Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
May 22 , 2018 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (upstairs conference room)
284 State Street, Augusta


Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Francis Brautigam, Director or Fisheries and Hatcheries
Bonnie Holding, Director of Information and Education
Nate Webb, WRAS Supervisor
Kelsey Sullivan, Regional Wildlife Biologist
Chris Cloutier, Warden Service Major
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

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


Deidre Fleming, Portland Press Herald
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Katie Hansberry, HSUS
Don Kleiner, MPGA
James Cote, MTA
Eric Miller

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

Vote: unanimous - minutes approved

III-A. Election of Chair and Vice-Chair

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

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

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham to nominate Matt Thurston for another term as Council Vice-Chair, and that was seconded by Mr. Scribner. There were no further nominations.

Vote: Unanimous - Matt Thurston re-elected as Council Vice-Chair

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

1. Moose Permit Allocations 2018

Ms. Camuso Stated there were no changes to the original proposal.

A motion was made by Mr. Gundersen and that was seconded by Mr. Scribner to adopt proposal as presented.

Vote: unanimous - motion passed

B. Step 2

There were no items under Step 2.

1. 2018 Any-deer permit allocations

Ms. Camuso stated she felt it would be helpful to give the Council some background information on the permit allocation numbers. In 2017 we had estimated we would harvest, based on the biological samples, about 29,000 deer. The actual harvest was likely between 27,000-28,000 there were still a few registration books missing. The season started with a major wind/rain event but otherwise was unremarkable from a weather perspective. Some snow in northern Maine in mid-November but otherwise pretty quiet. There was an increase in harvest last year by about 15%. The highest percentage gains were in the southern WMDs, and the highest losses in harvest were in the northern WMDs.

Ms. Camuso stated every year the way we came up with our permit system was by looking at what we projected the buck harvest to be that year, and then a portion of that we projected based on the buck harvest what we expected the doe harvest to be. We knew that everyone that received a permit did not actually take a female. We called this the expansion factor. We based that on the previous year’s harvest; the number of permits we gave out compared to the number of does harvested. For example, in WMD 15 in 2017 we projected we would harvest 238 and actually harvested 297. In most of the WMDs we did not reach our goal, all but six of them. In all of the WMDs we did not meet the harvest projection for the number of females we needed to remove from the population. The decision to remove females was based on the public goals and objectives whether we were trying to stabilize, increase or decrease the population in that particular WMD. Overall, we underachieved the doe harvest for most of the WMDs in the southern part of the state.

Ms. Camuso stated the winter severity, every week we had staff that went out and monitored the winter severity across the state. They looked at temperature conditions, snow pack, sinking depth, the profile of the snow, compare open habitat to areas that were under softwood or sheltered habitat. In the northern part of the state we had a pretty severe winter. We recommended to maintain permits in all WMDs that had them last year. That also keeps the WMD open for youth day as well as archery hunting. We felt it was important to keep that opportunity open for people, but we did reduce the permit allocation in those WMDs. WMDs 1-14 was either no permits or a reduction in permits from last year. In the southern part of the state given the mild winter and that we under harvested does last year we looked at what we had recommended for permits in 2017 and what we were recommending for permits for 2018. The total number of permits we were recommending was close to 85,000 across the state. 90% of the permits were in the central or southern part of the state. For example, in WMD 12 in 2017 our target was 144 does, we applied an expansion factor of 5, so for every 5 permits we gave out we expected 1 doe to be harvested. That gave us a total of 725 permits. The actual harvest was 87 so our expansion factor was a little higher of 8. This year our doe quota was 53, if we applied an expansion factor of 8 then we came up with a permit recommendation of 400 permits for WMD 12. We did anticipate for 2018 that we may have more permits available than people that would apply for them. Those WMDs would get bonus permits. We wouldn’t issue the bonus permits the same way we did the any-deer permits. The bonus permit was an extra animal. Most hunters wanted a buck and they would wait to take a doe. If they had a bonus permit, they could take a doe and then keep hunting. The expansion factor for the bonus permits would be much lower than a regular any-deer permit. We would issue any-deer permits up to the recommended amount. Any permits that were not requested in a WMD we would issue bonus permits but we would reduce the expansion factor to 25%. If we had 1,000 extra permits in a WMD we would only issue 250 of them. WMD 29 was a little different. That was the southern/coastal district and basically anyone in that area that wanted a permit would get one. That was dependent on how many people applied. That had severe access issues and probably the highest deer concentration in the state.

Ms. Camuso stated we were recommending a total of 84,745 permits. We were expecting our total harvest may not be higher next year, it could be lower. In southern and central parts of the state we had an outstanding buck harvest this year, one of the highest in history. We expected that would moderate. Our projection for the buck harvest next year was lower than this year. Our total projected harvest was around 26,000 animals. Our target for does in issuing 84,745 permits our expectation was that 8,000-9,000 would be the actual harvest. Consistently we did not quite reach our projection. She did not want people to think that we would suddenly be much more effective and there would be a sudden change in the harvest level for deer in the state. We had ample deer populations in southern and central Maine and in most of those WMDs our target was to reduce the population in those areas.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Fortier asked if road kills and predators were taken into account for the permit numbers.

Ms. Camuso stated we looked at what we anticipated to be the annual survival of animals. We would look at animals that died from harvest, winter and all other forms of mortality.

Mr. Fortier noticed in northern Maine the deer population had moved more out of the big woods and closer into the farm country. People were feeding deer and there seemed to be more road kills in the North Maine Woods within a 10-mile radius of the gate.

Ms. Camuso stated one of the things that biologist Nathan Bieber would talk about when he addressed the group from the Big Game Plan, we would be looking in some areas to issue additional permits at the town level. We may be looking to help alleviate nuisance complaints. There were some towns in Aroostook County that had a lot of deer in the wintertime. Most of the animals did not come into the towns until after the hunting season. It would not be an effective way to address some of the concerns such as road mortality. As part of our long-term survival study that we were doing on feeding vs. un-fed populations of deer and their survival over winter, that was one of the things we were looking at.

Mr. Fortier asked if there was anything being done working with wood operations for creating more deer yards in the big woods.

Ms. Camuso stated we had cooperative agreements with many of the large landowners up north to actively manage deer yards. Northern Maine was at the very northern extent of whitetail deer range so there was always going to be an issue to maintain deer populations that people wanted to see.

Mrs. Oldham asked about new cases of Lyme disease and was that something that should be incorporated.

Ms. Camuso stated it probably would be moving forward. There was a group called the vector born disease working group, and it was a group of biologists from Maine Medical Center and the University and other agencies and we worked with them on any vector born diseases that crossed people and wildlife. In southern Maine when we looked at permits we were probably going to continue to issue large numbers of permits in southern Maine with the idea that we didn’t want to maintain as many deer on the landscape to try and alleviate some of the human health issues.

Mrs. Oldham stated in terms of how the public would view those numbers, she thought if we could incorporate some information about vector born disease as part of the reason she thought people would be more accepting.

Mr. Farrington asked about harvest levels for does and how did we achieve above 100%.

Ms. Camuso stated most of those would be from youth day or from archery season. They were not issued an any-deer permit, but when the WMD had any-deer permits it became open for archery and youth day.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there were a couple of points that he would like to reinforce. When people saw a number, many people anticipated that was really the number that would be harvested. He thought it was 9.7 was the number of permits issued to achieve the harvest of 1 deer. If we were issuing 85,000 permits we were looking to harvest 8,500 deer roughly. That was important for people to appreciate.

Mr. Farrington asked about WMD 9, last year we issued 200 any-deer permits and only 30 were harvested. This year we were proposing 50 permits, what happened to the 170 deer that were still there?

Ms. Camuso stated the goal was 48 deer and we harvested 30, there were actually only 18 unfilled. The total number of permits issued was the expansion factor. There was also a severe winter and to accommodate for winter mortality we reduced the permits.

There were no further questions or comments.

2. Special falconry season correction/Controlled moose hunt permits

Commissioner Woodcock stated in our migratory bird season proposal which was passed, we had included geese in that proposal and there was no falconry season for geese. This was pointed out to us by the USFWS so we needed to make a correction.

Mr. Sullivan stated it related to exposure days on a particular species and that was why we couldn’t have over exposure on geese with our falconry season and needed to strike the word geese from that section. As the Commissioner noted, falconers did not pursue geese anyway.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the second portion of the rule was the controlled moose hunt. The Governor was interested in having more veterans be able to be involved in the hunt. It was a very successful hunt for the landowners who allowed hunters there to assist them. USDA had concerns, if moose went into the broccoli field you couldn’t sell broccoli from that section of the field. We were adding 5 additional permits so more veterans could participate.

V. Other Business

1. Big Game Species Plan - Wild Turkey overview

Mr. Sullivan discussed the handout(see below).

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Scribner stated he thought the plan was an excellent document in terms of turkey management. How it tied the survey findings to goals and things they could take steps towards. There was only one thing in document he took exception to. In terms of “increasing hunter participation would be required before harvest could be used as a tool to effectively control or reduce turkey populations in WMDs where that may be desireable.” Mr. Scribner believed that it was not only hunter participation but he thought it needed to be partnered with increased bag limits. He was a very avid turkey hunter. This year was a prime example, he got his two birds the first week. In order to stay in the game he would contact people and call for them when they could get out (mostly Saturdays). If there were increased bag limits he would be out harvesting more birds. He had several friends in the same category. They could not harvest additional birds during the week when they couldn’t find anyone else to call for. He was also a member of the Wild Turkey Federation and he knew quite a few people in the same category that would hunt much more and harvest more birds if it was tied to good biological data. He thought it was a combination of hunter participation as well as increasing bag limits.

Mr. Sullivan stated it was a combination of participation and season liberalization to increase participation. One of our priority goals was to develop a system similar to deer to get WMDs where we thought we could increase bag limits.

Mr. Scribner stated he understood for long term population numbers the hens in the fall were very important. In terms of going through the summer, harvesting some of the toms after the breeding was done were really surplus and were contributing to some of the negative impacts.

Ms. Camuso stated one of the detractors from high satisfaction for turkeys was disturbance by other hunters. We did ultimately want more people to participate, but at some point that would start detracting from the hunters experience. There had been proposals before the Legislature to eliminate the turkey permit system, but where we had a turkey permit we could keep track of how many people were actually participating in the activity. If suddenly we had an extra 30,000 people purchase a turkey permit we would be prepared and could change the bag limit in rule to adjust for that.

Mr. Sullivan stated there were about 18,000 people that hunted turkeys. That included about 3,000 youth that we did not track (they did not require a permit). An average of 20% took two birds.

Mr. Smith stated Downeast he did not think there were enough birds yet. When we put in the two-bird fall season in WMD 28 it really diminished the population. What he was hearing from the hunters that spring was they were seeing a lot less toms the last few springs and he thought it had to do with the two-bird limit in the fall in WMD 28 and the one bird limit in the fall in WMD 27 and 19.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the turkey season had been legislatively controlled in the past. We tagged turkey, so if the Legislature gave the Commissioner the opportunity to manage turkey in the same fashion he managed deer we would have a finite ability to harvest them around the state. He felt they needed to be cautious when the discussion turned to allowing hunters to call in and electronically tag their own turkeys. He was leery that the participation would be limited and the data would be skewed. The future held some interesting discussions about turkeys. It had been controlled by agricultural farmers for the past sessions of the Legislature. Particularly apple farmers and they made the pitch they were losing harvest and they wanted to see every one of them killed (turkeys). He would hope when the turkey discussion came around in the future there would be more ability to finitely mange it with our biological staff.

Mrs. Oldham stated after reading the plan, she thought some of the problems in terms of what they were talking about legislatively was that the Department was slow to respond because of conservative permit numbers and concentrated areas of crop damage, etc. Some of the problem had been we have WMDs but statewide laws or rules. We had talked many times about how diverse our habitats were across Maine. Using our WMDs and acting more aggressively needed to be the way to go.

Mr. Sage asked if the apple growers were using the tools of the hunters and allowing hunters there to help control the animals on their properties. He was sure there were a lot of turkey hunters that would love to go hunt their orchards and help them control the turkeys in that area.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he felt it was being utilized. It was being utilized by the individual that was driving it. That farmer along with others also utilized depredation permits to harvest as many as they wanted. That particular farmer had stated he did not have the time to hunt turkeys.

Mr. Sullivan stated one of our strategies in the plan for landowner relations was identifying conflict areas and directing hunters there.

Mr. Farrington asked about youth permits and why we went away from that.

Mr. Sullivan stated it was the result of a legislative bill. Prior to that we had 2,600 youth hunters so we have that number.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Deputy Commissioner Peabody asked about an update on electronic tagging.

Ms. Camuso stated the Department had been working on a program to allow for direct data entry with tagging of our big game species. We had hired a contractor to help with getting the tagging stations trained. The hunter would still bring the animal to the tagging station, the animal would be physically tagged by the agent but rather than using the paper book they would have a web portal and do it directly on the computer. The contractor was working to train 5 stations so for the rest of the turkey season they would be doing a beta test tagging animals using the direct data entry. We would then make any corrections to the program and the contractor would go statewide training all tagging stations by bear season.

Mr. Dudley asked if this would cover all the tagging stations, he knew some were not online.

Ms. Camuso stated we were going to require tagging agents to use the program if they were going to be an agent. They would need WiFi or a cellular data plan as there were not going to be paper books any longer. We may lose some tagging stations due to the new requirement. Data would become available to the Department to compile and review. Because of winter severity the timing of the deer proposal would probably remain the same. The system was very intuitive and should be a smoother process for the tagging agents.

Mr. Fortier asked about new agents as he had some in his area that were interested in becoming a tagging agent.

Ms. Camuso stated that initial process was the same, they would contact their regional biologist or warden to get set up.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, July 11th at 9:30 a.m. at IFW Augusta.

IX. Adjournment

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