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ADVISORY COUNCIL MEETING
September 15, 2022 @ 9:30 a.m.
353 Water Street, 4th floor conference room, Augusta, ME
(and virtually via Microsoft Teams)
Attending:Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director of Bureau of Resource Management
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Joe Overlock, Fisheries Management Supervisor
Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director
Alexander Fish, E&T Species Biologist
Philip DeMaynaider, Wildlife Resource Supervisor
Bob Cordes, Wildlife Special Projects Coordinator
Dan Scott, Colonel, Maine Warden Service
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Kristin Peet (Chair)
Ed Pineau - via Teams
Tony Liguori - via Teams
Shelby Rousseau (Vice-Chair) -via Teams Bob Duchesne - via Teams Mike Gawtry - via Teams Vacant - Hancock County
GUESTS Gary Corson, New Sharon -in person Rich Evon - in person 9 additional staff and public online
I. Call to Order> Kristin Peet, Council Chair, called the meeting to order.
I-A. Pledge of Allegiance
II. Moment of Silence
III. Introductions Introductions were made.
IV. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting A motion was made by Mr. Cowperthwaite to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mrs. Peet.
Vote: unanimouus in favor - minutes approved.
A. Step. 3 There were no items under Step 3.
B. Step 2. 1. Fishing Regulations & State Heritage Fish Waters 2023
Mr. Brautigam gave an overview of the public process to date. The proposals were advertised and during Step 1 Frank Frost gave a presentation outlining some of the changes that we were seeing in angler use on many waters, particularly in northern Maine. On August 22nd a public hearing was held with seven public members present. In general, there was support for the packet. Most of the discussion by the public focused on topics that weren't directly relevant to the pending proposals. The public comment period closed on September 1st and we received 61 written comments. Given the outreach to 356,000 individuals that had either purchased fishing licenses or had requested information on fishing, it represented a small number of individuals that actually commented on the proposals.
Mr. Brautigam had prepared a summary of the public comments that was provided to the Council. He also discussed how the Department considered public comment. We were looking for content, not necessarily the volume of comments. Our goal when soliciting public comment was to make sure we considered everything we should that was appropriate. He also provided more detail on five topics the public had raised during the comment period. We reviewed the public comment and where appropriate, had discussion with regional staff. Based on that we didnt identify any significant considerations that warranted additional modification of the packet.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Pineau stated he received pushback from local residents on Echo Lake in Fayette. They were upset with the changes being proposed. They were opposed to removing the 2-trap limit. The lake was having a lot more ice fishing activity than what was reported or the decision was based on.
Mr. Brautigam stated we had data, we measured use so had a pretty good sense on what the changes in use patterns were there. The 2-trap limit was established quite awhile ago and was intended to spread out the catch over the ice fishing season when use was very high. We were just not seeing that high level of use anymore. Like most waters around the state, that water given its size would be managed both during the open water and ice fishing season with no concerns regarding the level of use that was currently there.
There were no further questions or comments.
C. Step 1 1. Endangered & Threatened Species Listing
Mr. Webb stated this was something historically we updated every 8 years. The state list of threatened and endangered species was established in law (Title 12) so it did need to go before the Legislature. We would submit a bill for the Legislature to consider. Part of the preparation for the bill and the list of species changes was holding a public hearing and soliciting comments using the Advisory Council to provide advice to the Department and Commissioner prior to bringing the bill forward to the Legislature. The process was a little different in that the Council would not be voting on anything, they would just be providing feedback and guidance prior to moving on to the next step.
Mr. Webb stated the Department had responsibility and management authority over all of the inland fish and wildlife species in Maine, in particular there were a lot of invertebrates (over 15,000) and other species as well. A lot of our regulatory structure focus on those species for which we have hunting and fishing seasons, but we also had conservation responsibility for the full suite of species. We had to plan and prioritize to determine which species really require conservation attention within the state. This is separate from the federal process and the federal endangered species act. Within the State of Maine there are three different lists we use for conservation planning purposes. The Maine threatened and endangered species list captured in MESA (Maine Endangered Species Act) we had a special concern list which was in rule, and we had a species of greatest conservation need list which included both special concern and endangered and threatened species but also included other species that we lacked data on and needed to survey to determine their status.
Mr. Webb stated the SGCN (species of greatest conservation need) list was generated through our state wildlife action plan which we were required by the federal government (USFWS) to update every ten years in order to maintain eligibility for state wildlife grant funding which was a funding source we used to address conservation needs for reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and non-sportfish. That list would also be used to determine eligibility for Recovering Americas Wildlife Act (RAWA) funding if the bill passed. There were 378 total species on the list broken down into three tiers, Tier 1 there were 58 species with risk of extirpation including state threatened and endangered species as well as federally listed species. Tier 2 were those with recent significant declines or that were endemic or native to the region but werent more broadly distributed globally. Tier 3 or moderate priority were species that were under studied and we lacked knowledge on their status, distribution, etc.
Mr. Webb stated species of special concern were the next tier up in our conservation prioritization framework. These were species that did not meet the criteria for endangered or threatened, but for which we did have conservation concern due to a small distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or other factors that effect their status in the state. The list of species was used primarily for planning and informational purposes and for budgeting and resource allocations within the agency but we also used it to provide recommendations and advice on land use activities, particularly under site law when we were providing information to DEP and they were reviewing large development projects. The list was established in rule in 2022, prior to that it existed in policy. Currently, there were 112 species on the list.
Mr. Webb stated the MESA specific to Maine and was distinct from the federal ESA. This act had general prohibitions around negligently or intentionally importing or exporting, hunting, taking, trapping, possessing, harassing, selling or offering for sale, or feeding or baiting any threatened or endangered species that are included on the list. We had some latitude to prioritize or customize conservation activities using incidental take plans and broad activity exemptions and we had those in place for bats and forestry issues currently. We used those to ensure that the limitations that came with MESA were focused on the conservation issues that existed for the species and did not create unnecessary challenges for land users and landowners. We also had some other conservation tools that were in MESA including essential habitat, and we could also establish protection guidelines. The reasons for listing were outlined in statute and rule. We last went through the process in 2014, 2015. We were required to update the list at least every 8 years. We had an endangered and threatened species handbook that was developed in 2014 to help guide the internal process. The Commissioner makes the recommendation to the Legislature, and they make the final decision. Although the Legislature needed to approve the list, they could not alter the list after it was brought forward. Currently we had 51 species listed. The process we used to develop recommendations was quite thorough. We had a multi-page listing worksheet that was completed by the species specialist that went through all the various factors that could lead to a recommendation for listing as endangered or threatened.
Mr. Fish gave a slide presentation on each of the species we were proposing to either add or remove from the listing. (For a copy of the presentation please contact Becky.Orff@maine.gov )
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Duchesne stated he thought this was on track with the swallows. He discussed bank swallows which he felt had just about disappeared. Gravel pits were where you would be most likely to see them and riverbanks. Many of the gravel pits were active and commercial, was there any regulation of them if it became a threatened species.
Commissioner Camuso stated typically our nexus with a project was usually through DEP. Operating in a gravel pit would not trigger any sort of DEP review. We would have authority under MESA for people knowingly destroying nests or a breeding bird, but that would require that we knew that those birds were at that spot and the gravel pit operator acted in a way to knowingly cause harm to the birds. Our approach for this particular species would be education and outreach to help people understand the population. She did not see it as a species where regulation necessarily would help, but where a federal or state listing would give us additional focus and potentially additional funds to help with education and outreach to help the public.
Mr. Webb stated the key in MESA was there had to be either some sort of negligent activity or an individual had to intentionally cause take or harm.
Mr. Duchesne stated the Bicknells Thrush was an alpine bird so it seemed it would have an effect on not just wind power but ski areas. Was there any particular regulatory threat that we saw coming?
Mr. Webb stated that would occur through our work with DEP in reviewing the projects. The Bicknells Thrush was currently listed as special concern so we had been commenting on that species as a rare or special concern species already in the context of larger development projects.
Commissioner Camuso stated the alpine zone already had substantial protections around it, so she did not think this would unduly impact any industry practices.
Mrs. Peet stated the ski mountain in Greenville with the LUPC permit that just went through, they would be required to have Forest Society of Maine hold a 150 acre ecological reserve easement at the top of the mountain for Bicknells Thrush habitat. That was part of the permitting process.
Mr. Webb stated one of the goals of listing under MESA was to allow us to intervene on species prior to them warranting federal listing. There were a number of species that hadnt been brought forward for federal listing or have been determined not to be warranted for federal listing because of their status in Maine. Federal listing brought with it more restrictions, and no one wanted to be at a point where federal listing was warranted.
Mr. Pineau stated when the bill went to the Legislature, was it a simple majority or 2/3 vote? What if the Legislature rejected the bill, then what was the process?
Mr. Webb stated he believed it required a simple majority and if they rejected it then there would be no changes.
Commissioner Camuso stated if the Legislature rejected it then we would modify the list and come back the following year.
Mr. Gawtry stated he had a question regarding the funding aspect, in the past with endangered species recommendations he heard questions did the educational or any type of management aspect of that come from general IFW funding or was there specific funding that was allocated towards it and was that state or federal funding as well?
Commissioner Camuso stated for all the birds and mammals our Pittman Robertson (PR) dollars we used on birds and mammals. Things that were listed had a higher priority to address than species of concern. We had a 25% state requirement, and 75% federal dollars would be used for outreach and education or management. For the invertebrates the state got a small annual tribal state wildlife grant. We would have to use state wildlife grant funding for invertebrates and reptiles and amphibians. We also had dedicated funds, the chickadee checkoff and loon license plate. There was some state money, some federal and some other special revenue we would use for the reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Should RAWA pass, that would significantly improve our ability to work and have staff focus on these species.
Mrs. Peet had a question regarding the list, the ones stating breeding population only. Was that more of a habitat issue or were they breeding later?
Mr. Fish stated there was potential for individuals to be migrating and overwintering in the state as well. It was only a distinction on a couple of species.
There were no further questions or comments.
2. Electronic Registration of Wild Turkey
Mr. Webb stated earlier this year the Legislature directed the Department to allow self-registration or electronic registration of wild turkeys starting with the spring 2023 season. That would essentially allow hunters though a system we develop to self-register their turkey without needing to take them to an in person registration station. This would require some program and procedural changes in our systems and database, but we also had to look at the rule and determine if any changes were required. There were a couple of minor changes to the wild turkey registration requirements under Chapter 16 being proposed. One was to clarify that if a turkey is registered electronically and not at an in person station the hunter had to submit any transmitters, bands or wing tags to the Department within 5 business days. The records and information from those, we had quite a bit of ongoing banding work for turkeys as part of our management. The other part of the proposal would require the hunter to attach a tag bearing the seal number that would be issued by the electronic registration system. That would serve as a replacement for the plastic seal that the hunter would get at the registration station.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Liguori asked if there was a time frame on registration.
Mr. Webb stated that would not change. The hunter would still have to register the animal within 18 hours or a certain number of days in an unorganized town. We would still have our network of in-person stations, they would just have to choose if they want to take the bird to one of those or self-register.
Mr. Gawtry stated when he was first appointed to the Council, he asked some of the local businesses what changes they would favor and this was one of them. Especially from folks that had seen other states use this method of registration. Would there be anything additional to this from an enforcement standpoint?
Colonel Scott stated there were no changes on the horizon until it was back with the Legislature. There had been some questions around the 18 hour timeframe in order to register an animal if we were making it so convenient that you could electronically register on your phone was there really a necessity to have 18 hours. That would be a question for the Legislature. The biggest change with the rule was the hunter would have to self-apply their registration seal.
Mr. Webb stated the discussion with the Legislature around timelines for registering was related to poor cell coverage, etc. That was a factor for individuals that might harvest a turkey and want to self-register but didnt have good cell service and need to drive somewhere for that. There was a lot of uncertainty with regards to compliance. Many states had used this for turkey and other species as well and it was remarkable how different their experiences seemed to be. There were states that believed that by allowing self-registration compliance increased with registration because it was easier. There were also states that felt compliance declined because the process you went through mentally and physically to go to a registration station after a period of time became not part of the culture around the harvesting process and particularly with turkey given their size and youre not taking it to a butcher or taxidermist or something like that. It was pretty easy to just put it in the freezer or eat it and forget about it and not register the animal. Kelsey Sullivan was working on finalizing a proposal that would collect data to get at the compliance issue so that once the numbers started coming in with the new system, we would have a sense how they compared to having only in-person registration as an option.
Mrs. Rousseau stated she thought the extended window for registration whether going to a tagging station or doing it yourself was important. When she harvested a turkey that spring it took almost four hours to get to a town and when she got to town the tagging station was already closed. In order for her to tag her turkey she would have had to go back to Rangeley the next day. She thought the extended window for electronic registration was vital in some of the more remote areas.
There were no further questions or comments.
VI. Other Business There were no items under Other Business.
VII. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
Commissioner Camuso stated she had a few updates she would like to share with the group. The LMF Board approved a total of five projects totaling $8 million in state dollars, but those projects together the match was $32 million. With a modest state investment, we were getting close to $40 million in investment in acquisition. She felt it had been enormously successful so far in being able to leverage private dollars to help this land acquisition and conservation around the state. She discussed the new process for antlerless deer permits. Overall, it was positive when they realized they could harvest a second animal. She had attended the Sportsmans Alliance of Maine annual banquet where we presented Galen Ruhlin with the Lifetime Outdoor Achievement award. The budget process was underway and legislative proposals had been submitted for the upcoming session. She had also met with Senator Collins to talk about RAWA and try to encourage her support. She and the Colonel had also participated in the annual fallen officers run.
Mr. Webb gave a PFAS update. Over the last couple of months, we had done a pretty intensive sampling effort for PFAS in wildlife in the greater Fairfield area within the deer consumption advisory area we issued last year. We were working closely with USDA wildlife services. We were submitting samples to two different labs. Lab capacity was a chronic issue and seemed to be getting worse and there was more awareness and more testing going on. Once we received information back from the 45 samples submitted, we would be able to hopefully update the consumption advisory for the Fairfield area in time for the firearms season on deer. Feedback from the community so far had been positive. We had gotten landowner permission prior to doing sample collections and that had not been a challenge at all.
VIII. Public Comments & Questions
Tom Johnson stated he was the Maine Chair of the Native Fish Coalition that was started in Maine in 2017 and they were now in 12 additional states and growing. They spoke for hundreds of Maine native fishermen, many of them fly fishermen and although most of them were fly fishermen, they were not a fly-fishing club. They were only there to help preserve and restore and save native fish. On endangered species, Atlantic salmon was listed on the federal level in Maine as an endangered species, but yet Maine refused to add the Atlantic salmon as an endangered species in Maine. It was beyond their wildest imagination why it wasnt. There were probably only 100 or 150 true wild native fish returning to our rivers in Maine and they needed our help and Maine should be helping in this endeavor more than they are doing now. On their letter they sent to IFW regarding the proposed changes on the rulemaking mostly having to do with fisheries. It states that the fish and game department is doing all it can to protect wild native fish.
Commissioner Camuso notified Mr. Johnson that the public comment period for the fishing regulations proposals had ended, and we could no longer take public comment on those.
There were no further comments or questions.
IX. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting The next Advisory Council meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, October 26, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. at IFW, 353 Water Street, Augusta.
A motion was made by Mr. Cowperthwaite and that was seconded by Mrs. Peet to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.