Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
July 11 , 2018 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (upstairs conference room)
284 State Street, Augusta

Attending:

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
Nate Webb, WRAS Supervisor
Bob Cordes, Wildlife Special Projects Coordinator
Lee Kantar, Moose Biologist
Sarah Spencer, Regional Wildlife Biologist
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Shon Theriault, Game Warden Captain
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

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

Guests:

Gary Corson, New Sharon
Fern and Sylvia Bosse, Norway
Katie Hansberry, HSUS
James Cote, MTA
Chris Bartlett, Eastport Deer Reduction Committee
David Anderson, Maine Clerks and Tax Collectors Assoc.
Nelson Palmer, Kennebec Valley Fur Takers

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. Smith

Vote: unanimous - minutes approved.

A. Step 3

There were no items under Step 3.

B. Step 2

1. 2018 Any-deer permit allocations

Ms. Camuso stated we were proposing 84,750 permits across the state. The vast majority of the permits were in the southern and central part of the state. Some WMDs did have a reduction, particularly in the northern part of the state. We held a public hearing and two members of the public attended and did not provide any comment. We sent an email to licensed hunters through Gov delivery which generated quite a bit of written comments. There were some that were completely opposed to hunting, there were some that were not supportive of the increase in permits for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they felt we did not have enough deer in some parts of the state and some that were very supportive. There were some comments that weren’t really about the proposal, but things like antler point restrictions or muzzleloader season. We were not proposing any changes to the proposal based on comments that were received.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham stated there were a lot of written comments. She thought in reading them it was apparent that a lot of people didn’t understand that proposing 80,000+ permits we would expect only 20 or 25% of those in terms of a harvest. That was probably a hard message to communicate to people. In our publications in terms of educational outreach she thought we should emphasize that.

Ms. Camuso stated when she communicated with the media she tried to reiterate the fact that with this level of permits we were anticipating that would generate 8,000-9,000 animals be harvested.

Mr. Farrington stated it was a common question he received. The permits were reduced in his area. Last year there were 300 permits issued, 25 does harvested and this year the permits were cut back to 200. One of his constituents thought that was not good math.

Ms. Camuso stated there were varying winter conditions across the state. When we put in 300 permits the target probably was 25 to 30 animals. That WMD met its goal and experienced a harder than normal winter which reduced the survival rate for the animals available for harvest. It wasn’t simple to communicate.

Mr. Dudley stated at the public hearings it was easier to convey that, but attendance at the public hearings seemed to have dropped off. Were it not for the Gov delivery message he did not think we would have received many comments.

Mr. Smith stated in WMD 27 he believed it had been about 30 years since they had permits and last year they had 25 doe permits. He asked what the doe harvest was in WMD 27 in 2017.

Ms. Spencer stated the total doe harvest in WMD 27 was 156, 80 on youth day and 46 during archery season. That made up 126 of the 156 total, the majority from youth day came from areas where we received a lot of deer complaints. There were 50 permits issued for 2017 so there was an expansion factor of 30. 25 permits were proposed for the 2018 season.

Mr. Thurston stated the email blast was to receive more public input and that was great. He thought the information should be broken down to proponents and opponents, it was hard to read through them all and keep a tally.

Ms. Camuso stated the deer biologist had been compiling a spreadsheet to summarize the comments and we could share that with the Council.

Mr. Farrington stated one of the comments that seemed to come up a lot was that IFW was only increasing the number of permits so they could sell more licenses.

Ms. Camuso stated she could assure them that staff did not discuss the financial implications of any kind of permit recommendation. They looked at the scientific and biological data we collected and made recommendations based off the goals and objectives that were derived through the public processes that we had.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it was complicated to accomplish the education piece sometimes. It was his 8th year at IFW and he had consistently given the public the message that we didn’t manage wildlife for monetary reasons. He thought we did not have attendance at public hearings because people appreciated that an electronic comment equaled a comment made in person so why come out? Generally, comments were solicited when the issue was ripe or controversial. This was not a controversial issue.

Mr. Scribner stated something that came out of several of the comments for him was the issue regarding managing within WMDs. If you looked at the harvest data there were some towns, i.e. WMD 7 if you looked at Rangeley with a harvest of 76 or 78 deer, but if you got away from Rangeley in some of the other townships the harvest went way down. What tools did the department have where you had trouble spots in terms of deer populations and it was definitely the right thing to do to take a lot of does and then you had other townships within that same WMD where it was detrimental to the herd to take does. He was sure it could be micromanaged to death. The WMD structure was better than a statewide structure.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there was a new law that allowed the Commissioner to identify areas within a WMD that had no any-deer permits issued. WMD 27 had pockets, if we had no permits being issued the Commissioner could identify special areas of concern and address it. We issued 50 permits last year, once the permits were issued it didn’t allow the Commissioner to address the pockets of deer because the law stated it had to be areas with zero permits. We were working on a modification of that in the law that would allow the Commissioner to address areas of concern, period.

Mr. Smith stated he thought it should be noted that 11 of the WMDs had reductions in permits from the previous year. More than 1/3 we reduced the permits and greatly increased in some of the others.

Mr. Thurston stated that a couple of them had met with biologists with respect to how they made the permit allocations. The data was a lot to grasp. Trying to manage and measuring snow loads, etc. We were managing the herd for the health of the herd.

Mr. Gundersen stated it seemed like if someone wanted to get a deer and they looked at the number of permits in the WMDs they would go hunt someplace where there were a lot of permits. He thought a lot of people had a place where they hunted and were comfortable and were reluctant to go someplace they didn’t know and look for a place to hunt. A lot of the comments were from local areas where they hunted and were comfortable.

Mr. Sage stated when we were trying to inform the public, the department had a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and with this new age of electronics we may want to put the information more out there to try and explain the process that we used to do at public hearings. He thought that would help convey the message. It was a confusing process for those that weren’t in the know.

Mr. Dudley stated he logged all the comments and it was about 2 to 1 in favor of the proposal.

2. Special falconry season correction/controlled moose hunt permits

Commissioner Woodcock stated in order to comply with federal guidelines in the migratory bird scenario we were removing geese from the falconry season. It was an oversight previously. Falconers did not pursue geese and we needed to remove the word geese from that portion of the rule to comply with the number of hunting days allowed for them. The second piece about the controlled moose hunt, the Governor had a desire to have more veterans involved in the process so we were proposing 5 additional permits to be utilized. It was in conjunction with the Bureau of Veterans Services.

C. Step 1

Beaver Season and Closures/Furbearers

Ms. Camuso stated we were not proposing any changes to the beaver season other than at the request of the landowners. Each year regional staff reached out to landowners that requested a water body on their property be open or closed to beaver trapping. Regional staff was working to compile that information. The only change we would be proposing for the beaver season would be at the request of the landowners for areas open or closed to beaver trapping. For the regular furbearer season we were proposing a 2-week extension to the fisher season in the southern part of the state in WMDs 12, 13 and 15-29. The season was currently 4 weeks long so we would be extending it an additional 2 weeks. The justification for that was back in 2014 when we received the incidental take permit (ITP) we executed a requirement for all trappers to use exclusion devices. As we anticipated, we have seen a significant decline in the fisher harvest statewide. We had seen a decline in both the harvest and the number of people participating in trapping for those animals. The exclusion devices were a little expensive and heavy to carry around. It was not as appealing for people. We had seen a decline in the success rate that the trap required. In our own studies, we documented animals approaching the fisher traps, but what we call refusing, they would not go in. We had seen a decline both in the number of people and in the harvest. We were not proposing a change in the 10-animal bag limit for fisher. We were just asking to offer an additional 2 weeks at the end of the season which was prime season for the pelts to provide trappers that were interested in pursuing fisher. Since the implementation of the ITP and the exclusion devices the success rate had been about the same, 2 fisher per trapper. The harvest varied between 300 and 400. That was down substantially from the 1,000 or so that used to be harvested.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham asked if at Step 2 they could be provided with harvest data.

Ms. Camuso stated yes.

Mr. Farrington asked how serious was the decline in trappers.

Ms. Camuso stated it was substantial.

Mr. Sage stated trapping may be declining, but from teaching the safety courses especially in southern Maine, they couldn’t get enough classes for the people signing up for the trapping classes. There were people out there that wanted to trap.

Ms. Camuso stated the exclusion device provided excellent protection for lynx which was the reason we had it, but it did make it more challenging for species such as fisher.

Mr. Dudley stated there was a lot of rejection to the devices. The snow around the traps told the story. That was a good part of why the catch was down.

Mrs. Oldham asked if anyone was working on a better fisher trap.

Ms. Camuso stated the trappers were outstanding at coming up with alternatives. Through our ITP process there was a procedure if we were going to authorize a new device we would have to test it and have it approved through the USFWS.

2. Eastport Special Hunt

Ms. Camuso stated Sarah Spencer from the Jonesboro office and Chris Bartlett from Eastport were there if anyone had questions. This was not a new proposal, this was the third year for the request for the hunt. The Town of Eastport was requesting some assistance with an overabundance of deer and would like to have a 2-week extension (special hunt). In the past their success rate had varied. Last year was very successful for the town. Eastport had substantial issues with overpopulation of deer such as up to 2 car/deer collisions per day, substantial home and garden issues, etc. They requested permission for a special hunt 3 years ago to extend the season to try and harvest does to bring the population down to a more sustainable level. The first year, they only harvested 11 does; last year we opened WMD 27 with a modest number of any-deer permits which opened it up for archery hunters, and they took 17 during the regular hunt. She thought a total of 60 does were taken off the island last year. That was a significant reduction in the doe population. She believed they needed to continue the hunt for at least another year to continue to increase the pressure to reduce the deer population on Eastport. The proposal was very similar to last year’s hunt. The first year they issued permits to 30 people and the second year they decided they were going to issue 30 permits but they had 90 tags so successful hunters could come back and get additional tags. They proposed to do that again, but the people that were successful last year in harvesting multiple does that wanted to participate were not going to have to go through the lottery process. The remaining permits would be available through the town’s lottery process. Crossbows would also be legal.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham stated the Town of Eastport had done a good job and they were being smart about it. They were working towards their objectives which may be the first time a special hunt had ever fulfilled its objective. Going forward, the Council needed to make sure the math worked.

Ms. Camuso stated the total doe removal there last year was 50, 30 during the special hunt and 20 during the regular season.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it was interesting there were no ticks there and Lyme disease was not an issue.

3. Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Waters 2019

Mr. Brautigam stated the last couple of years we went through some substantial changes reformatting the lawbook. We were also developing electronic tools to help support people in navigating through the lawbook. The goal for this year was to limit the number of regulations, we wanted to maintain our commitments in advancing heritage waters to the heritage fish list and we limited regional proposals to those that were urgent in nature. We had 6 waters we were proposing to add to the heritage fish waters list, and we had 4 waters we were proposing to remove from the heritage waters list. We had 11 management initiatives to address needed management changes in a more-timely fashion.

Mr. Brautigam stated the 4 heritage waters we were looking to remove from the list, most of the waters had been discussed with the heritage fish working group. Two that were coming off related to there not being any brook trout in the pond or there was no longer a pond. Two others related to conservation of two native species of fish, char and lake whitefish. In order for us to manage and conserve those two species of fish we had to remove two waters from the heritage list. The heritage waters law precluded us from transferring or stocking fish in a heritage pond as long as they were on the list. We were proposing to remove those two waters to address the conservation initiatives, one geared at lake whitefish and one geared at char.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Lewis asked if the char and whitefish were being stocked into waters they were already in to help the population. Being a heritage water we had worked to get the brook trout protected there.

Mr. Brautigam stated the stocking would not have any impact on the integrity of the brook trout populations in those waters. Only one water were we looking at moving char from one water to another. On the other water we were interested in conserving a population that was in decline of lake whitefish. We were looking to bring in a species of fish that was indigenous to the pond that was no longer present to help suppress the smelt population. They were all a conservation focus, but we couldn’t explore those conservation initiatives under the current statutory limitations. We did not want to remove them from the list but legally we had to if we wanted to serve our other two species.

Commissioner Woodcock stated one of the concerns that arose was when you remove a body of water from the list, what was going to happen to the water. We were not talking about any regulatory changes on the water, they would remain the same as when they were a heritage water.

Mrs. Oldham stated there would be a change. The law was that there was no stocking.

Commissioner Woodcock stated not all, the best. We looked at other places, the best water was a heritage water. When the time came and we could do it successfully there wasn’t any reason why we wouldn’t put the water back on the heritage list. The working group had been able to discuss the idea, the char discussion was very pertinent. We had a body of water we were trying to address and it was challenging.

Mr. Brautigam stated we were working on an outline for a conservation plan for one char population that was at risk. He thought the final draft would help address some of Sheri’s concerns about what we were trying to do.

Mr. Farrington asked if the char were at risk because the smelts had returned.

Mr. Brautigam stated the smelts were illegally introduced.

Mr. Dudley asked how many heritage waters they examined, there were six coming in the proposal?

Mr. Brautigam stated they had looked at a considerable number of waters for consideration.

V. Other Business

1. Electronic Lawbooks

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated when we had drafted our budget for the previous year and the current year we had put in a substantial reduction in our budget for printed lawbooks. We saw it as a trend for the Department that we needed to change our message of distributing lawbooks. Also, we were recycling or throwing away a lot of lawbooks. Hunting lawbooks we printed about 240,000 per year. We were spending $180,000 a year printing lawbooks. We took the hunting lawbook printing and cut it by 1/3. Last year we distributed 160,000 to license agents and staff. Along with the reduction we did very little communication that we were reducing printing. We were currently printing 80,000 lawbooks. We recognized we needed an aggressive communication plan on how to access hunting and fishing laws online. Our goal was to potentially go to zero printing. We probably wouldn’t get there for awhile, but we would really be campaigning to encourage people not to pick up a paper lawbook. Some indicated they were not electronic and didn’t want anything to do with electronics. We heard that and we were trying to address that. We wanted agents and staff to be advocates and we were going to give them the tools to do that. We were developing 1 page “cheat sheets” for season dates, bag limits and hunting times. It would also include information on how to access the lawbook on our website and download for future reference.

Council Members Comments and Questions

Mr. Thurston stated the site needed to be better organized to make it easy to access the information.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated we needed to make it more interactive. We were working on a landing page to help navigate the site.

Mrs. Oldham asked what percentage of licenses were paid through MOSES?

Ms. Camuso stated 40%

Mrs. Oldham stated for those that were already electronically connected at the end of the application could we direct them where to go to download the law book?

Ms. Camuso stated that had been discussed.

Mr. Sage stated they would need to come up with something for the hunter safety classes. They went through teaching them the laws and they needed something to navigate. Instructors needed to be included not just the coordinators and Department heads. The instructors were on the front line and needed to be informed.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated our goal was to address hunter and all of our recreational education programs as a separate issue that we had to develop training materials for them.

Mr. Fortier stated in his work capacity they dealt with electronics at the hospital. He could appreciate trying to go to an electronic lawbook and how some people would not want to do it or get involved and want a paper book. He could view security features of their website and that morning they had 33,410 hits trying to break into their system. The state having a website had to make sure that somehow it was secure for people. Hacking was a big issue. He applauded the Department but there were parts of Maine that were just not going to do it so they had to have availability to a paper book.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated regarding our data security we were operating under the state system under the Office of Information and Technology. They ran the infrastructure for entire state government. All of our electronics fell within that.

Mr. Scribner stated he felt it was a very commendable direction we were going in terms of the gradual reduction versus just cutting everything out. What we did not want was a significant increase in infractions because people used the excuse they didn’t know it was the law.

2. Direct Data Entry Tagging

Ms. Camuso stated this was a program where we would be directly entering tagging of big game animals into a database. People would still have to go to a registration station to present their animal to be tagged. When they got to the registration station the tagging agent would have a web platform they would utilize to tag the animal. Ideally when you presented your license it would pull up your information and permissions on your license. It should be a faster process for the tagging agents. We had hired a temporary person to work exclusively to train tagging agents as well as staff on how to utilize the system. We also had two-part time contractors that would be assisting as well as regional staff and warden service going to the tagging agents. We had about 300 tagging agents statewide. We were going to their store to train staff on the device they had. We had about 20 stations that had connectivity or a device issue. Two stations had dropped out of the program. We were working through some of the issues of getting stations the appropriate device. All stations should be trained and ready to start using the electronic data entry at their tagging stations for the beginning of bear season.

3. Big Game Species Plan - Moose update

Mr. Kantar gave a PowerPoint presentation on the species plan for moose (available upon request to becky.orff@maine.gov )

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Lewis asked how long the collared moose study would last.

Mr. Kantar stated this was going to be the 5th and final year in the western unit. New Hampshire’s study was ending as well. We had agreed to continue for two more years. The WMD 2 study began two years later so we had only been three years there. We wanted to make sure given environmental conditions, winter weather; we wanted WMD 8 and WMD 2 to have the same number of years. When we ended the study in 2020 or 2021, we would end capture but still have collared animals. Most collars would last 3 years.

Mr. Lewis asked why the study was ending.

Mr. Kantar stated New Hampshire had produced masters thesis’ on our work and we had been using the same data. The original intent of the study was to assess adult cow and calf survival. It was not to study winter tick. The study had become all about winter tick. Looking at the data we had, by the time the study ended we would be good to go and it may be better to go in a different direction at that point.

Ms. Camuso stated one of the largest expenses for the project was bringing in the capture crew. Because we were bringing them here, we would be bringing them here for at least two more years for the northern district and we opted to continue in the southern district as well.

Mr. Webb stated we had two more years of the telemetry project and then we would reevaluate. The aerial survey work and major sources of data were part of our annual management program and we expected those to continue.

Mr. Cordes stated there were some other research questions in our big game plan and once the study was over we could move into that next phase and start investigating some of those questions. It would not be the end of moose research, it would just switch gears.

Mrs. Oldham stated there had been a level relationship between the harvested moose ticks and calf mortality, had the numbers been tracking appropriately?

Mr. Kantar stated most of our tick data was on bulls. We wanted to make sure there was a relationship between bulls and calf mortality. We had two study areas, people thought moose were dying everywhere and they were not. We had high calf mortality just in the western unit. The western unit had adult cows and calves and the northern unit had adult cows and calves and you looked at the survival rates of the four groups, it was just the calves in the west that had been hit hard from the ticks. The northern calves had twice the survival rate of the western calves. There were challenges when working with the media. Based on our aerial survey work we had done since 2010 and the survival work, we had a very stable and now growing moose population in the north. The key to survival and growth was how many calves made it through their first winter to be a yearling and how well the cows were producing newborn calves. Just that change between the north and the west was enough to make a difference. The adult survival rates of both populations was very high survival like we’ve always had in Maine. This year he had one collared cow die in the western unit and none died in the north.

Mrs. Oldham stated it was a positive correlation between hunter data and the necropsy study.

Mr. Kantar stated it was not perfect across all four study areas. We saw a huge decline in winter tick counts this year in the fall. We counted winter ticks on harvested moose in the fall, we counted them at time of capture on moose we captured and if a moose died we did the same count.

Mrs. Oldham asked if ovaries were harvested from road kill moose.

Mr. Kantar stated only if someone from the Department was present, and it was a cow.

Mr. Scribner stated under one of the goals it mentioned, maintain a world class moose hunt. Hopefully that didn’t equate to necessarily a 70% - 80% success rate. Had we come up with a good definition of what a world class moose hunt was?

Mr. Webb stated there had been much conversation related to that. The development of the term took a lot of time. The moose subcommittee we assembled to guide the planning process for moose, there was a strong feeling that we had something pretty special in Maine. We had a good moose population, it was very accessible, hunting here was economical and with some effort and expertise you could expect to get a pretty nice bull if that’s what you wanted. All of those things didn’t really come together in many other places in the world so there was a sense we wanted to do what we could to maintain that opportunity here.

Mr. Kantar stated it was hard to define. A graduate student had been working on moose data and looked at 30 years of the physical characteristics of bulls that we collect at the hunt. Starting in 1980 there had been no changes in the bull class. We had more moose hunting than any state outside of Alaska, it was readily accessible and the do-it-yourself hunter could do that.

Mr. Scribner stated if he was in a location or on a hunt where he knew there were healthy, mature specimens in that area and if he had the appropriate skill level he would perhaps see and have an opportunity at one of those animals, that was world class to him.

Mr. Kantar stated one of the things the moose hunting group talked about was that we liberalize the harvest of bulls in WMDs 1 and 4. The number of bulls versus cows was important because there was a part of breeding behavior where you needed to have enough bulls out there so that it was synchronized so that in a short window all the breeding took place so the calving would occur all at the same time. In WMDs 1 and 4 based on good research done in Quebec, we knew we could allow the bull to cow ratio, which in the past had always been 60 per 100, to drop below that. Instead of saying it had to be 60 per 100, we created a range. In order to maintain world class in the other zones in the core range, we were looking at 50 per 70. When we had flown in the past, WMD 4 was a good indicator, we had a big drop in moose numbers over the last five years and we also had a drop in the bull to cow ratio. In the past 15-year plan we would have said we were cutting bull permits, or increasing cow permits. Now, we were going to say that was fine. We could sustain that in WMDs 1 and 4 without affecting the breeding. The other zones would still be in the 60 range.

Mr. Cordes stated even that number was conservative. The biological minimum was 25% - 30% for that adult bull class to have synchronized breeding.

Mr. Webb stated there were a number of strategies under the goal which related to public satisfaction with the moose population which included hunter satisfaction and that was where the objective of having a world class moose hunt was found. There were a whole host of strategies, all of which addressed that objective from different angles. Ultimately, the way we would evaluate and look at whether we were achieving that was through future public surveys and hunter surveys and ask what their level of satisfaction was. It was really high and historically had been really high and that was the metric we were looking to continue and keeping hunter satisfaction above 90% which was exceptional.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments and Questions

David Anderson stated he represented the Clerks Association for Maine as well as the tax collectors. They had a great meeting with Deputy Commissioner Peabody and staff regarding communications. They were the front line, there were over 500 of them out there and they took the heat about booklets and about online participation, etc. They were going to be working very closely with the Department and be proactive in trying to promote the Department within their communities. His goal and strategy as chairing the committee for the association was that he would be in touch with them monthly, and hopefully attending Advisory Council meetings as much as possible.

VIII. Agenda Items and Schedule Data for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, August 23rd at 9:30 a.m. at IFW Augusta.

IX. Adjournment

A Motion was made by Mr. Smith and that was seconded by Mr. Gundersen to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 12:15 p.m.