New big game management plans are in the works for Maine and you can expect major changes. All four big game animals will, for the first time, be included in a single plan: deer, moose, bear, and turkeys. And a new aggressive effort will be made to engage the public in the process, including surveys, focus groups, and an invitation to submit suggestions and ideas. Yes, you are going to get a chance to participate!
A final plan has already been created for non-game animals, and later, plans will be created for furbearers and small game animals.
Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has recruited an outstanding Steering Committee to participate in the big game planning process: Rep. Gary Hilliard, IFW legislative committee, Don Dudley, F&W Advisory Council, Dave Trahan, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy, Tom Doak, Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine, Barry Burgason, Maine Forest Products Council, Deb Perkins, Jerry Longcore, and Laurent Gilpatrick, Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society, Don Kleiner, Maine Professional Guides Association, Jen Brophy, Maine Sporting Camp Association, Alycn Smart of the Maine Farm Bureau, Chris Cloutier of the Maine Warden Service, Judy Camuso, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, Nate Webb, DIF&W wildlife planner, and Jane Eberle, a former legislator who is representing the public.
I attended the first Steering Committee meeting, held on October 22, and was impressed with Nate Webb’s detailed presentation of the way they created big game plans in the past, and the new methods that will be utilized this year.
Nate presented a list of “Lessons Learned” that included a confession that DIF&W’s goals and objectives in their plans have not always been feasible. As an example, he cited the current moose management plan which calls for managing moose for maximum capacity. “But we don’t have the science to be able to do this,” he noted. He also said that the current plan’s goal of 10/deer/square mile may be technically feasible. “We know what it would take to achieve this”, he said, but they don’t have the tools to do it. “We don’t own the land,” he said.
He also noted that some goals are mutually exclusive. “We can’t maximize moose viewing and hunting opportunities at the same time,” he reported. To do either, the other suffers to some degree. “We probably can’t have abundant moose and deer populations in the same places,” he said.
In addition, Nate said that big game plans are not adaptable to changed circumstances. The bear management plan, for example, couldn’t imagine 2 bear referendums in 10 years. He said DIF&W has not been able to maximize bear harvests because of the fear of public reaction to an increased bag limit or harvest.
IFW Manages more than abundance of animals, he said, listing these other issues and goals: habitat, herd health, conflicts/damage, hunting framework, public education, disease, and research. “There’s a lot more to managing hunting than the species biology,” he said, including the types of weapons used, seasons, public’s interests, and more.
Nate also noted that fewer DIF&W staff are now dedicated to planning. The used to have a comprehensive planning unit in Augusta. It’s long gone. The complexity of wildlife management is increasing, he also said, including issues of federal Endangered and Threatened species listing, climate change, invasive species, land ownership, referendums, social media, conflicts/damage. “These things make it hard to keep up with the historic planning process.”
“The public expectation is that wildlife will be managed for the full suite of interests and perspectives,” he concluded. “The public expects these species to be managed for more than hunting and fishing.”
For the planning process, DIF&W will be, for the first time, using public surveys and meetings, conducted by Mark Duda of the national firm, Responsive Management. I’ve been writing about DIF&W’s new communication/marketing initiative, in which Duda is also participating. He’s the best, having conducted surveys and prepared plans in all 50 states for a wide variety of groups and governments. We are very lucky to have him working here in Maine on these important topics.
In addition to the Steering Committee, DIF&W will create smaller working groups for each of the four species. Public surveys will be conducted in November. Public meetings and focus groups will be scheduled in December. Sometime in February of 2016 work will be completed by Duda on the final report on public consultation. A draft of the final plan should be ready by May of 2016 and made available to the public in June of 2016. A final plan, which requires the approval of Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, will be completed in July of 2016.