Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
March 27, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Augusta, Maine

Attending:

Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director of Bureau of Resource Management
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

Jeff Lewis (Chair)
Dick Fortier
Don Dudley
Jenny Starbird
Larry Farrington
Gunnar Gundersen
Matt Thurston
Cathy DeMerchant

Guests:

Rick Denico, Vassalboro
John Short, Acton

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. DeMerchant to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Gundersen.

Vote: 7 in favor; 1 abstained (Mrs. DeMerchant) – minutes approved.

Mr. Denico stated he had come to say thank you for the quick action of Warden Will Shuman who assisted his son and daughter in-law in a recent snowmobile accident. If not for the warden’s actions, his son’s injuries could have been much worse.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

1. Spring turkey hunting WMDs 1-6

Ms. Camuso stated this was a proposal to have an A/B season in WMDs 1-6. There were some concerns raised at the last meeting about issues with conditions of the farms and the land up there. Instead of doing additional evening programs, which we did 3 of last year, we opted to do some press releases and social media. We had also developed a 1 page fact sheet that would be available at the Presque Isle sportsman’s show. This should accomplish the goal more effectively of reaching out and making sure that people hunting in those areas understood the need to work with the landowners.

Mr. Fortier stated the turkey federation was coming to PI to do a 1 hour presentation.

A motion was made by Mr. Fortier to accept the proposal as presented and that was seconded by Mr. Dudley.

Vote: unanimous – motion passed

2. Moose Permits 2015

Commissioner Woodcock stated we had received numerous comments regarding moose permit numbers and the bulk of those comments focused on WMD 9. Because of that, the Council would not be voting on WMD 9 permits numbers and we would be holding a public hearing in Greenville.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the moose situation in Maine had many facets to it. We used to have hearings/informational meetings around the state prior to moose permit numbers being discussed with the Advisory Council and did an informational piece for the public. We had not done that for awhile. It was stopped because it was very poorly attended. He thought the reason it was poorly attended was the permit numbers were going up and people just weren’t overly concerned. In the future, we probably would go back to some regional meetings before the rulemaking process so that people would have an opportunity to talk to us.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it had been mentioned a few times by the biologists the notion that the more moose you had in an area, the more ticks you had on those moose. The chance for a die off increased; it was sort of like a virus. He had told the biological staff he did not want them to manage socially. That was the Commissioner’s job in conversations with the public to determine whether or not it should be brought down for social reasons which was part of the assessment process. The notion that the more moose in an area and the moose dying off because there were more ticks in the area; some biologists felt the discussion had to be whether the hunters should have the opportunity to lower the number of moose, because the number would be lowered anyway by the ticks. There was a lot happening in the research arena. Looking at statistics of the season, we were holding our own in most of the areas.

Ms. Camuso stated without WMD 9, there were very minor changes to the proposed permits. The only real change was WMD 2 because the goal had changed in that particular WMD. We had reached the goal so we were backing off on the permit numbers in that area.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Fortier stated he drove through WMD 9 and had since 1960. Seeing all the emails coming in, he was glad the biologists were not involved in the social and sticking with the biology. He felt that was important. Everybody wanted to take pictures of moose, but he used to see traffic jams there from the people wanting to take pictures. The spruce bud worm had a lot to do with building habitat for moose. The spruce bud worm was on its way back, coming down from Canada. The sessions he had gone to were dealing with data and things they could do in Canada that we couldn’t do here. When the last spruce bud worm outbreak came through in the late 70’s and 80’s it looked like fall year round. Would that be taken into consideration when calculating moose permit numbers?

Ms. Camuso stated available and usable habitat was always a component of our management system. It was a challenge to manage for species without the appropriate habitat. Our goals adjusted accordingly to usable habitat.

Mr. Fortier stated we wanted to deal with the data on moose, and a lot of the public comments would end up going to the economics of people coming in to take pictures of moose, etc. That was fine if they wanted to take pictures, but if you didn’t have that moose population and didn’t maintain it right you were not going to get to take many pictures.

Ms. Camuso stated we were about to redo our big game species planning for all four of our big game species. One of the things we would be looking to do would be to incorporate things like ways the Department could help communities better provide for wildlife viewing or moose viewing beyond just the number of animals on the landscape.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the economic comment, people made accusations about managing for money. He reiterated that at no time since he’d been Commissioner had he ever made a decision of a resource based on how much money it would make for the Department. That wasn’t the way it worked. We did make some money from moose, the economy did benefit from moose but that was not why we managed moose. We managed moose for the resource itself, the number that ought to be there. What came with it was the result of managing the resource correctly. We dropped 1,000 permits in 2014 that was how cognoscente he was about making money.

Mr. Thurston stated he needed help with the aerial studies and determining population. It seemed vague. He had a concern in WMD 8 and he was all about managing by science. But, statistically, how did that come together so he could explain it to his constituents. When he went out in the woods, he went off road and “went out there.” When he looked at the success rate in WMD 8, 54%; 94 moose were killed out of 175 permits.

Ms. Camuso stated the aerial surveys that we did, not any one thing gave us the answer. It was all taken into consideration; all the pieces of the pie created a whole. In general what we were looking for when we ran the transect lines for population, we were looking at the most appropriate habitat for that management district. Then we ran the transect up and down for miles. That data was then compared; it was relative data. We would not say that we ran the transect and knew the number of moose on the landscape. What it told us was that there were more or less than last year, there were more or less than the WMD next to it, and we looked at that in combination when we did composition counts to look at the bull to cow ratio; we looked at that in conjunction with the harvest data; success rates; the feedback we got from deer hunters, etc. It was all used together. Moose were a challenge because they were difficult to see, the surveys had to be done in the winter, they were often in difficult terrain for us to access. This was not unique for moose country. Folks all across the country struggled with getting an accurate estimate for moose populations but it was the best available data we had. We were not alone in the way we were estimating moose populations and our biologists worked with bios throughout the region and across the country and she thought they would all agree the aerial surveys were an essential component to be able to give an accurate estimate for the moose on the landscape and as a predictor for whether we needed to increase or decrease the harvest.

Mr. Thurston stated he read the study and what alarmed him was the mortality rate that we found from the collared moose. That was a pretty aggressive number.

Ms. Camuso stated we had been monitoring the number of ticks on harvested moose since 2006. In the winter of 2013 on our harvested moose we had the highest number of tick counts that we’d seen. That could have predicted the mortality the following winter. What we were struggling with was that was too late to react to and prevent. Discussions were the way we could prevent that mortality from winter tick was possibly to kill more moose by hunting. The public did not really agree with that option. It felt counterintuitive. People often thought that hunting mortality in these situations was additive. It was possible we could use harvest in the fall to prevent mortality in the winter. The causes of mortality were not necessarily additive. For most wildlife species close to 70% of animals born in the spring did not live to the next year. A lot of this stuff had happened throughout time. Some of the things with technology made it easier for us to see now. We had evidence of a massive die off of moose back in the 1930’s when we had very few moose on the landscape. There were very few moose on the landscape yet we still had a major die off from ticks. We were not 100% sure that it was only density related. A wildlife veterinarian from Tufts spoke about almost never was it one thing, it was other things underlying that all worked together to cause mortality. Maybe the moose were a little under weight going into the winter, maybe they had lung parasites that couldn’t be seen, maybe there was a higher snow pack than an average winter and they had ticks. The tick was what appeared to be the catastrophic mortality event but most likely there was a whole host of things playing into that mortality. Vermont in the early 2000’s had a campaign to aggressively drop the moose population to deal with the ticks. However, they were not seeing the benefits they had expected. There were so many unknowns and things that could not be controlled. We were looking to start a second study area next winter to get a better handle on the mortality events statewide.

Mr. Thurston asked if the tick level might drop off on its own.

Ms. Camuso stated we did not know. It was possible that climatic conditions were impacting ticks. The winter ticks lived for just 1 year unlike most of the ticks which lived 3 years. The winter ticks went through their entire life cycle in 1 year on 1 animal. The other types of ticks would drop off in between cycles, but the winter tick would get their whole blood meal on the one moose. The fall seemed to be most important; hot dry falls were very productive for ticks. Biologists wanted to manage for healthy populations, they were not as concerned with the number of animals on the landscape. One of the benefits we could provide with a healthy wildlife population was hunting and viewing opportunities. What had happened in VT was they had dropped the moose population down to a point where on average hunters were seeing moose at a rate of 1 animal in 3 days. That was a low rate and she did not feel we would want that few moose on the landscape in Maine.

Mr. Thurston stated he felt we should err on the side of caution. We could control the number of permits we gave out.

Ms. Camuso stated we could control the permits but we could not control the winter mortality; the same number of animals would probably die in the end, but that was a hard message to communicate.

Commissioner Woodcock referred to a book he had been reading entitled “White as a ghost” which provided good information regarding ticks and moose. With all the variables in the equation, what was the right number of permits and the notion of should hunters have them instead of them just dying off.

Mr. Fortier discussed deer ticks and the effects on humans.

Ms. Camuso stated tick counts were down this fall. This year we had 3 mortalities so far for collared moose; last year we had 11 at this time.

Mr. Dudley asked about the big game working group.

Ms. Camuso stated we were working on an RFP to have a survey firm help us to develop public surveys. Our plan was to have a big game steering committee made up of 8 or 9 people. From that group we would probably form subcommittees for people and bring in specialists that work on particular species. The goal would be to start the process this summer so the survey would be designed and ready for the public this fall. We would have regional meetings with the specialists and go into breakout sessions and have 10 or 20 minutes in each group (deer, bear, moose, turkey). We would probably also have some specific focus groups. Sometimes there may be additional questions we would want to ask as a follow up to the surveys. Then staff would make recommendations to the committee based on the feedback from the public. We would be doing surveys of the general public as well as targeted interest groups. The goal was to have it completed by the fall of 2016.

Mr. Dudley discussed the success rates and percentages. The final percentage was 65% overall. He was hearing that was not acceptable. What else did we hunt that had a 65% success rate?

Ms. Camuso stated our success rate compared to other states was fantastic. We had only been hunting moose since the 1980’s in Maine and animals did learn to avoid being hunted.

Mr. Farrington stated we had received a lot of comments about WMD 9, but a lot of those comments came from people that lived in WMD 8. At their request he went on a 200+ mile snowmobile ride because they wanted to prove to him that there were no moose left in the woods. They went 65 miles after a fresh snow and saw 2 sets of moose tracks crossing through an area that used to be inundated with moose. One of the moose they saw had a growth on its side. A snowmobile trail groomer took him to another place where moose used to be, there were just none there. He heard from people if the Department’s scientific data knew that the moose tagged last year died off, how come they didn’t reduce the number of moose permits by 50%? They did not understand the science part of it and felt the Department did not share the data. Lee Kantar gave a moose presentation in Jackman and said they were gathering the data. The moose were tagged a year ago and the public didn’t understand how come the analysis of that information on the moose that died was not available yet.

Ms. Camuso stated it was important to note that because of that we dropped the moose permits back last year because of the mortality by 25%. The numbers in front of the Council were consistent to significant and reduced permits as a result of the winter mortality last year. We had adjusted the numbers.

Mr. Farrington stated the devil’s advocate would say that was in WMD 8 and we hadn’t changed the numbers in WMD 8 for five years.

Ms. Camuso addressed the question about why the data wasn’t available. The blood work and that analysis was not a simple process. The markers or norms for moose had not been set. We did not know the normal levels of various blood components for moose. We were working with wildlife veterinarians to come up with those markers. The data didn’t mean anything until the markers were set.

Mr. Farrington asked if it was available from Michigan or other states that had been studying moose for a long time. With all the blood tests that had been done on moose through all the states, there had to be an average on what the levels should be.

Ms. Camuso stated we saw chronic mortality and sort of catastrophic mortality. Last year we had some catastrophic mortality. We knew that most of the moose we examined last year that died had a heavy tick load. Were there other factors contributing to the ultimate mortality; it was a major study and could take years to get results.

Commissioner Woodcock stated one of the problems we had in the moose arena was we started out with a 90% success rate. We were cautious about this and the biological staff was conservative with their permit numbers.

Mr. Farrington stated the people that took him for the snowmobile ride, they were all telling him there were no tracks and that told them there were no moose there. They looked at the permit numbers and told him they knew there would be a hearing on WMD 9 but they would also like WMD 8 cut in half. He did not feel they understood the science behind it, all they knew was what they saw in the woods.

Commissioner Woodcock stated two years ago we cut the bull numbers in WMD 8 because we had some complaints from people who thought the outfitters were going to lose money. They had been the same for a couple years now.

Ms. Camuso stated the Department may not have done the best job communicating with the public on a whole host of species. The bear referendum was a perfect example that people did not have a clear understanding what the agency did. As a result of that we were trying to hire a marketing firm to help us come up with a communications strategy for the Department. That would incorporate some television ads, social media, press releases, newspapers, etc. and try and take advantage of this electronic age and try and do a better job. She felt that in the next year or two people would see the Department stepping up our efforts to reach out to the public.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if there was funding in place for that.

Ms. Camuso stated we were working on it.

Mr. Thurston stated he knew some of the hunting public would be open to closing down the moose season for a couple years if the species needed that lessened pressure. They were open to that and we needed to do a better job with education and explaining why we did what we did.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we managed for everybody. A person not affiliated with the outdoors at all and just wanted no one to do anything with the wildlife, we managed for them too. The referendum highlighted that significantly. The population we had to educate were not hunting and fishing people.

Ms. Camuso referred to the “Hug a Hunter” program in Colorado. We were going to try to simulate a similar program in Maine.

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant to accept the presentation of moose numbers for permits taking out WMD 9 for now and that was seconded by Mr. Fortier.

Vote: 7 in favor; 1 opposed (Mr. Farrington) – motion passed.

B. Step 2

There were no items under Step 2.

C. Step 1

1. Phippsburg Expanded Archery Hunt Petition

Commissioner Woodcock stated we received an official petition to change the geographic borders around the Phippsburg expanded archery zone and take Phippsburg out of the expanded archery zone. This issue had a history and would continue to do so. Firearms and expanded archery were both involved in this particular area. Normally we had special archery zones for opportunities where firearms weren’t involved. There were some that would comment that it should stay the way it was. There were some advantages to having an expanded archery zone.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if we had received any feedback from the sportsman’s association there.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he did not think we had yet.

Ms. Orff stated the rulemaking notice had not been advertised yet.

Mr. Thurston asked what the group’s reason was to take it out of expanded archery.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there were people who would prefer that other people not have advantages in the hunting season because they could hunt in places other people couldn’t. It was a local process.

Mr. Connolly stated all of WMD 24 had areas where there was gun hunting and bow hunting as well. That was the one district that was different in terms of the philosophy that was behind it. It had more to do with accessibility and the ability to control the deer herd so it was a way to maximize opportunity. This was one particular community where the bow hunters and the gun hunters disagreed about what impact that’s had on their ability to pursue their sport. Even within the sportsman’s club there had been a great difference of opinion.

Mr. Fortier stated if that were to be taken out, what would that do to the deer population in that area.

Mr. Connolly stated we didn’t manage deer by town. Over time we may get anecdotal evidence about increases in car deer accidents within the community or more damage to shrubs if someone else didn’t pick up the slack. That was the difficult part, if the deer wasn’t taken by a bow hunter was it going to be there when the gun hunter went. Making an assertion about if there’s going to be a direct correlation from one to the other in terms of success was difficult.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he guessed it was not so much biological but purely opportunity.

2. Moose Permits WMD 9

Commissioner Woodcock stated there had been a lot of discussion, was there anything else the Council would like to hear about. We would be having a public hearing in Greenville on the 24th of April.

Ms. Orff stated the comment period ended May 4th, and the next time the Council saw this on the agenda it would be bumped up to Step 3 because of the timing.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it had been explained to one of the people involved in leading the charge in the Greenville area that this changed the process in terms of the permit process for that area in advertising and applications from people who came in. It did change a little bit for those people who wanted to apply in WMD 9, we would have to put it on the internet that there may be some changes in WMD 9 that could affect their permit application.

Mr. Farrington stated he had been asked to give the petition in writing to Ms. Orff. He had also been asked to request a copy of the Administrative Procedures Act. They wanted to see it in writing regards the requirements to have a public hearing. The individual stated he had called the Department a few times, and got a different answer each time.
Commissioner Woodcock stated part of the concern about what was going on was that we were in the middle of a comment period when the conversation was being had. If it came during the comment period the 5 official requests to have a public hearing, we would do that. If it happened after that deadline, it became a petition function.

Ms. Orff stated some of the confusion was about petitioning on a proposal. A petition typically was for an existing rule and what he wanted to petition us on was a proposal, we hadn’t completed the rulemaking process yet.

Mr. Farrington stated they had already given him the solution, cut it back to 50 bulls and throw everything else out and we didn’t have to come to Greenville.

Commissioner Woodcock stated they were looking for an opportunity to be heard officially before anyone voted on WMD 9, and that was what we were doing. He felt the process worked well. There was also some confusion about what people thought a petition was. To the Department, a petition was a legal document with 150 certified signatures. That meant the clerk of the town had to say they were a voter in the town.

V. Other Business

1. Any-deer Permits 2015

Ms. Camuso stated all the deer data had been entered. Kyle Ravana was in the process of reviewing the harvest data from 2014. He had done a pretty good analysis so far of the winter severity which was another of the major components to any-deer permits. We would be having a meeting with regional staff at the end of April and preliminary numbers for the Council at the May meeting.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Lewis asked if the severity index was bad or good.

Ms. Camuso stated right now it looked like the 11th worst winter that we had on record.

Commissioner Woodcock stated not to let that correlate with the number of deer that were lost. The severity index was there, but what did do for deer. He had heard a lot of reports from around the state that there were deer around and they were healthy.

Ms. Camuso stated the winter severity index went until the middle of April so we wouldn’t have that measure for a few more weeks.

Ms. Starbird commented on the NH deer feeding incident. Maybe the public should be educated on if they were going to feed, they should know what to feed.

Ms. Camuso stated 12 deer were found dead in NH as a result of improper food. We sent out a press release and posted an information sheet on our website about feeding of deer. The one component of it was the actual food. The other issue was when you had deer feeding in small areas it was much more likely to spread disease. It was also more likely to have deer crossing roads to get to feed stations and getting hit by cars. She personally did not like encouraging people to feed deer even if they were feeding the right food supplies because there were a whole other host of things that caused the demise of those deer.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there was a law that gave him the right to summons someone feeding deer if after the third warning they had not changed their feeding station.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

John Short stated he had brittneys, ran bird dogs, did a little bit of training, it was a hobby. He was the president of the Central Maine Brittney club, vice president of the Maine Bird Dog club and belonged to a bunch of sporting clubs. In the last several years bird dogs and rabbit dogs had been getting snapped in October. They were getting caught in the traps during early coyote trapping season. Alot of people were trapping now. Hides were up, but coyote hides that time of year weren’t that great talking with some of the people that trapped. The first year that early trapping season showed up was in the 1989-90 law book. Prior law books didn’t have it. He thought it was Skip Trask who at that time brought it to the Advisory Council and asked for a second week which he got a lot of opposition on from the bird hunters.

Mr. Short stated he held a trapping license, had one for years but didn’t trap anymore. He thought MaryAnn said when he called here last year there were 3,200 trapping licenses which was the most in a long time for the state. It was a growing issue; traps were being set on the side of some of the trails. A guy in West Newfield two years ago ended up shooting his dog. Several dogs from Caratunk up to the Greenville area, across the road in Lilly Bay and Number 4 Mountain, a dog was caught up in there. It had been an issue. Dirt sets, everybody liked them. Move it back to September, give them the month of September if we’re worried about coyote and fox over population. Other people, give them the month of January while it’s breeding season. Who cared, they were coyotes and if we want to get rid of a lot of them give them January to finish trapping. Give October for the bird dogs and rabbit dogs not to get caught.

Mr. Short stated he knew there was an issue with conibears. He talked with Ms. Camuso a couple of weeks ago and spoke two years ago with John DePue and more recently his boss. He had spoken with the Commissioner a couple times as well. When he talked with Mr. DePue he advised him to get 150 signatures and bring it to the Department. He got 150 signatures, brought it to the Department and met with Deputy Commissioner Erskine. He stuck with mainly people that were bird hunting or rabbit hunting and got signatures from York County up to the County and met with Deputy Commissioner Erskine, and then was told the signatures needed to be verified. Nobody had mentioned verifying them.

Mr. Short stated if the Advisory Council gave them a second week to either move it back into September or give them the month of September. He had an article about a guy with a rabbit dog that got caught and lost a paw, and one in York County down in Sanford that had a little rat dog walking along the path that got snapped. He had a friend in Buxton who was a pro-trainer and it took a couple hours to find his pointer laid out in the field. On Rt. 5 in Scarborough he had his dog get caught in the middle of a field and had to let him out of the trap. He had done some stuff with the different clubs on traps and releasing the dogs. Kezar Falls club was an old fish and game club with members in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. They had a trapper come in and give a demonstration and some of these people could not open a trap or didn’t know how to open a trap. Bird season went from October 1 to the end of December, he hunted October, very little in November and back in December. If he got caught then he didn’t care, he was running with them and that was their season. It had been an issue and something had to be done about it. Trapping, you could trap 7 days a week and shoot your animals on Sunday in the trap. He had October; let him run his bird dogs.

Mr. Short stated he had a dog training license and propagation license and met with Deputy Commissioner Erskine on these things. It was a 2-year license. He came this year to get it and the propagation license was 2 years, but the permit to shoot birds and train was only 1 year. Talking with the people downstairs why it was not 2 years, they said it never had been. He had old licenses, it was 2 years. Laws got changed, some with the stroke of a pen yet other ones had to be voted on? He had been trying a couple years on this, it seemed like the trappers had a good hold on the state. Get it out of October, give them September or January.

Mr. Short stated he had another issue. He was asked this by another guy that ran rabbit dogs up in the Caratunk area. People were coming in from out of state with Portuguese hunting dogs. He didn’t know the warden in that area but heard he was going to put in a bill to try to cut it back. They were putting 15-17 dogs on the ground, shooting rabbits and dogs ripped them up. At the end of the day they would start heading out and if only 10 dogs came back they would pull out and go home. One of the guides up there that he knew had a couple of the dogs, they had left them behind. He wasn’t sure of the warden’s name in that area but he believed that he was going to try to put a limit on how many dogs they could put on the ground. He did talk last year with Senator Davis about it.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The date and location of the next meeting would be Wednesday, May 6th at 9:30 a.m. at 284 State Street, Augusta.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and that was seconded by Ms. Starbird to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:45 a.m.