Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
June 17, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Cary Medical Center - Caribou Room
163 VanBuren Road
Caribou, Maine


Tim Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Director
Bonnie Holding, Information and Education Director
Maryellen Wickett, Wildlife Biologist/Programmer Analyst
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

Don Dudley (Chair)
Dick Fortier
Matt Thurston
Jerry Scribner
Jenny Starbird
Lance Wheaton

Blaine Holding
Gary Corson
Brian Cogill, MTA
Hal Murphy
Gary McLaughlin, ACCA

I. Call to Order

Don Dudley, 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. Fortier to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Wheaton.

Vote: Unanimous ? minutes approved.

III-A. Election of Chair and Vice-Chair

A motion was made by Mr. Scribner to nominate Don Dudley for a second tern as Council Chair, and that was seconded by Mr. Fortier. There were no further nominations.

Vote: Vote: Unanimous - Don Dudley elected as Council Chair

A motion was made by Mr. Thurston to nominate Jeff Lewis for a second term as Council Vice-Chair, and that was seconded by Mr. Fortier.

A motion was made by Mr. Wheaton to nominate Matt Thurston as Council Vice-Chair, and that was seconded by Mr. Fortier. There were no further nominations.

Vote: Of the six members present, four votes in favor of Matt Thurston as Council Vice-Chair; two votes in favor of Jeff Lewis as Council Vice-Chair. Matt Thurston elected as Council Vice-Chair.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

1. Fall Turkey Season

Ms. Camuso stated that this was a proposal to open WMD 27 to a fall turkey harvest of one of any sex. Most of the state was open to a fall harvest, but we were not conservative with WMD 27 and believed it was ready for a fall harvest. No public comments were received on the proposal.

Council member questions and comments

Mr. Fortier asked about the turkey population there.

Ms. Camuso stated that it had been growing and disease had dropped the population a bit, but now it had stabilized. That was consistent across the northeast with various states with the population. We were still monitoring for disease and were being cautious when moving turkeys from an area of the state that had been effected.

Mr. Thurston asked about a turkey study that was being conducted.

Ms. Camuso stated that a 3-year project with the University. There would be grad students working with us.

Mr. Thurston asked if the diseases were related to too many turkeys.

Ms. Camuso stated probably. There was a bill passed in the Legislature to give the Commissioner authority to set bag limits for turkey. The bag limits were set in statute and that did not give us enough flexibility especially with a species like turkey that could produce lots of young in one year. As part of the big game process we reorganized that we wanted to be more fluid to adjust turkey harvest, season length, bag limits, ext.

A motion was made by Mr. Fortier to adopt the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Wheaton.

Vote: unanimous - Motion passed

b. Step 2

1. Any-deer Permit Allocations 2017

Ms. Camuso stated we were proposing an increase in any-deer permits to a total of 66,050 permits. She wanted to remind everyone that when we made the calculations there was an expansion factor; we looked at the success rates by district. The total anticipated doe harvest from this was about 6,500 animals. Even though we were issuing 66,000 permits, that was the number of permits we had to issue to achieve the desired doe harvest of 6,000 or so animals. There were some WMDs we were recommending would still receive no permits (1, 5, 10, 11, 19, 28) those WMDs were still below objective and we did not feel they could sustain a doe harvest at this time. There were some WMDs that we were offering a small number of permits (2, 3, 27) 50 permits for an entire WMD was quite nominal but it allowed some opportunity, particularly on youth day, and still anticipate a very small harvest in those areas. Overall those districts were still below objective, but in many small local areas within those WMDs there were abundant deer that could sustain a doe harvest. The majority of the increase in permits was in central Maine. Most of them were in region B and those populations were at or almost above objective. With a couple of mild winters we did not want the population to bounce up substantially higher than it currently was given Lyme disease, car/deer accidents, etc. We wanted to actively keep the population where it was or even lower. There was a decrease in permits for WMD 13.

Council member comments and questions

Mr. Scribner stated he was in favor of providing opportunity if the long term sustainability of the population could handle it. He did not represent WMD 7 but that was where he hunted. Last year we started with 500 permits allocated and we reduced that to 375. This year we had upped that to 800 permits in the proposal. When he looked at the newspaper article, he knew the media sometimes did not get things quite the way the biologist presented them, but in Deirdre Fleming?s article she stated that Ryan Robicheau said that the state wildlife biologists still wanted to grow the herd in northern, western and eastern Maine. Even with 800 permits, and if 200 does were harvested, that seemed like it didn?t line up with wanting to increase the herd in the western mountains. He was in favor of providing opportunity if the herd could sustain it. He knew during the winter they could go on the Kennebago Road and over in Rangeley or Oquossoc, anywhere they were feeding deer and see 100 deer. Needless to say those deer were coming from miles around to get to those places where they could get feed. Personally, he would consider the past winter in western Maine to be average, not mild. He wanted to support the biologists, so what he would like was access to the mortality studies and whatever we had for biological data that got to where we were allocating 800 permits to WMD 7.

Ms. Camuso stated Chuck Hulsey and Bob Cordes had met with Mrs. Oldham because she had concerns as well. They went through all of the calculations and spread sheets that we worked through when coming up with permit allocations. She could ask them to do that for Mr. Scribner as well. The amount of data that they analyzed was overwhelming. It was important to know that you could still harvest does and grow a population. Hunting typically in the levels we were hunting was not additive mortality. It was not increasing the overall mortality of the population, it was only when you started taking more than 15% or 20% of the population did you start to see a decline in the populations. When we ran the numbers for WMD 7 in the total mortality when you looked at all the other factors of mortality, if we were to achieve our goal the mortality associated with does from hunting was less than 4%. It was not impactful to population growth. You could still harvest does and grow ample deer. It could be additive, it could be compensatory it depended on the level you were hunting.

Mr. Scribner stated wouldn?t that slow the growth? It seemed counterproductive that we focused on predator control and we were paying people around deer yards to control the predation so we had more deer as part of our plan to increase the population in the western Maine mountains. At face value, we save 200 by shooting the coyotes and now we?re going to shoot 200 of them. He would appreciate getting the stats that the numbers were based on for betting understanding.

Mr. Thurston stated he believed Mr. Scribner was correct that the deer traveled many miles for winter habitat. They also had social pressures when they were over populated which resulted in less fawn survival. It would be interesting to know what the success rate was for the 375 permits issued last year. It was a perception challenge because we would be criticized for the increase again. If we did not manage for deer or moose at all, we would have epic swings and highs and lows. What we were trying to do was manage that oscillation for smoother transition for a quality herd that we all could recreate with.

Mr. Scribner stated this was anecdotal, but in 11 days of hunting in the western Maine mountains he saw 4 deer, 2 were nice bucks. As opposed to when he was turkey hunting around the Washington, Somerville area he could not go out mornings without seeing deer or deer sign. He could appreciate and understand the increase required in southern and central Maine, but he just hadn?t seen an increase in the western Maine mountains.

Ms. Camuso stated we knew there had been concerns in the past in WMD 7 and her guidance to staff was to give her the biological recommendations. Their recommendations were based on the biology and she thought the WSI (winter severity index) for WMD 7 was below average this year. Part of the reason for that, it was sort of a perception issue. It was not that we didn?t have snow, it was just that the deer were staying on top of it. There were very few days that the deer were sinking below 8 inches. We had staff that spent 3 days per week monitoring winter severity. We had outstanding data on the winter survival of deer by WMD.

Ms. Starbird stated it would be helpful to see the goal for last year and the success rate so they could see what was actually harvested in comparison to what was being proposed for this year.

Mr. Wheaton stated they talked about a time in Grand Lake Stream when there were no deer, probably the 20?s and 30?s. Then they talked about a few deer moving in from the west. He looked at the chart and he saw WMDs 11, 19, 27 with no permits. Were the deer coming up back then because there were too many deer to the south? Were we going to kill off what could move east? He did not know, but it looked like we had too many we were going to kill off. It would be nice to see a deer in his area, he was in WMD 11. He had not been seeing many ticks this year.

Mr. Fortier stated he was familiar with WMDs 1 and 10. WMD 1 was a hard area to hunt, and he saw no permits issued. He did not know where we were with the threshold before they would allow any permits. He was exceptionally familiar with WMDs 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. WMD 3 was Caribou and they had been seeing more deer in the farming country than they had been. He did some hunting in WMD 4 and a lot in WMD 5. He wondered what the threshold was in those areas before we started allowing permits. One of the concerns he had was for youth being able to hunt; he knew that was taken into account.

Ms. Camuso stated we were working on a 5-year study with Irving, probably the most comprehensive study we had done in quite awhile on deer survival and productivity. We had a number of animals collared in northern Maine, but for each animal we had some in areas that were being fed and then a control area where animals were not being fed. There were not many areas in the state where deer were not being fed. It appeared to be more prevalent than we realized. They were looking at forest conditions, predation, feeding and how all of things impacted winter survival. It was Irving, University of New Brunswick and University of Maine. There would be about 6 study areas with animals collared trying to figure out what was contributing; there were areas where we had deer yards and the deer either were not in them or we were not seeing any increase in population. We did not know if it was because they were being pulled out of the deer yards and going to a feeding station, or because the winter was too severe and they were not surviving, or because predators were coming in and taking vulnerable animals, but there were areas of the state where we should be seeing more of an increase given that there?s been no harvest and there?s just not.

Ms. Camuso stated at the same time there were areas such as WMD 2 that we had more animals killed on the road getting to food this year than the entire harvest through the firearms season. Particularly for northern Maine there were still a lot of unanswered questions that we were trying to figure out. We didn?t know if the feeding was changing the deer behavior. If the deer weren?t going into the yards, we really couldn?t keep asking the paper companies to manage for deer wintering areas when the deer weren?t using them. There were many areas where we had good habitat and they were not using them. That?s what the study with Irving was hoping to achieve.

Mr. Scribner asked how close we were to releasing the species by species wildlife management plan.

Mr. Scribner asked how close we were to releasing the species by species wildlife management plan.

Mr. Thurston stated we had 29 Wildlife Management Districts, was there a better opportunity; if you looked at some of the zones the habitat was a huge variable. We were sometimes using a broad stroke approach as opposed to isolating into more districts to better manage.

Ms. Camuso stated we did not have the populations to manage at a much smaller scale. In order to run the statistical analysis that we ran, you had to harvest a certain number of animals. We could not break it down much smaller than we had. We talked about that in the big game plan, did we want to look at redoing the management districts. We used to have larger wildlife management units.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the other side of that was working on tools through rulemaking or statute that we could manage at different levels inside of WMDs. We made strides towards that during the session to manage more efficiently inside an area with zero doe permits. Even inside large areas that had doe permits, we were still not getting the harvest in certain target areas along the coast. We needed to be able to target people into areas where we were already giving doe permits and we were not getting appropriate harvest in certain portions of that.

c. Step 1

1. Furbearer Seasons/Beaver Closures 2017/18

Ms. Camuso stated there were no proposed changes to the regulations other than the season adjustments for calendar days and based on landowner requests which areas were open or closed to beavers. Last time we expanded the bobcat season, and this was basically just to update the calendar and once we got feedback from the regional staff if there were landowners that had decided to open their property or they want to have it closed. Last year we put in the requirement for the jaw and tooth submissions so we would maintain that. We didn?t anticipate having as much compliance; Cory was thrilled with the number of jaws he received.

Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Fish Waters 2018

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated last year the regional biologists were under direction from the Commissioner to kind of hold back so we could do a reorganization of the law book. Basically the regulations we put forth in 2016 were pretty much creating the new law book. The direction this year from the Commissioner to the biologists was to work on more simplification and also look at some of the things they held back on for management. Essentially we had been two years since the regional biologists could do individual lake management. The Commissioner changed the process for proposing regulations. Regional biologists prepared them, they were compiled by Joe Overlock and Francis Brautigam and then they met with Jim Connolly and the Deputy Commissioner and reviewed each of the regulation changes. They spent an entire day going over proposals and felt it was beneficial to hear the different perspectives. The Commissioner then reviewed each of the proposals. In summary, there would be 16 statewide initiatives. The statewide initiatives was pretty much focused on the general law page. An example was doing away with the 10 fish limit on pickerel. We felt it was no longer a necessity to have 10 fish bag limit on pickerel. We were going to change the general law in northern Maine to no size or bag limit on bass, rather than putting a special regulation (S-13) when we had illegal introductions of bass to remove those we put S-13, which was no size or bag limit. By changing the general law it removed the S-13 from individualized waters in northern Maine. Water specific special fishing laws and identifying and removing unnecessary regulations; unnecessary meant we used to stock a body of water and we had a regulation to support the management of a stocked body of water and we stopped stocking it, but the regulation still remained in place so we looked at pulling back what was considered obsolete. Water specific proposals were included to address fishery management needs within the 7 management units. They would look at age, growth issues, etc. Some of those were combined simplification of waters, there were 267 water specific proposals. There were 32 housekeeping proposals.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated another simplification issue, there were a lot of waters that talked about confluences of rivers and we were going to go to a demarcation, whether it was an exact point of land or water markers. There was also the advancement of 17 additional state heritage waters. There was quite a bit of conversation in the legislature, there were 2 bills dealing with fisheries and heritage waters. Part of the outcome, there was a carry-over bill in the Legislature and we were going to work on heritage waters.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Dudley asked if there was a committee working on the legislative bills.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated there was a group that would be coming together during the summer to work on heritage waters looking at tributaries.

Mr. Fortier stated it was discussed about changing the designation of how they became heritage waters. On the Fish River Chain, Solider Pond, areas in the Allagash, they were heritage waters, if that were to be changed, it had species that had been there forever, would those end up being classified as a heritage water? That effected live bait fishing so when that happened in his area it affected a lot of fishermen in his area.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated anything that had never been stocked or had not been stocked for 25 years came into consideration as a heritage water and a principal fishery of brook trout. If they fit in that category they had the potential to be considered to be listed as a heritage water.

3. Eastport Special Hunt

Ms. Camuso stated the packet included an overview from last year?s hunt. There were 11 does harvested. From the town?s perspective it went well, it was manageable. They had a deer reduction committee that was planning to do another survey of their residents to try and get a handle on what the nuisance level was. The proposal would be to keep the limit at 30 participants with the same split of 90% from Eastport and 10% from off island. They felt that people that lived on the island would be more likely to be there to be able to hunt. It would be 30 people through a lottery, but expand to 90 permits so that if someone harvested a deer they could go back to the town and take a second permit and continue to hunt. Successful hunters that were willing to put in the time and energy would be allowed to hunt and harvest multiple does. It was a small island, but recognizing they needed to harvest more animals was why they came up with the idea that people could go back and harvest more than one animal. Under the any-deer permit proposal we were offering a modest number of permits in WMD 27 so anybody could go to Eastport during the archery season and if they got a permit harvest a doe, and also youth. The Town has now opened the town property to hunting during expanded archery season which had been an issue.

Council Members Comments and Questions

Mr. Fortier stated he was glad to hear the town was opening their lands. He did not think they would be able to get the necessary harvest numbers with that set amount of permits.

Mr. Dudley asked if we still felt they would need a special season as opposed to the fact that they now could take does during the season which they couldn?t in the past.

Ms. Camuso stated there were only 50 permits, and the people that received the permits could hunt anywhere in WMD 27, they were not targeting Eastport.

Mr. Dudley stated it would open it up for archery hunters and youth hunters. In the past they couldn?t harvest does period. We gave them a special season last year and they harvested 11. Did they need the expanded season or during the regular month when everyone hunted, it was strictly archery anyway. Did they really need a special season?

Ms. Camuso stated it was archery only and they needed additional help beyond the archery season.

Mr. Dudley asked if we had a count of how many deer were on the island

Ms. Camuso stated no, and this was more of a social issue. The issue on Eastport was deer had tipped the social carrying capacity. The town was committed to continue to survey the public to figure out when things were more back in balance.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated there were 25 bucks harvested there last year during the regular archery season.

Mr. Dudley stated all 11 deer harvested there were checked for ticks and none were found. Wasn?t that strange?

Ms. Camuso stated the island was tick free.

Mr. Scribner stated we needed to find out why. With all the problems we were having along the coast, if they harvested 11 deer in Eastport and none had ticks, there had to be something there we needed to understand.

v. Other Business

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated he would like to give a legislative update. We had at least 85 bills before our committee including the Forest City Dam.

Ms. Camuso stated people should know about the hunting over bait increased penalty that was passed. If you were convicted of hunting over bait it was a 1 year mandatory license suspension, if you were convicted a second time you would lose your privileges permanently.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the budget was still being debated. The Forest City Dam bill, there was a resolve that had been voted on by the Committee 11-1 to pass an amended version of the resolve for the Department to take over Forest City Dam. It appeared we would be the owners of the American side of the Forest City Dam. We would own 2 out of 3 gates, and Woodland Pulp would retain ownership of one gate and a fishway which was on the Canadian side. Where we were entering into an operation agreement and the resolve from the Legislature said that it would be a 15 year agreement with up to 4, 5-year extensions. The contentious part was if Woodland Pulp changed ownership would the agreement be void. The Committee stated it wanted a solid 15 year agreement with Woodland Pulp. If they changed owners the new owners would take on any balance of the 15 years to maintain and operate the dam. We would be operating as new owners for fisheries management and recreational purposes. We would fall under MEMA for flood control. The resolve was contingent upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) accepting the licensing surrender by Woodland Pulp.

Mr. Wheaton stated he helped to build the dam back in 1971. The dam held back 6?7? of water. Originally, he believed the state gave up water rights to the log drivers association and in 1963 all log drives were eliminated. He thought the mills then bought the water rights from the log drivers association. It had changed into the generation of power or running a mill or whatever they did with it. He operated and owned the Village Camps on East Grand Lake for 49 years and he had built a marina to house boats, etc. He obtained permits from the state and learned that when there was a dam like that on the lake, if they did take the dam out the water would drop from the high water mark where the dam held to the low water mark belonged to the mill. You would have to get separate permits from the mill to change that. There were 2,000 camps on East Grand Lake. If they lost the dam they would not have any water rights.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the Fish and Wildlife Department would own it.

Mr. Wheaton stated he thought the legislation was going to work out good for everybody.

Ms. Camuso stated she would like to give an update on communications and outreach. We were trying to raise awareness of the agency to those that did not currently communicate with us. This included a new website, new brand charter that outlined how all of our materials would look including our logo, where the logo would appear, printed material, etc. We were actively participating in an R3 (recruitment, retention, reactivation) program having a plan written for the state for sportsmen. After the bear referendum we knew we really didn?t know how to communicate effectively with people who did not participate in our activities. We hired a public relations firm (Rink Advertising) to help us connect with those people that were active in the outdoors, but did not hunt, fish or trap. We hired Rink mostly because of their technical skills. Ads for IFW would appear based on your web activity. We also had 3 different umbrella campaigns to raise awareness of the agency to nonconsumptive users. They were not traditional and kind of spoofy. We hired a professional actor with Warden Kris MacCabe and Ms. Camuso also in the features correcting him. The skits focused on hiking, fishing and bird watching.

Mrs. Holding stated we would not make these people license buyers, that was not the intent. We wanted them to understand that what we did as an agency impacted their lives. If they saw a bumble bee in their flower garden or was hiking on a trail and got lost they needed to understand everything they did out there we had an impact on them. Maybe a better understanding and that would generate support from a wider group.

Ms. Camuso stated following that would be a campaign focused on moose, eagles and landowner relations. The funding had been through a combination of an additional dollar from the sale of every hunting and trapping license which generated about $180,000 per year and a matching grant. There was about $700,000 from the USFWS. There were no state funds being spent. I&E?s budget was pretty much geared towards this also. Other states were also participating in similar projects. We needed to have awareness of the value of state natural resource agencies.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Gary Corson stated he wanted to comment on the heritage waters. There was a group that was being formed because of the legislation and it was his understanding that the group would look at criteria.

Gerry McLaughlin stated he was there on behalf of Aroostook County Conservation Association (ACCA) he was the founder and president. They helped their deer herd considerably since 2008-2009. They had already planted about 661 acres of food plots to help the deer. They planted 6,200 cedar trees, oak and sliver maple to help the deer in and around deer yards. Last winter they killed 161 coyotes in and around deer yards which they had done consecutively every year. He was there on behalf of the youth. They also sent kids to conservation camp. If we were going to allocate any-deer permits please consider giving 75% of them to the youth. If we were going to have a lottery have the kids under 15 send in and put them in a drawing. We needed to get our youth into it or we were done. If they saw a doe and couldn?t harvest it they got tired of it.

Ms. Camuso stated the allocation of youth permits was set in statute. That would be a legislative change, right now they got 25%. Adults that received permits could transfer them to youth at any time.

Hal Murphy stated he would like to add to that. He had been a professional forester in Maine and New Hampshire and worked in deer yards from Vermont to Escort. Our deer yards were critical and they were dead now. The work had never been done in them that should have been and they were carrying way to many deer in their yards. When we had a bad winter they were going to die. They had too many does for the amount of bucks. He hunted last year and saw 62 deer during the deer season and only 2 bucks. The bucks weren?t surviving. If we were trying to build up the bucks it wasn?t going to work until we killed some of the does off. They were killing more does on the highways up there than during deer season. They were being fed off the highways, the yards back in the woods had no deer in them. It was time to give out some doe permits and do some work in the deer yards, he didn?t know why it hadn?t been done.

Brian Cogill stated on the doe permits, by upping the permits we were taking the pressure off the bucks and giving more people the opportunity to shoot the does that would otherwise strictly hunt for big bucks. It also gave the kids an opportunity to harvest a doe. The trappers would love to have the drags back. He knew they had to wait for the ITP permit. When we did away with drags they protested it. A lynx was shot that was staked solid to the ground last year that could have been saved if we had drags. When you talked to those that trapped in northern Maine, they would go for 2 weeks during the season and trap 25-40 coyotes, this year they gave up after 4 days because they had coyotes shot up from bird hunters. He knew they had to wait until the court case was settled and hopefully the lynx would be delisted.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for August 15, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. at Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta in the upstairs conference room.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Fortier and that was seconded by Mr. Wheaton to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 12:15 p.m.