Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
March 7, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Augusta Armory, Room 209B
179 Western Avenue, Augusta, Maine


Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Tim Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Francis Brautigam, Director or Fisheries and Hatcheries
Joe Overlock, Fisheries Supervisor
Bonnie Holding, Director of Information and Education
Mark Latti, Promotional Coordinator
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

Don Dudley (Chair)
Dick Fortier
Jerry Scribner
Larry Farrington
Sheri Oldham
Matt Thurston
Shawn Sage
Brian Smith


Dennis Smith, Mount Desert
Peter Bourque
Denny McNeish
Deidre Fleming, Portland PRess Herald
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Don Kleiner, MPGA

I. Call to Order

Don Dudley, Council Chair, Called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Pervious Meeting

A motion was made by Mr. Sage to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Thurston.

Vote: unanimous - minutes approved.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

There were no items under Step 3.

B. Step 2

1. Migratory Bird Season 2018-2019

Ms. Camuso stated for the proposed rule changes we held a public hearing with about 20 people attending. Most of the comments were in support. The primary changes for the upcoming season were a reduction in the goose season from 70 to 60 days. This was for the migratory goose season not resident geese. Also, a daily bag limit from 3 down to 2 and a possession limit of 9 down to 6. One other change was that the federal framework allowed a certain number of days for woodcock season. Because we were not eligible to hunt on Sunday they allowed us to add those days on to the end. It was still the same federal framework, they had given us the extra days to accommodate for the lack of hunting on Sunday.

There were no further questions or comments.

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

Commissioner Woodcock stated we had a petition for a 14? minimum with all salmon between 18?-22? be released immediately; 2 salmon bag limit; 1 salmon may exceed 22? for those three bodies of water. We had a public hearing in Ellsworth on February 6th and it was well attended. The comment deadline was February 16th and no additional comments were received. Fisheries personnel were there to answer any questions they may have.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham asked Mr. Brautigam, just to reiterate, the petition requests were not in keeping with the current management plan for those three bodies of water, was that correct?

Mr. Brautigam stated there were no formal management plans for those three bodies of water. Based on the regional biologist and his efforts to develop stakeholder for ongoing management these regulations were inconsistent with that.

There were no further questions or comments.

C. Step1

1. Moose permit Allocations 2018

Ms. Camuso stated she wanted to give an overview of the wildlife division for those that weren?t as familiar with how the program operated. They had 45 wildlife biologists across the state. They were divided among regional staff, there were between 2 and 3 regional biologists in 7 offices across the state. We also had a research and assessment group in Bangor where most of the species specialists worked. Those were folks that were assigned to one or a small suite of species. Instead of having oversight in a small area they made recommendations for statewide issues. Regional staff, rather than dealing with one or two species were expected to address all wildlife species within their given area. When we went about setting any sort of permit recommendations whether it was moose or any-deer permits, it was a combination of the two groups that came together. We had our moose biologist that worked in the mammal group in our Bangor office and he would do a preliminary review of all the data and then we had regional staff come in. Together, the regional offices and the wildlife resource assessment group came up with the recommendations for our permit allocations.

Ms. Camuso stated the data they reviewed when making allocations for moose in particular was a whole host of variables. To start, we looked at the harvest data, age, sex ratios, etc. Beginning about 7 years ago staff initiated two different helicopter surveys. One was a survey designed to estimate density in a WMD and the other was a survey designed to look at the composition sex ratios (male to female) and calf to cow ratios. We had those two aerial surveys in addition to the harvest data and as part of the harvest data we were also looking at tick issues. Five years ago we initiated a survival project in conjunction with New Hampshire and in WMD 8. Three years ago we initiated a second project very similar in WMD 2. This year, Vermont also participated in the study so we now had 4 study areas working on moose survival.

Ms. Camuso stated what we looked at when we were setting permits were productivity of moose, how many young were the females producing, how long were those calves surviving from year to year and their overall health. There was a whole suite of data that went into our permit allocation. We had just finished a big game planning process. The big game plan was initiated in 2015 and was the most public planning process that we ever had. We hired a professional survey firm to work with us to survey constituents across the state, both hunters, landowners and general residents. That set the background framework for the plan moving forward. Then we had a steering committee of stakeholders and each of the four big game species had a subcommittee that had our technical experts, regional staff, warden service and we brought in experts from outside our agency to help make sure we were incorporating what the public wanted and had a way to get there. The big game plan had been drafted and the first draft went out to the subcommittees, edits were incorporated and it went out to the steering committee, edits were incorporated and then it went to a technical writer who edited it and tried to make sure it was in a format that would be usable for anybody off the street. It was now with a graphic designer and the plan was to have it available for the Council in April. An overview would be given of the goals and objectives of the plan.

Ms. Camuso stated the plan set the vision for where we went and that was based on public input, the steering committee, the sub-committee, the survey, the town hall meetings, etc. Now, staff was challenged with how to get there. Based on the big game plan there were going to be some changes in the way we managed things. The number one priority for the public for all species of wildlife was they wanted healthy wildlife. They wanted healthy populations of wildlife. What did that mean? It meant different things for different animals and that was what staff would be charged with figuring out. One of the goals for the big game plan for bear was to increase participation in bear hunting. There were a lot of different ways we could approach that. Each month Ms. Camuso would have the species specialist come in and give the Council more detail about what the goals and objectives meant. There could be some changes in the way we managed our permit system, bag limits, etc. moving forward.

Ms. Camuso used deer as an example. Managing healthy levels for deer meant different things in different parts of the state. We would not be managing for 15 deer per square mile or 20 deer per square mile. There were other metrics we could use to determine health of an animal. A lot of it would also be the social tolerance for the presence of animals in your backyard. In southern Maine, there was probably more pressure to reduce the deer population because of some of the vector borne diseases associated with deer ticks and car collisions. The measure of health was variable, it was not as cut and dried, but she thought staff had really good ideas of how we were going to get there and measure that. We were committed to continuing to communicate with the public and every 5 years to do an additional survey. For the Department, a big part of knowing if we were doing the right job was when we surveyed the public, were they happy with the wildlife population levels. Were they happy with the animals that they were seeing; did they want more or less animals on the landscape. These were all considerations that we could look at when we were trying to manage a population.

Ms. Camuso stated recognizing that no one had a chance to review the big game plan yet, we did not feel comfortable moving forward with many of the recommendations. We were in a transition period between the old plan and management system and moving forward into a new plan. A couple of the changes proposed which were directly from the big game plan were to open the moose season in WMDs 10, 18, 27 and 28. We were not changing the permit allocation, we were shifting the hunting pressure from all in October to half and half. In those districts in particular, there was not as much access for hunting and there had been some pressure on those areas that were open. The regional biologist felt that this would be a good way to accommodate additional hunter satisfaction and ability to access land. It was bull only and instead of being all in October it would be half in September, half in October. A similar situation with WMDs 27 and 28. WMD 27 had moose, it could sustain a moose harvest, but there was not as much area available for access for moose hunting. We were proposing if you received a permit for WMD 27 or 28 you could hunt in either district. It was only 30 permits total.

Ms. Camuso stated there were some minor changes to permit allocations. Overall, our recommendation for permits was an increase of about 480 permits. That was largely due to good survivorship and we anticipated good survivorship this year. We had low tick loads coming into the season on moose both during the October hunting season as well as during the capture crews review. Staff felt these were appropriate changes.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Smith asked if WMD 26 had been combined.

Ms. Camuso stated we were not going to combine WMD 26. It was not just moose we managed by WMD, we wanted to maintain the WMDs as they were. It was WMDs 27 and 28, if you received a permit in either WMD 27 or 28 you could hunt in either district. There were no permits being proposed for WMD 26. The districts were staying the same.

Mr. Sage stated he was reading about the plan for ticks. Were we going to pick one district and bump up the moose permits and have a huge harvest to try to break the tick cycle?

Ms. Camuso stated our thought process was that we knew ticks were impacting calf survival in the southern most portion of the core range for moose. Adult survival throughout the state was at about 90% for both of our study areas. That was excellent. In WMD 8 we had seen higher calf mortality between 53%-57% . In other parts of the country where there were wolves on the landscape, the average calf survival was between 60%-80%. Our mortality was not out of line with other states and other jurisdictions that had more predators than we had. We did believe the limiting factor for calf survival in Maine was ticks and we believed that was a density dependent issue. With more moose on the landscape, the likelihood more ticks were going to land on them increased. Our thought was if we lowered the moose population down; we would want to do this in the more southern portion of the range of WMD 8 where climate was likely a factor in tick survival independent of moose populations, climate was likely a factor in tick survival. We believed if we could lower the moose population down we could minimize the tick mortality on calves. Our proposal in the coming year may in one WMD increase the harvest and monitor survivorship of calves in that WMD and see if we could get the population to where we didn?t have 57% of the calves dying from anemia.

Mr. Thurston stated relative to what she was saying about the big game plan, this was in order to get a healthy population of moose and to have a test situation where if that in fact did produce results of calf survival, then that?s a good process to get you to where you want to be in respect to how we managed all zones.

Ms. Camuso stated that was correct. She knew it was counter intuitive for people because people were seeing fewer moose. The thought of harvesting more might be contradictory. That was not how wildlife populations worked. When you had a population increasing and getting to carrying capacity and then you would start to see physiological changes in that animal whether it be survival, productivity, not enough food. We believe the moose got up here and they were down now, but they were still above the point at which where it was not food limiting them it was the level of tick load.

Mr. Sage asked if this had been tried anywhere else in the country.

Ms. Camuso stated Vermont had done it and they had pretty good success. They had done it on a much smaller scale. Our staff worked with all of the moose biologists in the northeast and in Canada. This was not something we were doing without consulting with Universities and other biologists across the country.

Mrs. Oldham stated in regards to moose density, she had heard Ms. Camuso state that moose density was actually higher in the northern zones and the winter tick thing may not just be an issue of moose density.

Ms. Camuso stated the core moose range, WMDs 1-8 and 19, we believed there were substantial moose within the core range. Below that, WMDs 17, 18 those areas probably had fewer moose. We did not know, were there as many moose on the landscape in WMD 8 as there were in WMD 2? When we modeled populations in the southern zone we were modeling it based off of the mortality of WMD 8. We were modeling those based on the higher mortality than we had in the northern zones. We knew for sure in the northern zones the calves were having average survival, they were not having the same level of impact from the ticks we were seeing in WMD 8.

Mr. Connolly stated the other piece of this was not just the number of moose for the tick to get the blood meal from, but the snow conditions when the tick dropped off in preparation for having young as to whether it got to a substrate where it could survive. In northern Maine there were a lot of moose, but the other thing working in our favor was the conditions weren?t favorable for the tick when it was off the moose to survive to be available and reproduce when the moose showed back up the next time when it needed the blood meal.

Mrs. Oldham stated it was not only moose density, but climate conditions. Further down the road with cow permits in WMD 7, she needed to have information and education so people would understand why we were doing that. The sightings of moose were decreasing.

Ms. Camuso stated the evidence to date was that the difference in the survival of the calves between WMD 2 and 8 we believed climate to be part of that equation. We did not know how much density, if we could bring the population in the southern portion of their core range where climate was more of a factor, could we manage the population for moose at a lower density would that minimize the impact of winter ticks. There were both the spring and fall condition. There was no question that climate was part of the discussion. There wasn?t much we could do about the climate, but we could try to manage for healthier population by reducing the density of moose to mitigate for climate conditions.

Mrs. Oldham asked how we decided the September vs. October season. In terms of the management plan how did that fit in?

Ms. Camuso stated some of that was based on the big game plan and what people preferred. September was typically the better month for calling bulls, but there was also a social component. We purposefully didn?t put in the Greenville, Rangeley area because before we could propose a September hunt there we wanted to reach out and have a conversation with those communities. Some of the changes made in the proposal were based on the regional staff recommendations. We had excellent success rates considering that we had 80 degree weather, we had an average of 73% and a high of 89% success rate people had very good success. We also wanted to make sure that not only were they successful harvesting, but that it was a good experience. Some of the decision for splitting a small number of permits into September were to try and alleviate access issues in communities where we didn?t believe we were going to have a push back from having a September season.

Mrs. Oldham stated so it really wasn't a biological reason.

Ms. Camuso stated no, not for bulls. It was mostly hunter satisfaction.

Mr. Scribner stated there was a phrase there that was new to him, "adaptive management unit" within a single WMD.

Ms. Camuso stated we dealt with adaptive management all the time, it was basically what wildlife biologists did regularly. For the proposal, we would take a WMD and take half of it and apply more intense harvest and then compare it to the other half and then be able to react. We would have pretty similar conditions from the landscape perspective.

Mrs. Oldham stated we would need to report what was coming and prepare the public for the change.

Mr. Scribner stated this would be a new concept for a lot of the population in terms of not equating the number of animals seen with a healthy population. They would need to be equipped to have those conversations.

Mr. Farrington asked if when the big game plan came out, would explanations for the increases be in there so that people would understand?

Ms. Camuso stated the proposal for permit allocations was not based on the big game plan, it was from recommendations based on survival and productivity across the state and all our aerial surveys and data.

There were no further comments or questions.

V. Other Business

There were no comments under Other Business

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Dennis Smith stated he had petitioned to change the regulations for the three lakes. All three of them were general law on salmon. All three of the ponds closed to fishing the last day of September. Why? He put a great deal of work into the proposal. He referred to a sheet he had passed out during the public hearing and asked if the Council had received a copy. They stated yes. Mr. Smith stated as they could see the number of 2 year olds at 18? was quite high. The fish got caught up quite quickly and that was why they were trying to stop that from happening so much with the 3 and 4 year olds. The Department?s data showed they did not spawn until they were 4 years old. They were trying to get more spawners, the best fish to spawn more. Right now they were being caught up. Each year they were catching up the big ones and throwing the rest back and that was why the older fish were smaller. He had put a great deal of work into it. Mr. Lewis was not at the meeting but Mr. Smith quoted him as saying that the salmon in Green Lake were really bad. If the Council could go with just one lake that would be it. Mr. Smith asked if the Council could vote on individual lakes.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the Council was not allowed to change what was before them so it would stay with all three. The reason for that was the public would not be aware they were limiting it to one vs. three.

Mrs. Oldham stated they had received the minutes from the public hearing, and the turnout was fairly good, and almost everyone indicated they were in favor of the current regulations.

Mr. Smith stated he realized that. The Department did a great job with the opposition and it was on Facebook.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the opposition at the hearing came from a Facebook campaign by people from the general public. The Department did not campaign on Facebook.

Mr. Smith stated he didn?t expect the Council to vote for the proposal, but he wanted them to know he put a lot of work into it. He had also sent them an email on Mopang Lake. Did anyone have any thoughts on his Mopang lake proposal? It had some semblance to the project at Big Reed Pond with the Arctic char. Mopang stream was the outlet of Mopang Lake and his proposal was to catch some of those fish and put them in the lake until 5 years and put a catch and release regulation on.

Peter Bourque stated he was happy to be invited to the meeting and he was proud of all the work that was done on Big Reed. It was an amazing project. The gene pool was so small they had questioned if it would make it. There were discussions about removing char from 3 or 4 waters and trying to expand the gene pool back into Big Reed but most amazingly with such a few number of char it was phenomenal to him it had been successful and it was truly great.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he wished to comment on the scope of the Big Reed project. It happened before he became Commissioner but the finalization was while he was in office. It was a significant project noted by the award to the Fisheries Division. It was a complicated procedure, not one you could just drive a truck to a body of water, it was fly in. And for Gary Picard to be able to engineer enough fish to put back in the pond. The mature char with spawning colors was the most unbelievably beautiful specimen you could possibly imagine. Without everyone who was involved we would not have been able to do the project. He thought it was one of the most significant projects we had done and he wanted to congratulate everyone again for helping to preserve something quite special.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The Council would be notified of the next meeting date.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Farrington and that was seconded by Mr. Sage to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.