau of Resource Management
Francis Brautigam, Fisheries Division Director
Dan Scott, Colonel, Maine Warden Service
Mark Latti, Communications Director
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Matt Thurston (Chair)
Jerry Scribner (Vice-Chair)
Vacancy in Piscataquis/Somerset Cty
12 additional Department staff and members of the public
I. Call to Order> Matt Thurston, Council Chair called the meeting to order.
II. Introductions Introductions were made.
III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting A motion was made by Mr. Sage to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Smith.
Vote: unanimous minutes approved.
A. Step 3 1. Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Waters 2021
Mr. Brautigam stated we had made a strong effort at trying to increase both internal and external scrutiny and outreach supporting the 142 fishing regulation proposals. At Step 1 we invited key staff to provide presentations on proposals we anticipated would generate a lot of public interest. Moosehead Lake was amongst them; on Moosehead Lake we not only provided a series of written articles in local papers but also blog releases related to the proposal. In addition, Tim Obrey had done a lot of work communicating to stakeholders about what was involved in the development of the proposal. We utilized a Gov delivery email blast that allowed us to reach out to 147,000 of our customers making them aware of the rule packet. We also applied a theme based bundling of the rules that we hoped would make the process easier to digest by the Council and public. On August 31, 2020 we held a virtual public hearing, and there were 3 public members that participated. The comment period closed on September 10, 2020 and we received 75 written comments. Many of the comments were germane to the proposals that were pending. Overall, public feedback was supportive of the packet including the approach that was used in bundling the regulations. Moosehead Lake, Big Reed Pond and Cushman Pond generated most of the public dialog.
Mr. Brautigam stated on September 17, 2020 we convened Step 2 with the Advisory Council and provided a 4-page summary of the public comments that were received and provided agency insight on some of the more popular proposals. During Step 2, the focus of the council largely revolved around the numerous comments that came in on Cushman Pond. The Cushman Pond proposal would allow for recreational harvest of bait fish using bait traps. The Department considered bait traps to be low risk for transportation of invasive milfoil that was believed to be present in Cushman Pond. Waters where commercial fishing was allowed, commercial fishermen may not use sweep seines which were considered a much higher risk of translocating milfoil. We believed the proposed rule would create statewide consistency in gear type that was allowed on milfoil waters statewide and would also create consistency between commercial and recreational harvesters at Cushman Pond. Also underlying was the concern and need to maintain local sources of baitfish so as to discourage illegal importation and associated invasive concerns.
Mr. Brautigam stated some of the local concerns at Cushman Pond were largely rooted in speculation that bait harvesters had established the invasive milfoil there. If there were truth to that it was likely that it was commercial harvest using seines that would have likely contributed to that and not use of bait traps. As we became aware of the local concern regarding the pending proposal, we did reach out to the local community to convene a public informational meeting that was convened on September 13, 2020. The meeting was intended to convey awareness of the rule proposal and listen to the local community regarding their concerns. There were a number of constructive recommendations that were offered to the Department as it related to additional outreach to support not only commercial, but recreational harvest. The recommendations were being implemented and we were working on changes to messaging in the upcoming lawbook and the packet that was handed out to commercial anglers. The people at Cushman Pond had requested a second meeting because there were many that could not attend the first meeting. We were in the process of setting up a second meeting to ensure that there was a good exchange of information and the public understood why we proposed what we did. The public response at Cushman Pond reinforced the need within the Fisheries Division to continue efforts on improving outreach associated with rulemaking.
Mr. Brautigam stated allowing recreational harvest on Cushman Pond using what we considered to be low risk gear types created consistency in managing baitfish commercial harvest, as well as recreational harvest statewide while maintaining local sources of bait. The proposed rule provided a good balance in addressing the statewide issues of concern. We had considered the local risks and adopted additional measures based on recommendations provided by the local community. As a result, we had not proposed any changes to the rulemaking packet.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to adopt the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Smith.
Vote: In favor - unanimous. Motion passed.
B. Step 2 There were no items under Step 2.
C. Step 1
1. Ch. 6 Educational and Scientific Collection Permit Rules
Mrs. Theriault stated this was addressing a small change in the educational and scientific collection permit rule which was Chapter 6. We were trying to provide consistency with a statutory change that occurred a couple of years ago. Under scope of rules we were changing the term to "wildlife" instead of wild animals and wild birds. It would be more encompassing. Wildlife as defined by Title 12 included all species of the animal kingdom except fish so by making the change it allowed us to provide permits for people to collect reptiles and amphibians in addition to mammals and birds. There was also a small change under transfer of permits and instead of providing a letter to the permittee we would provide a written authorization.
There were no further questions or comments.
2. Ch. 7 Wildlife Rehabilitation Rules
Mr. Connolly stated the proposed changes reflected the Departments effort to not only simplify laws and regulations, but also create more consistency between the sections of the rules. In the past, we had focused on enabling the activity but not managing the individuals that were participating in it for wildlife rehab. We authorized it and had people volunteer. For the most part, they had been supportive of the Departments efforts. There had been some challenges in accountability but also discerning between people that were qualified and participating in a way that was consistent with what the Departments objectives were and their own particular desires. In order to begin to separate out those issues we needed to have a clear accountability and standard for the selection of the individuals where there was an awareness of what they had to do to be a part of it and also how we could manage their interactions with the Department. There was a section in the rule about the selection of wildlife rehabbers based on the Departments needs. In order for the Department to turn someone down, because when we created a license or a permit we were essentially allowing anyone who met the standard that was defined the ability to get it. In order to begin to separate who got it or who didnt, we had to give a clear description of the criteria and qualifications so there was an awareness of that. If you wanted to be able to remove someone you had to set out the criteria for their behavior and give them a chance to understand what it was you expected them to do.
Mr. Connolly stated the Department would like to begin to identify those individuals that best met the Departments needs for wildlife rehab care. Beyond that, there were people that were looking to have individuals help them. We had identified three categories of helpers that were set up in statute. There were regular permitted wildlife rehabbers and volunteers. People that could go to a facility and under the direction of the licensed rehabber, volunteer. They couldnt take animals home, but they could care for animals at the facility as long as the licensed rehabber was there to watch them. We were also looking at establishing subpermittees that would have a little more authority. They could care for the animals in the absence of the licensed permittee and they could also for some situations take animals home. Sometimes with baby birds, young squirrels, etc. some of those animals needed 24-hour care which was difficult to administer from a facility. We wanted the animals cared for responsibly, so they did not become habituated to people. Anyone that had that ability to oversee the facility in the absence of the licensed rehabber, or take animals home, we wanted to recognize as a subpermittee, so we had control over who they were, where they were and under what conditions they had animals.
Mr. Connolly stated the last piece we looked at was asking that people be trained in order to become a wildlife rehabber. We wanted to recognize those that had a standard of excellence in interactions with the animals that was appropriate, and they would be authorized to serve as mentors for new people coming in. The hours under that individual could be credited towards a person becoming certified as a wildlife rehabber. We were trying to create consistency and accountability the same as we did with tagging stations, wildlife in captivity and animal damage control agents. It was to define what the Department wanted, who should be doing it and under what standard they would be allowed to do it and how they would be held accountable for it.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mrs. Rousseau asked how many wildlife rehabbers we had currently and if they were throughout all the counties.
Mr. Connolly stated they were spread around the state. He did not have an exact number. They were more focused in southern Maine. There were some that were run with a board of directors such as Avian Haven. There were some that were more focused on caring for squirrels in a local area or baby birds. That assisted the Department in a lot of ways in terms of the publics concern. Our challenge came with people that were less interested in releasing the animal after it was raised or rehabilitated.
There were no further questions or comments.
3. Notched Pond horsepower restriction petition
Commissioner Camuso stated the comment period was still open. This was a petition to prohibit motorboats with greater than 10 horsepower. A public hearing was held and everyone in attendance spoke in favor of the petition. The comment period did not close until October 26, 2020. She planned to visit the pond; it was referred to as small with an island in the middle. She wanted to see the pond before making a recommendation.
Council Member Questions and Comments
Mr. Duchesne stated he had studied the pond on Google earth, and it looked shallow. He also referenced Representative Fayes letter to the Department supporting the petition and she pointed out that much of the pond was only 500 feet wide, and with the 200-foot headway speed there was not a lot of room to move a big boat. Those two observations merited a visit to the pond.
Commissioner Camuso stated several people spoke about how they swam the length of the pond for exercise. It seemed to get a lot of non-motorized use from the local residents.
4. Predator killing contests prohibition petition & 5. Coyote trapping prohibition petition
Commissioner Camuso stated both of the items were being held at Step 1. There had been an abundance of comments and staff were assembling the comments. At the next meeting, Shevenell Webb the furbearer biologist would give a presentation to the group similar to what Jen Vashon did with the bear petition. Comments had come in on varying levels, some were very broad, some were specific or addressing multiple points. The Department would provide an overview at the next meeting.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Duchesne stated it would come back to the science for him. They could talk about ethical judgements about what was appropriate, but he would be very curious about the science. He remembered some of the sporting history of the past where Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania used to be a place where hunters went to shoot every hawk out of the sky and now its a sanctuary. Contests where they were killing as much as possible hadnt always been good. On the other hand, we tried to limit the number of togue in Moosehead Lake and we had contests to eliminate the significant number of predators in order to manage the habitat and species involved. The more science they could get out of it the better.
Mr. Thurston stated he also looked at it in a broader species perspective where we tried to not let the species itself become its own worst enemy with tick propagation with respect to moose, etc. Bringing the species expert in would let them ask their questions.
Mr. Sage asked if it were to pass, it was only for predator killing contests not fishing derbies, biggest deer contests, etc.?
Commissioner Camuso stated we would have to consult with the Attorney Generals office to get clarification. As it was written it was for coyotes, but she would want to consult with the Attorney General.
Mr. Sage asked if they were allowed to respond to comments.
Commissioner Camuso stated our job was to listen to the public input and use it in consideration for making a recommendation on a vote. She would ask that they not engage in a back and forth. If people had questions regarding a council members vote, she felt they could address that but just in the general comments. Her expectation was the Department was there for all the citizens and we would listen to everyones opinion and not engage in a debate on the petition. We would hear from the biologists and then make a recommendation.
Ms. Ware asked if the next meeting would be more appropriate if she had questions about specifics on coyote contests if we had information about how common they were and things of that nature.
Commissioner Camuso stated if she could forward the specific questions, Shevenell could find answers for the next meeting.
Mr. Scribner stated he would caution the council to definitely dig into the details and really read the changes in both petitions. He wanted to stress to them to get past the title and to really look at the details that were being proposed.
Mr. Duchesne stated one of the things that was always a challenge for him was when the council had to make ethical judgements and then have those judgements go out to the sporting community. His ethics may be different than someone elses and he was very hesitant to make general broad decisions on what the ethical reality should be in Maine with the sporting community. He was most interested in the science, sorting out what was ethical and what wasnt, and then applying it to the entire sporting community was always going to be a challenge.
Mr. Smith stated he was appalled at the disparaging comments against the Department the he had read in a lot of the emails and comments criticizing the trained biologists and science as well as criticizing the Advisory Council which he knew from experience was a very deliberate body that looked at every aspect of an issue before making a decision. He wanted it on record that it bothered him to see those comments.
There were no further questions or comments.
V. Other Business There were no items under Other Business.
VI. Councilor Reports Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions There were no public comments or questions.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date of Next Meeting The next two meetings were scheduled for Thursday, November 19, 2020 and Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. via Microsoft Teams.
IX. Adjournment A motion was made by Mr. Duchesne and that was seconded by Mr. Sage to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.