Over three days and nine hours of meetings, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife staffers met with more than 130 people last week in order to gather information that can help form long-term management plans the department is working on.
Following meetings held in Portland and Presque Isle, three forums were held in Orono. One focused on bear management. Another on fisheries. A third focused on “big game” species other than bears: moose, deer and wild turkeys.
I attended all three Orono meetings and came away with several impressions I’ll share here. But first, an important thing to consider. The meetings were set up to be nonconfrontational, and the facilitator made it a point to remind attendees they were not going to be allowed to debate with each other.
After attendees shared their thoughts, a second part of the meeting allowed DIF&W staffers to respond to questions they’d heard or to explain things they thought needed further attention.
Summarize hours of meetings in one column? Impossible, of course. Here, though, are several interesting points from each of those forums:
Bears, attended by about 70 people: Back in 2014, Maine voters defeated a referendum that would have outlawed the use of hounds, traps and bait while hunting bears. The topic remains contentious, as this forum proved yet again. Among the attendees were two well-known proponents of that referendum: Daryl DeJoy of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and Katie Hansberry of the Humane Society of the United States.
At the March 9 meeting in Orono, DeJoy was the lone attendee who spoke against current management methods. He stood twice and spoke for nearly 12 minutes.
Among his contentions: Maine’s bears are going into their dens heavier because baiting takes place, and because of that state-sanctioned baiting policy those mother bears are more likely to give birth to cubs and expand the existing population. It is irresponsible, DeJoy said, for the department to allow baiting in the face of a bear population that state wildlife officials maintain is expanding well beyond management goals.
Hank Goodman, a Mainer who also owns an outfitting firm in Ontario, disputed many of DeJoy’s claims. Goodman said that when that Canadian province ended baiting 15 years ago, it led to a slow increase in the bear population that culminated with bears frequently visiting his hunting camps because they were hungry and didn’t fear humans.
“If you end baiting in the state of Maine, you’ll have more bears than you can believe,” Goodman said. His proclamation was met with applause from the crowd, which seemed to be dominated by bear hunting guides and hunters.
The boisterous crowd was not entirely respectful, however. DeJoy contributed to that atmosphere when he engaged in debate with Goodman and others, even after the facilitator warned him to stop. About 75 minutes into the three-hour session, after being warned that further outbursts may result in the expulsion of some members of the audience, DeJoy apparently decided he had said what he had come to say.
“That’s all right,” DeJoy said. “I’ll leave soon.”
Later, state Rep. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, who serves on the Joint Standing Committee of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, cautioned the group about topics that had arisen in that committee.
When it came to finding ways to reduce the bear population, Lyford said, “they’re using the word ‘sterilization,’” he said.
Several attendees, who clearly favored hunting as a population management tool, shook their heads.
Fisheries, attended by about 35 people: Before people were invited to speak, the meeting facilitator showed attendees the results of a survey conducted by Responsive Management, a public opinion survey firm based in Virginia. The survey process, which lasted several weeks, was recently completed and is intended help decision-makers judge approval and disapproval of different management strategies, as well as public opinion on the perception of various species in the state.
One of those questions asked how people rate the open-water fishing in the state: 70 percent of respondents said it either was “excellent” or “good.” When it came to ice fishing, 62 percent responded the same way.
In addition, 85 percent of respondents responded strongly or moderately favorably to question asking whether the state’s fisheries were managed well.
After hearing more positive responses in the survey, guide Matt Whitegiver was one of the first attendees to speak.
“Based on your [survey presentation], I think we can all go home,” Whitegiver joked, drawing chuckles from the crowd. The attendees didn’t leave, and an informative discussion of fishing matters followed.
Angler Ed Curtis concurred. “I actually think the fishing is better now than it was before,” Curtis said.
There were concerns, however.
Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited pointed out that a map displayed by Responsive Management doesn’t mesh with the current maps of Maine’s management regions for fisheries. In addition, he was disappointed that “brook trout” were not singled out in survey questions. Instead, several questions dealt with “trout” collectively, including other species with the iconic Maine brookie.
Later in the meeting, DIF&W biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer said a new trend among anglers bears some study. Kramer said he often sees fish photos on social media outlets where it’s obvious the successful angler hands the fish around to buddies for them to pose for photos before eventually releasing the fish.
That fish is unlikely to survive, he said.
“That drives me to distraction,” Kramer said. “We urge people to get that fish back in the water as quickly as they can.”
Turkey, moose, deer, attended by about 25: The most wide-ranging meeting of the bunch, a varied group attended to talk about big-game species — other than bear. The survey responses indicated that the most controversial animal in Maine might be the wild turkey, in that many said they thought the turkey population should be reduced and only 8 percent of Mainers said they wanted more gobblers around.
Then, when the meeting began in earnest, it took more than an hour before anyone even mentioned the word “turkey.”
Deer are Maine’s preeminent big-game animal, and many Mainers define themselves as deer hunters. As panelists learned, deer hunters aren’t afraid to speak up.
Nate Freeman of Orrington said he thought the state should consider banning the use of urine-based deer lures to avoid the potential spread of chronic wasting disease.
Several people spoke in favor of antler restriction regulations, requiring that a buck’s rack have a certain number of points before it could be harvested. Those speakers represented Quality Deer Management Association groups that believe avoiding the harvest of young bucks is a key to a healthy herd.
Darren Hammond of Harrington pointed out a problem that exists in certain pockets of land in coastal areas: An entire Wildlife Management District may have a low deer population, but in certain areas within that WMA there might be hundreds of deer. Hammond said he often saw “100 does a day” where he hunts but struggled to find a single buck.
Mark Latti of the DIF&W hinted at things to come after a mild winter, saying hunters who want to harvest a doe will likely have a better chance to do so this year.
“You’re going to see a substantial increase in any-deer permits this year,” Latti said, suggesting that the final tally might be 50 percent higher than last year’s permit total.