Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
September 16, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Augusta, ME


Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Bonnie Holding, Director of Information and Education
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Mike Brown, Fisheries Division Director
Shon Theriault, Game Warden Captain
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:
Jeff Lewis (Chair)
Don Dudley (Vice-Chair) ? by phone
Lance Wheaton
Dick Fortier ? by phone
Sheri Oldham
Cathy DeMerchant
Gunnar Gundersen


Dick & Judy Thurston, Scarborough
Steve Philbrick, Oquossoc
Fern Bosse, Norway
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Ken Smith, Islesboro
Becky Wilcox, Islesboro (local paper)

I. Call to Order

Council Chair Jeff Lewis called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Gundersen.

Vote: unanimous ? minutes approved.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

1. Beaver Season & Closures 2015/16

Ms. Camuso stated the Council had been forwarded the proposal with a few changes based on feedback from the Council, trappers, landowners and staff. We proposed to have WMDs 1,2,3 and 4 open October 19th. The reasoning was those were the WMDs that we had the hardest time getting people to go to because they were so far north. There was not a lot of access and there were a lot of beaver issues there. We opened the season there earlier specifically to try to assist landowners in the northern zones to alleviate some of their beaver issues during the regulated trapping season. The only other change was to try and consolidate. There was somewhat better access to WMD 5, and we put WMD 5 with 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11; we also moved WMDs 15 and 16 down to the November 15th opening date which was consistent with what it was last year.

Ms. Camuso stated it was a balance with the beaver season and was highly variable. For a lot of trappers weather was an issue along with pelt prices. We struggled with trying to provide some time during the trapping season at the beginning or end that had some open water. The thing we struggled with in the spring was that we couldn’t keep it open too far into spring or the beaver would have young.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham asked if Don Dudley thought the changes were reasonable. They kind of went along with his comments from the previous meeting.

Mr. Dudley stated yes, he felt it was an improvement. He hoped we could get the population down where we could improve it more, but it was a step in the right direction.

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham to accept the proposal as amended, and that was seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant.

Vote: unanimous ? motion passed.

2. Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Fish waters 2016

Mr. Brown stated after the comments at Step 2 we had some changes to the package. Three of those under heritage waters we proposed to change; Dixon Pond, Helen Pond and High Pond. Dixon Pond, the Department proposed closed to ice fishing, S-6 and S-4 for kids only. We would drop the S-4 for children only and proceed with the change from FFO, ALO. The final rule would be closed to ice fishing, S-6 and general law in terms of bag limits. Helen Pond the Department proposed closed to ice fishing S-6 and S-4 for children only. We would drop the S-4 for children only and proceed with the change from S-5 to S-6. The final rule would be closed to ice fishing, S-6 and general law for brook trout. For High Pond the Department proposed closed to ice fishing S-6 and S-4 for children. We would drop the S-4 for children and proceed with the change from S-4, no live fish as bait to ALO. The final rule would be ALO, closed to ice fishing and general law.

Mr. Brown stated the fourth change, we were proposing to pull the Upper Dam regulation where we defined motor boats to use of motors. That prohibition was put in as a result of a petition and we would not be able to change that unless there was another public petition process. We proposed to pull that proposal from the package.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Lewis stated some of the items discussed at the last meeting, they were asking for more information from the biologists and why we were going with some of the proposals.

Mr. Brown stated he could discuss the proposals that were changed. In talking with Bobby VanRiper and others they were concerned there were too many fish there and not reaching growth potential and they felt going to artificial lures would provide more opportunities. We felt that kids would still have added opportunities even though we weren’t going to put that S-4 regulation for kids, they would still be able to use artificial lures. The goal for all those ponds was to remove some of those wild brook trout and see if we could achieve some optimum growth.

Mr. Lewis stated it would be nice to have that information prior to Step 3. It was difficult receiving the information the night before the meeting and he had received comments from Council members regarding that.

Mr. Fortier stated he had some concerns in the Eagle Lake area about not having a bag limit but if that was a one year deal and if the biologists saw that it was getting out of hand and the plug could be pulled because they were taking too many fish, trying to convince the people up there that the more fish you took out the bigger they would get was hard for them to swallow. He could go along with that if he knew the biologists were going to keep a close eye on it.

Mr. Brown stated Mr. Fortier was speaking about the Eagle Lake proposal up north to go to no bag limit on salmon, only 1 over 14”. It was a new, innovative regulation. At that particular lake we were seeing a lot of small salmon and we couldn’t seem to get out of that hole. We were starting to see the same thing at Chesuncook. We would be keeping a close eye on it.

Mr. Dudley stated he was not at home the previous night so did not receive the changes. He did pick up on some of the changes, but was not able to review.

Commissioner Woodcock repeated the amendments to the proposal. There were a couple of the changes that had much discussion and resulted in the lateness of the information getting to the Council. He would take the responsibility for the information not getting to the Council in a timely fashion, there were not a lot of proposals we were proposing to change.

A motion was made by Mr. Gundersen to accept the proposal as amended, and that was seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant.

Vote: 6 in favor; 1 opposed (Mr. Wheaton) ? motion passed.

3. Islesboro Special Hunt

Commissioner Woodcock stated this was a proposal for a continued 3 year hunt for Islesboro. It had been his inclination to offer the Council consistently that he was not sure we were approaching it in the right fashion. He did think there needed to be another approach taken. That was up to the citizens of Islesboro and that had been a very contentious process on the island. Many meetings and many different votes and none of those resulted in a methodology, in his personal opinion, that would be as successful as it should be. He was moving the proposal forward for a vote, it was the 3 year additional period that was being requested so they could have some opportunity to change the deer population on Islesboro.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham stated she moved the Council reject the Islesboro Deer Reduction Committee (DRC) request for a special hunt because of the following: failure to achieve prior special hunt harvest objectives, current biologic data indicating deer density at 48.5 deer per sq. mi. and that the current Islesboro DRC proposal harvest objectives even if achieved would not reduce deer density to the 10 deer per sq. mi. necessary to reduce the ongoing public health risk of tick borne disease to Islesboro residents and unsuspecting visitors to the island.

Mrs. DeMerchant stated she would second that motion.

Mr. Fortier stated he agreed with Mrs. Oldham. He had studied and looked at their numbers. He knew the people of Islesboro had worked very hard, but he just didn’t see it meeting their objectives and his vote would be with Mrs. Oldham’s. He had seen people with Lyme disease and felt a more aggressive means had to be taken.

Mr. Dudley stated he agreed with Mrs. Oldham. In reading all the literature, he hated to see nothing happen and that appeared to be the way it was going if they rejected the proposal. In the same token he didn’t think this was the way to do it and he was kind of against it.

Mr. Wheaton stated he hated to go this route also without taking measures to at least help them in finding a solution to their problem, but he agreed with the Council.

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham to reject the proposal based on failure to achieve biologic data and harvest objectives, and that was seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant.

Vote: 6 in favor; 1 opposed (Mr. Gundersen) ? motion passed, proposal rejected.

B. Step 2

There were no items under Step 2.

C. Step 1

1. Kennebec River striped bass regulations

Mr. Brown stated the Department was approached by DMR to change some of the regulations we had on the lower Kennebec River that was under our jurisdiction, essentially from above head of tide up to the dam in Winslow/Waterville. There was a small but fairly consistent spawning population of striped bass in the river, something they wanted to preserve and they monitored each year. They were not sure where the fish spawned or how many there were so it was a pretty grave concern for them to be able to protect those fish. They promulgated a rule below head of tide that did not allow the taking of striped bass from May 1 ? June 30. The gear was restricted to single hook artificials during that period and they could not use any sort of marine bait dead or alive. They asked us to also release any striped bass that were caught during that time. Now you could keep striped bass above head of tide, but below you couldn’t so they asked us to change our regulations to require the fish be released if they were caught under our jurisdiction. The area below the dam in Waterville was already ALO so that would not be a change, it was open year round to fishing, the only thing that would be required of us was that we ask folks to release those striped bass from May 1 ? June 30.

There were no further questions or comments.

V. Other Business

1. Wildlife Division projects update

Ms. Camuso updated the Council on the following projects?

Ms. Camuso, Mr. Connolly and Mr. Jakubas attended an event with the USFWS where they announced the NE Cottontail were not warranted as a candidate species for protection under the endangered species act. NE Cottontail were state listed but the additional layer of Federal listing would have made recovery probably more challenging. More landowners were not as inclined to manage a property when there was a federally threatened or endangered species on it. We were hopeful this decision to not list would continue to allow us to recover the species.

Trapping regulations had gone into place. After the August Advisory Council meeting, and once the rule was adopted by the Secretary of State’s office, we applied for a minor amendment to our ITP to include the proposed changes that we adopted. We should hear back from the USFWS and to date they indicated they were supportive of the proposed changes.

We had 2 weeks left until we were required to submit our State Wildlife Action Plan in its final form to the USFWS. This was the strategic plan for primarily nongame species for the next 10 years. All states were required to have this plan to be eligible to access the state wildlife grant monies. We had been working on it for about 18 months with over 102 conservation partners across the state that had participated. It was a very thorough process and including the partners and developing a plan that was for everybody in the state, not just what the Department was going to do in the next 10 years, but there were actions and programs for all of our partners to embrace and take on on their own. She felt it was a good product, compared to the last action plan which was about 2400 pages. An enormous resource for people and lots of people used sections of it. This time around we wanted the product to be more manageable in size and more usable for a local land trust, boy scout group, etc. It was all online and had a searchable database. Last minute edits and corrections were being made and the final edit would be presented to the USFWS. Staff was looking forward to being able to finally implement some of the projects.

This was more of a Department project but tied in with species planning, but we were in the middle of developing a strategic communication plan for the Department. We had contracted with Mark Duda of Responsive Management to develop that. Bonnie Holding was heading up the project. They looked at the first draft of the survey questions that would go out to people in the state and we were trying to figure out what people did in Maine for outdoor recreation, how they interacted with the Department, how did they hear about us, where did they go to look for information and if it was not the Department where did they go? This would help direct us if we were going to spend money to advertise or talk about our programs, where were the best places to focus on? She expected the survey would be completed and implemented by the end of October.

We were in the very beginning phase of our species planning process, not to be confused with the action plan which was primarily nongame species. The current plan was for our four big game species; bear, deer, moose and turkey. Once we finished that we would likely do a follow update for our fur bearers and potentially game bird species. We did a major update every 15 years. We did minor updates every 5 years and also annual updates. We would mirror this based on the action plan set up which worked very well. We would have a steering committee that would work on all 4 species and would do all 4 species at the same time. We would have subcommittees for each of the specific species. The subcommittees would report back to the steering committee. It would be a little different than the last time in that we were going to broaden the public participation and we would be doing public surveys by the same company doing the communications survey (Responsive Management). We would survey approximately 900 residents, 900 hunters (80% in state, 20% nonresidents), the rest would be landowners. We would also do some focus groups to go around the state and speak. There were a number of issues with wildlife where we felt we couldn’t really get a good sense of what the public wanted without delving deeper into some of the questions.

The focus groups, Responsive Management would invite random people. They would get an invitation but would not know what the focus group was about. It would be professionally facilitated; IFW staff would not be in the room so they would not know. We would also be doing regional public meetings around the state so people would have an opportunity to come and speak with species specialists and regional staff. We were also going to try an online town hall forum for folks that didn’t receive a survey in the mail or couldn’t get to a regional meeting; they could have an opportunity to participate in an online forum.

We would get the information back from what the public wanted and staff would be responsible for coming up with the goals and objectives to bring back to the steering committee for guidance. We were using the Vermont big game species planning process as a model and they had a document online if anyone wanted to review. We hoped to have the process completed for the 4 big game species by June 2016.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Fern Bosse shared a story in lieu of the Department’s recent trash pickup efforts of some trash he had recovered and then mailed back to its rightful owner. Remember the woods have eyes.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The date and location of the next meeting would be announced at a later time.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and that was seconded by Mrs. Oldham to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.