Trout, moose, slingshots, and pink hunting clothes debated at the legislature today

Slingshot_(weapon)It was an interesting afternoon with the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, hosting hearings on four issues highlighted by Representative Danny Martin’s bill, LD 134, calling for more research on moose mortality from ticks. That was the only bill I testified on, and I will provide my testimony at the end of this column.

After Rep. Martin presented his bill, Dave Trahan from SAM and I testified in favor of bill. I went first and was especially pleased when Dave, in his testimony, praised my testimony. It was good to have SAM’s support on this important issue.

Daryl DeJoy, Wildlife Alliance of Maine, also testified for the bill, explaining that it is rare that he testifies on the same side as Dave and me. He got that right!

The only testimony against the bill came from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, delivered by Judy Camuso, Director of the Wildlife Division. Judy explained what the agency has done for moose research, and acknowledged there is a lot they don’t know, even testifying that “IFW continues to evaluate incorporating a second study area to quantify differences across the geographical range of moose within the state.”

That testimony, in my mind, actually justified and supported the bill calling for more research. When asked by Senator Scott Cyrway what the moose population is, Judy was evasive, saying “population estimates are not exact,” and noting they are only beginning the second of a five year study. In other words, DIF&W needs to know more, and isn’t even able to give us a population estimate of the moose herd!

Rep. Steve Wood asked about the low percentage harvest (3 percent) of moose, compared to higher percentages for deer and bear, cited in my testimony. Judy answered that goals for the moose population are managed differently throughout the state, and were set by the public. In some districts, moose viewing is most important. Judy also reported, “We have a very complicated process” for that.

Finally, Judy said that annual moose mortality is low, especially after the first year. “Last year we had a higher mortality rate than we’ve seen in the past, so that’s the reason we cut permits last year,” she concluded.

Sling Shots

Three other bills were heard today. LD 242 would allow hunters to wear pink instead of orange. Only the sponsor, Rep. Ricky Long, who put in the bill at the request of a constituent, testified for the bill. DIF&W spoke against it.

LD 291, to allow the hunting of small game with a slingshot, submitted by Rep. Andre Cushing at the request of a constituent, who failed to show up to testify for the bill. There was no other supportive testimony. Animal rights activists turned out in force to testify against the bill as did DIF&W.

Daryl DeJoy testified that his ten years of attending legislative hearings, “I have yet to testify before a bill as poorly thought out as I believe LD 291 to be… As one commentator on our Facebook page asked, ‘What’s next, baiting chipmunks?”

Judy Camuso, on behalf of DIF&W, testified against the bill. Her testimony was thorough and convincing, raising many problems with hunting with slingshots, including technical and enforcement problems.

Brook Trout

The third bill, LD 158, presented by Rep. Anthony Edgecomb of Fort Fairfield, would direct DIF&W to modify fishing rules for Webster Stream in Piscataquis County. This isn’t the first time this issue has been raised, and the usual cast of characters turned out on both sides. The issue is simple: some anglers can’t accept that the stream is catch-and-release to protect the native brook trout in the fall. That rule was enacted in 2012 and some have been trying to change it ever since. Anglers can keep fish at other times of the year.

One guide testified, “I can’t think of any reason not to keep one fish.” He said he and his friends and customers miss their fish fries. This guy complained about sporting camp owner and guide Matt Libby flying anglers in to fish Webster Stream “wearing LL Bean outfits.”

IFW Committee member Rep. Roger Reed said, “I see no sense in going fishing if you can’t eat any of the fish you catch.”

Dave Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine led the opposition to the bill, defending the action of the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council and Commissioner Chandler Woodcock who enacted the rule change in 2012 to protect brook trout in the stream in the fall.

Don Kleiner, on behalf of the Maine Professional Guides Association, also opposed the bill, stressing there are 3000 bodies of water in the state and the legislature’s IFW Committee doesn’t have the time or expertise to tackle rules on each water body. “Send these folks back through the rule-making process if they are unhappy with the rule,” said Don.

Gary Corson, a long-time fisheries activist and member of SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee did a superb job of explaining the issues, the history of the rule, and the importance of the protective strategy. He pointed out that 9 public hearings on the rule were conducted all over the state, before the rule was enacted.

 

Testimony in Favor

LD 134, Resolve, To Study the Impact of Winter Ticks on the State’s Moose Population

By George Smith, Mount Vernon

Herring Brothers PhotoWhen I proposed, in 2012, to gradually increase the moose harvest to 10 percent – the percentage of deer we harvested last year – DIF&W’s moose biologist, Lee Kantar – convinced this committee to oppose the bill, because, in Lee’s words, “The big unknown is mortality and the causes of mortality. So we have to be cautious in the number of permits we issue.”

Given that the department made $1,753,660 on last year’s moose lottery, it is inexcusable that we are not doing the research to answer Lee’s concerns and questions. And because we’re not doing that, we’re leaving millions of dollars in the woods, in the carcasses of moose killed by ticks. This cripples our north woods hunting industry and disappoints tens of thousands of hunters. In fact, many have given up on the lottery, discouraged that they would never get a chance to hunt Maine moose.

Please consider these facts. Sixty five percent of moose hunters were successful in 2014. And almost 100 percent of nonresident moose hunters got a moose. These success rates are unheard of for big game animals. For example, in Maine in 2012, hunters harvested 10.7 percent of our deer, 10.4 percent of our bears, and just 3.9 percent of our moose.

Let’s compare spruce and fir trees to moose. To reduce the impact of the spruce budworm, forest landowners will be cutting their most valuable trees before the budworm can kill them. Budworm damage is greatest in areas where spruce and fir are most dense. With moose, we do just the opposite. Density of moose is obviously a factor in mortality from ticks. But we cut moose permits by 1000 last year, because the initial data showed significant mortality from ticks. Wouldn’t it be better to approach this like we do the budworm – reduce the density of our most valuable product, moose, before the ticks kill them, and capture their value?

Perhaps you don’t believe the moose population is high. If not, please talk to some of Maine’s largest landowners who have suffered significant damage from over browsing by moose. And it isn’t just ticks that are an issue. We know that bears kill a lot of moose calves, but we’ve chosen not to research or address that problem. We don’t intend to even try to find out!

Recommendations

Let’s allocate at least half of the money raised by the moose lottery to moose management and research. My preference would be to allocate all of it. Moose are so important to our hunting heritage and economy. We must maximize hunting opportunity. Given that we recently learned that DIF&W has a $3 million surplus, it is unacceptable to fall short of the research we need about the health and population of our moose.

Partner with the hunting industry – sporting camps, lodges, and guides – to make sure we are maximizing revenue from nonresident hunters. The 97 percent success rate of nonresident moose hunters is pretty amazing, but many spend minimal dollars here in our state to get their moose. Other states do much more than we do to help and sustain their hunting industry.

Work with large landowners who are concerned about over browsing of their woodlands by moose, to reduce moose populations and damage in those areas. This is a serious issue to several large landowners.

Simplify the lottery. It’s gotten far too complicated.

Aim for a harvest of 10 percent of our moose each year. That is conservative and only half of a sustainable harvest rate. It would put moose in the same harvest category as other big game animals including deer.

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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.