Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
January 26, 2018 at 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, Upstairs Conference Room
Augusta, Maine


Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

Don Dudley (Chair)
Dick Fortier
Jerry Scribner
Jeff Lewis - By phone
Larry Farrington
Sheri Oldham - By phone
Gunnar Gundersen
Matt Thurston
Shawn Sage
Brian Smith

Steve Philbrick, Oquossoc
Deidre Fleming, Portland Press Herald

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. Gundersen.

Vote: unanimous - minutes approved.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

There were no items under Step 3

B. Step 2

There were no items under Step 2

C. Step 1

Migratory Bird Season 2018-2019

Mr. Connolly stated migratory birds were managed on a flyway basis. The USFWS collected the biological data via wing surveys, hunters, band recovery, and breeding survey counts in Canada. Most of our birds that were passing through hatched out and were raised initially in Canada or the Arctic. We had birds migrating through and we had resident populations and migratory populations. The seasons were set up to address that. We also had within the state opportunities because of the zones as birds moved through the state. We were given a framework in which we could establish the season.

Mr. Connolly stated in the proposal there was a reduction in the regular goose season. That was based on analysis of the breeding populations in Canada. They weren?t sufficient to support a standard 70-day season for goose hunting so there was a modification. There wasn?t a modification of the early season which was targeted towards the resident birds where we continued to have plenty of birds. The regular goose season which was based on birds coming out of the Arctic had been modified to reflect the reduction in the populations. There was also a proposed change in the woodcock season. In waterfowl hunting there were some states that had Sunday hunting and others that didn?t. We had a long-term ability, because we didn?t hunt on Sunday in Maine, to take the number of days and spread it out over a longer period of time to make up for the Sundays we couldn?t hunt. Woodcock hunting prior to this year didn?t have that same advantage. The season was set and the days were consecutive days, and if you didn?t hunt those days because you didn?t have Sunday hunting you lost that opportunity. We were successful this year in recognizing that we should have the opportunity based on the woodcock population and we would apportion that based on what was appropriate for our state. Because we didn?t have Sunday hunting we were able to take those Sundays and move them into weekdays at the end of the season. The season length had changed. Kelsey Sullivan had provided a note that woodcock telemetry studies showed the majority of breeding woodcock in Maine had migrated by mid-November and the additional week was not expected to increase the harvest significantly. Other patterns played into how successful people were. The weather patterns and the migrating patterns of the birds as well.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Scribner stated there had always been a week between the end of the early Canadian goose season and the beginning of the regular season. During that week, depending on weather, there were a lot of the farmers in Central Maine that would harvest their corn and those fields were like magnets for resident geese. If we were serious about harvesting more resident geese given the daily bag limit, he thought that would be a week that would be included in the early season. Was it because by that point in Central Maine they were seeing some migratory birds?

Mr. Connolly stated that probably played into it. He could get a specific answer from Kelsey Sullivan.

Mr. Fortier asked about the harvesting of crops and the timeline. Up north they were careful about when they started traipsing on people?s land because of the destruction of property.

Mr. Connolly stated migratory birds, when they passed through, may stay longer in an area because the food was available depending on the hunting pressure.

2. Fishing Regulations Petition - Branch, Green, and Phillips Lake

Commissioner Woodcock stated we had received a valid petition to revisit an issue to institute a 14? minimum on Branch, Green and Phillips Lake, and a slot limit of 18?-22?, only one of which may go over the 22? slot. Normally the petition process for this type of slot the individual would be looking to have larger fish in those bodies of water. We had addressed slots previously and he had made comments on the record about the biological impact on certain bodies of water. We were holding a public hearing on February 6th in Ellsworth.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Farrington stated based on their experience with trying to keep bigger fish, it created more problems than it was worth. When you had to hold the ones in the middle, they made a lot more little ones. There were only so many groceries and when you got to the point that you had too many mouths, things were going to get skinnier and smaller. He had seen it happen on Moosehead Lake. They put an 18? or above limit on togue and then they had to open it up and keep as many as they could catch. It was a simple concept, you had to control the number of mouths based on the food. The proposal would increase the number of mouths in those ponds considerably.

Mr. Fortier stated on Eagle Lake the biologist opened it up and they had been cleaning the small fish out of Eagle Lake. He had not had a chance to talk to the biologist, but Mr. Fortier?s fear had been they would clean the lake out but they were not. They seemed to be doing a good job of not leaving a lot of dead fish on the ice. His fear was having to have some type of bag limit on the fish, but that was not his fear any longer considering how it seemed to be handled. He didn?t know how long it would take before they started getting bigger fish there. It had increased the amount of fishing there. If you just wanted to catch fish and take them home, Eagle Lake had created some traffic in that area.

Mr. Brautigam stated those liberalized regulations set the stage for reducing the population and allowing for some recovery of the smelt population and thereby improve growth on the remaining salmon. That was the strategy behind the regulation. The challenge we had with slots, particularly with salmon, you could end up with a situation for salmon where (in at least two of the three waters proposed) we would be protecting 57%-88% of the population in the slot. What Mr. Farrington stated earlier was right on, we would have to carry the fish for another two years and feed them. If they were not growing well they would not push out of the slot, they would stockpile and the fishery collapses. That typically meant we would stop stocking, and quite often have to liberalize regulations. It was a high-risk proposition and was why we did not have many of those regulations in place. If we looked at public interest in fishing for trophy fish, it reflected a low percentage of the public that was interested in fishing for trophy fish. If it came down to it, they would rather catch something than nothing. With trophy fish it was often slower fishing and not catching many fish.

Commissioner Woodcock stated you had to go on a lake by lake basis. There were some lakes that the principal was to move the fish through the slot to a larger size. There were some lakes that were able to sustain that and there were many lakes that kept the fish in the slot. Very few of them got through to the larger size. It wasn?t as simple as just creating a slot. With salmon, it was all about the smelts.

Mrs. Oldham stated she had a question about the public petition process. This was several months in a row they had been discussing slot limits on salmon that was outside of the management goals for those particular bodies of water. She could not remember having these kinds of public petitions, it was usually horsepower restrictions, open or close to ice fishing, etc. The amateur biology suggestions for these bodies of water, she did not know why that could be part of the public petition process. Slot limits were professional management kind of things. She knew they were reviewed every year. Was the public petition process wide open to anything anybody wanted to do?

Commissioner Woodcock stated yes. The Administrative Procedures Act (APA) process regulated not only IFW but government in general. This was the second time this particular slot had been proposed and we were going through a public hearing process. The first hearing we held had 3 attendees in the eastern part of the state. He did not know what this hearing would bring. He was not compelled to hold a hearing on every petition, but it only took 5 people to request a public hearing on a petition and you would have to hold the hearing and re-advertise the notice. We were moving forward appropriately.

V. Other Business

1. Moose update

Ms. Camuso stated we had preliminary harvest numbers in. The overall statewide success rate for the 2017 moose hunt was 72%. Given the extraordinarily warm weeks we had in September and October, she found the number to be surprisingly high. The highest success rate was in WMD 2 at 91%. Recommendations for the 2018 hunting season would come before the Council in March. Staff would be meeting at the end of February to discuss allocations. The moose rulemaking was pushed back as far as they could to accommodate the drawing so they could have the best handle on what happened over the winter. In addition to the animals that were collared, staff also did aerial surveys. Putting the rulemaking off allowed us to have as much data as possible before we made recommendations.

Ms. Camuso stated the helicopter that was usually used for the surveys was down for service, and we had not been able to do the Potvin or composition count surveys. This would give time for those surveys to be done in particular in WMD 9. She thought it was safe to say we would be presenting permit numbers something similar to the past season. The big game plan was mostly done. Once it was complete it would go out for public review and then after public review we would start to implement. There were some recommendations in the big game plan that we probably would not act on until the 2019 season.

Ms. Camuso stated in addition, we had a moose collaring project and had collared 83 animals that year. They did a record number of 22 animals in one day. They collared 35 calves in WMD 2 and in WMD 8 they collared 33 calves and 15 adult cows. Calf weights were consistent between the past several years. One interesting observation was that tick counts were the lowest in 5 years.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Fortier asked if we had the death rate on the collared moose, i.e. what was happening in WMD 2 compared to WMD 8.

Ms. Camuso stated she could get those numbers. WMD 2 had both calf and cow higher survival rate. The conditions were different there on when they got snow, the depth, etc. The mortality in WMD 8, in particular for the calves; the cow mortality was not that bad. In Maine we did not really have any large predators for moose other than occasionally a black bear. In other parts of the country they experienced a much higher calf mortality, particularly from wolves. The mortality we were seeing for WMD 8 in calves was higher than we had experienced in Maine in the recent past, but it was not far off from what other parts of the country experienced naturally from other predators. We were interested to see, given the lower tick mortality in WMD 8 this past winter, how that would play out in the spring.

Mr. Fortier discussed snow depth and how that may affect the animals.

Ms. Camuso stated moose were designed to survive Maine winters. The lack of snow in the spring and fall would impact moose because of ticks. Ticks were what we were determining was causing mortality. We did necropsy?s and could see that the vast majority of the animals were dying of anemia from blood loss to the ticks. What we did not know were any underlying conditions that may contribute to that.

Mr. Fortier stated Ms. Camuso had stated it was the lowest tick count in 5 years, was that because it was a cycle or was it weather related.

Ms. Camuso stated that would be our biggest challenge, trying to figure out if this was a natural cycle or because of weather conditions.

Mrs. Oldham stated another interesting question would be, we all believed the moose density was down and was that the reason. There were fewer hosts for the ticks.

Ms. Camuso stated one of the theories was that it was possibly a moose density dependent issue. One problem with that theory was in the northern zone, we did have higher moose densities but still had lower tick densities. She did not think it was as simple as moose density.

Mr. Dudley stated when they talked about moose density, the density in WMD 2 obviously was quite high compared to WMD 8, the difference in seasons in 2, could that be the moose were dropping their ticks in snow as opposed to bare ground in 8.

Ms. Camuso stated we had discussed with biologists from NH and VT as well about the weather conditions. We believed the weather conditions in the spring and fall for ticks was the most important thing. If the ticks were dropping off in the spring onto frozen snow banks, they were not as likely to survive as opposed to dropping off on warm moist areas or bare ground.

Mr. Sage asked if there was a plan to combat the ticks.

Ms. Camuso stated we heard that a lot. The reality was that the drugs had not been tested on wild animals. We would have no idea if they would work. They might work to prevent ticks but also disrupt the endocrine system which would make them not viable to reproduce. We also did not know how one could administer the drugs. How would we know which one was getting the drug?

Mr. Sage stated we shouldn?t be thinking the animal, we should be contacting the ticks. Was there a natural predator, something like guinea fowl. That was what a lot of people used on their lawns. He had heard that older moose would stop and avoid the ball of ticks whereas younger calves did not know and would walk by the ball and get the ticks.

Ms. Camuso stated that was an enormous chunk of the state to try and do any kind of tick control. We did not own the land and probably wouldn?t be comfortable proposing an insecticide at mass application across the northern forest of the state. We did not know the impacts on moose, the ticks, the environment, etc. She did not think it was a viable option for a wild population of animals. If this was a simple fix, we would not be suffering with Lyme disease. We had tick borne diseases that were affecting people and we did not have a solution to get rid of deer ticks. There was a lot of work going into trying to resolve the issue.

Mr. Fortier stated on the Canadian side of the northern border, because of spruce budworm and army worms they were spraying and we could not spray in Maine. There was a vast amount of spraying going on trying to combat the infestation that was coming. The Canadians had taken a very proactive spray program which was near the WMD 1, 2 and 3 area. Was that spraying affecting us?

Ms. Camuso stated she was not aware what chemical they were using to spray. Most insects had different adaptations to survive. Usually something that was going to affect the budworm was not going to affect the ticks.

Mr. Lewis asked about the moose tick numbers, was that only for WMDs 2 and 8? Did they notice any more or less down in the southern WMDs? It was not uncommon he would get 15 to 20 ticks a day in Hancock County into muzzleload season.

Ms. Camuso stated we did have biologists at all of the moose check stations and it would depend how long it took to get the moose to the check station. If it was more than 5 hours we couldn?t count the ticks, but if it was within less than 5 hours we had biologists that did transects on the moose counting the ticks. The September season was early to see ticks. The information that Lee Kantar gave was that of the past 5 years for all the animals we had collared this was the lowest year and some of the moose they did not locate any ticks.

Mr. Lewis stated he knew a lot of them were deer ticks down his way.

Mr. Thurston stated he had looked at the data on the website on the collar survey. What was the future of the study and how was that going to be addressed? It was very important so that we could be prepared for events and plan accordingly.

Ms. Camuso stated the original plan was to do a 5-year collaring study in WMD 8 and a similar study in WMD 2. This was year 5 for WMD 8 and year 3 for WMD 2. We also wanted to talk with New Hampshire and Vermont. More discussion was necessary but she felt they would try to extend their research in WMD 8. It was a huge commitment and something we would have to evaluate and make sure the resources were there.

Mr. Thurston stated he felt there was a lot of opportunity there.

Mr. Smith stated after reviewing the 2017 harvest age chart the health of the moose seemed pretty good. He asked about brainworm in moose.

Ms. Camuso stated in her opinion it was probably stable, the line probably hadn?t moved because otherwise there would be discussions about it. She did not feel we had to respond to as many brainworm/moose issues.

Mr. Lewis stated it was the end of January and we were just getting preliminary numbers on the moose harvest. He hunted in other states and they had ?telecheck? where you called in and did it by computer on your phone or sent a text when you tagged your animal and at the end of the first weekend they would come out with an accurate number of animals harvested. Was there anything being done with that type of system so we could get the data quicker.

Ms. Camuso stated the Department felt pretty strongly that the call-in/text-in option, the compliance was not ideal. The accuracy of the data wasn?t what we would need. It did work well in some of the other states, but those were states harvesting 250,000 animals. When you had data on 250,000 animals you could feel pretty confident. When you had data on 2,000 animals we did not want to lose 30% of that accuracy. We recognized the current system we had was slow so we were working with InforME to develop direct data entry so that people would still bring their animals to the registration station. Those stations would all be equipped with a web platform so the data was entered directly into a database and was uploaded so that each night staff could review it and have the most current numbers. It would still require the hunter to present the animal at a tagging station. We were hopeful that by the spring turkey season we would have some tagging stations that would be testers for the model.

Mr. Lewis stated in Missouri you still had to do the telecheck but you were required to bring the animal in and they would sample it and make sure information was entered correctly. It was a quicker way, it was good we were working on our archaic system.

Ms. Camuso stated our goal was to speed up the process and get access to the data as quickly as we could without jeopardizing the integrity of the data.

Mr. Farrington stated it seemed that the biologists could send their data sheets to Augusta at the end of the day and clerical staff could enter the data and we would have it all by the end of the moose hunt. All the tagging stations had a biologist or aid so the information was there at the end of the day.

Ms. Camuso stated the biologists were there generally for the first 3 days and collected the data for the busiest days. We did take the data and enter it directly and then we took all the data from the tagging stations and compared them to make sure the data was accurate. We had the biological data almost immediately after the season was done, the issue was getting the harvest data records from all 2,000 tagging stations. The biologists were not at the tagging stations full time. As soon as the direct entry went live there would no longer be paper tagging stations, there would be no books generated and no data collected on paper.

Ms. Camuso stated for about 10 years we had been trying to get rid of the paper moose applications. This year there would be no paper moose applications. We would not be accepting them. We had 50,000 ? 60,000 people that applied for moose permits and last year only about 2,200 used the paper form.

Commissioner Woodcock stated one of the essential elements of the discussion was that a person who was doing the paper applications may not be electronically connected. That made it challenging. It would be a word of mouth to notify them. We would be assisting them in the process so that we didn?t turn anyone away. We were hopeful there would be someone that had connectivity in the family to help that individual. In today?s world the paper applications were just not viable. Not only would we have no paper at the tagging stations we would have no paper applications.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments and Questions

Steve Philbrick stated reciprocity for the Cystic Fibrosis ride, it was an annual benefit ride that was held at Bald Mountain Camps on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. They raised somewhere between $26,000 - $56,000 annually for cystic fibrosis. One of the draws for the ride was reciprocity because they were close to the NH and Canadian border and they liked to come over to participate in the ride and then go back and not pay the fee. Each year they asked for a permit. The ride was February 17th.

Steve Philbrick stated there was a program he had been trying to put together and he finally got it off the ground with Mrs. Oldham?s help. He wanted to host a youth awareness safety day on Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the purpose was safety coupled with the Warden Service and how they responded. He would like them to bring some equipment. He had spoken with the Colonel and he was in favor of the idea. He would like to show people what in fact went into search and rescue. When he served on the Advisory Council there was a program in the summer that if you had your life jacket on and you were a youth the game warden gave you a coupon for free ice cream. One of his kids was a recipient and had always had good relations with the game wardens ever since. It was a proactive public thing to do, and he was trying to foster that in the winter time too. He had asked the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen to be a part of it, and he wanted to turn it into a fund raiser for them. They wanted to try something new which had been met with some resistance. He would like to drill holes in Mooselookmeguntic Lake and fish with red hotdogs. One day only and charge $100 per hole. No one had done this before and the money would go to the guides and sportsman club. This was to get the kids on the ice, they did not have a lot of that in the Rangeley lakes area. He was not looking to change the rules and regulations for any of the big lakes. Their only opportunity to ice fish in the area was on Haley Pond. They wanted to hold the event in March.

Steve Philbrick stated in the discussion about moose, he felt compelled to tell them as a resort owner and registered Maine guide who spent a great deal of his life in the woods, do not discount the value of a live moose in a recreational state. There were thousands of people that came to Maine to see moose. Live moose were very important and he hoped that was considered in moose permit allocations. In the Rangeley lakes area it was important they had moose for hunting opportunities but also live moose for people to view.

VIII. Agenda Items and Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for March 7, 2018, at IFW, 284 State Street, Augusta.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Farrington and that was seconded by Mr. Scribner to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:15 a.m.