Private Landowners Key To Success Of Wildlife And Fisheries

ArrayAugust 8, 2018 at 2:47 pm

By Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist Brad Zitske Working as a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in the busiest region in the state means I spend a lot of time talking with people. In fact, we tend to work with people more than we work with wildlife itself. Many wildlife biologists get into the career to further their education of species and habitats and to spend time outside enjoying the natural resources that we are mandated to protect, preserve, and enhance. These tasks are much easier to do when biologists have unfettered access to the habitats species use. But, the fact remains that over 90% of Maine lands are in private ownership, so it becomes clear that to manage the resources on these lands, we must develop and maintain relationships with the landowners to do our jobs properly. This is clear in so many facets of our work. In southern Maine, we have the highest abundance of rare, threatened, or endangered species in the state, due largely to many species being at the northern extent of their respective ranges. Protection of these species is often reliant on the cooperation of landowners. In fact, if it weren’t for these landowners, endangered species such as the piping plover, New England cottontail, and Northern Black Racer would have a much harder time than they already do. We frequently ask if we can perform surveys on their property, erect temporary fencing to keep predators and people out, and use cameras and materials to learn more about behaviors for our studies. In nearly all cases, private landowners happily oblige after permissions are sought. Private landowner assistance for wildlife studies is not restricted to rare species in southern Maine. Throughout Maine, the ‘Big Four’ game species also benefit. Private landowners allow access for black bear, moose, wild turkey, and white-tail deer research, furthering our understanding of these species. The pheasant release and hunting program would be non-existent if not for the cooperation of over a dozen landowners in southern Maine. In many cases, private landowners are the first to approach MDIFW to expand boating access on countless ponds and lakes, thus advancing research opportunities for our fisheries biologists and recreational opportunities for anglers. By most accounts, the landowner relations program, with our colleagues in the Maine Warden Service has been a resounding success. Though only a few years young, this program has helped smooth over many tricky situations with landowners, aided in the recovery of previously denied water access points, and helped clean up an estimated 600,000 pounds of trash from public and private lands over three years of landowner appreciation clean up events. Hundreds of people in various groups (scouts, sportsmen clubs, schools, municipal and state governments, etc) have pitched in to help keep lands free of illegal dumping, which can cause an otherwise lenient landowner from possibly posting their land differently and restricting access. Usually, all it takes is some courtesy and maybe a hat to help someone feel appreciated and maintain the many centuries-old “open land” tradition in Maine of keeping private land available for public use. With more and more people coming to our beautiful state, come more delicate issues to untangle. By being good neighbors and custodians of our properties, all species in the state benefit.