Turkey hunting poised for major expansion

A remarkable thing happened last week at the legislature. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee stepped up to direct a major expansion of turkey hunting opportunity. This particular committee is showing a lot more independence of thought and action than I’ve seen in the past, and its refreshing and encouraging.

Here’s how it happened. A flood of turkey bills were submitted, including one sponsored at my request by Senator Tom Saviello, calling for a variety of actions to recruit more turkey hunters and increase the turkey harvest. Three legislators who have suffered losses on their farms because of turkeys, spoke forcefully for their own bills: Representatives Jeff Timberlake, Russell Black, and Craig Hickman. I reported on these bills and their public hearings earlier in the session.

But I had little hope that much would be done because the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed all of the proposals. The agency even whipped up a one-day “task force” and issued a report indicating the group only supported an extension of the October turkey hunt to four weeks.

But DIF&W’s Judy Camuso delivered a big surprise at last week’s work session on the turkey bills, informing the committee that the department had decided to offer a whole package of ideas.

Changes proposed in the law by DIF&W would be:

Reduce the price of the second spring tom from $20 to $10 for both residents and nonresidents

Reduce the nonresident turkey permit fee from $54 to $20

Reduce the turkey tagging fee from $5 to $2

Add a second fall turkey of either sex

Changes that the department proposed to take through its rule-making process would be:

Offer a one-tom limit in WMDs 1-6 and 8 in the spring

Maintain the current spring bag limit of two toms in WMDs 7 and 9 –29

Allow all-day hunting for the last two weeks of the spring season

Allow all-day hunting for youth day in 2014.

For the 2013 season, DIF&W also proposed to take the following proposals through the rule-making process:

A two bird of either sex limit in WMDs 15-17 and 20-15 and 28

A one bird of either sex limit in WMDs 12, 13, 18, 26, and 29

A month-long season in October, coinciding with the fall archery season for deer

Maintain the fall hunt shooting period of ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset

Allow both shotgun and bows in all fall hunting zones (but not crossbows).

“This is a bold play. I like the effort that’s gone into this,” Senator Anne Haskell told Camuso. Both Representatives Steve Wood and Tim Marks felt that the fee was still too high, and wanted to either eliminate tagging altogether or allow online tagging. Many committee members including Representative Paul Davis and the two committee chairs, Senator David Dutremble and Representative Mike Shaw strongly supported all-day hunting throughout the spring season.

Because the agency had already opened the door to all-day spring hunting by suggesting it for the final two weeks of the spring season, I think the committee felt emboldened to go further.

Rep. Ellie Espling was very concerned that all-day spring hunter would irritate homeowners in her southern Maine district. The department’s handout on these issues also reported, “The department is concerned that the non-hunting public will not support having hunters in their fields and forests in the afternoons in the spring, when many people enjoy being outside. We have heard from several individuals that this change will result in an increase in posted land and less support for hunting in general in the area of the state with the highest turkey and human population.”

The department did report that it would take all-day spring hunting to the public through the rule-making process, if the committee desired.

In an unusual move, the committee gave Dave Trahan of SAM, Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association, and me a chance to offer our thoughts on these proposals during the work session. We all really appreciated that. I offered comments supportive of all of the proposals, especially all-day spring hunting. I also told committee members that I didn’t think – even with all of this – that a lot more hunters would take up turkey hunting. My bill would have eliminated the turkey hunting fee and permit altogether, and include turkey hunting in both the big game and small game licenses.

Rep. Shaw reminded all of us that another bill sponsored by Rep. Denny Keschl at my request -  to create a single comprehensive hunting license – would also eliminate the need to pay extra to hunt turkeys. That bill appears to be gaining support and is scheduled for work session this coming Friday.

With all but Rep. Espling in favor, the committee endorsed a turkey hunting amendment that puts all of the following into law (avoiding the need to take these through the rule-making process where they would need to win the support of the Commissioner and the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council):

Reduce the turkey hunting permit to $20 for both residents and nonresidents, with no additional fee for a second tom in the spring

Expand the fall season to the entire month of October and add a second turkey of either sex to the fall season

Reduce the tagging fee from $5 to $2 for each turkey (with all of the fee going to the tagging agent)

Extend the spring season to all-day (1/2 hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset)

Offer all-day hunting for youth day.

All of these changes were inserted in a bill sponsored by Rep. Marks that originally called for an extension of youth day to a full week. The rest of the changes that DIF&W proposed for the rule-making process will go forward that way.

Amazing!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.