Controversies and conflicts ahead for new big game management plans

2012 turkey with Dad - CopyThe December 9th meeting of DIF&W’s Big Game Management Steering Committee was interesting, enlightening, and concerning. We’ll get to all of that in a minute.

First, let me say that we are fortunate to have an exceptional staff in the agency’s Wildlife Division, led by Judy Camuso.  As the staff presented the preliminary goals, objectives, and strategies for deer, moose, bear, and turkeys, I marveled at their professionalism, knowledge, and friendly approach to any and all questions and challenges.

The members of the Steering Committee are also an excellent group, representing key organizations throughout the state, from the Farm Bureau to the Sporting Camp Association. And of course, SAM and the MPGA are at the table.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll tell you about each plan and what I learned at the meeting. Today we’ll offer some general information.

The Steering Committee is nearing the end of their work on the plans, and will finish up sometime in January. At that point there will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in before the plans are finalized and adopted. You will want to get involved in that process and I will let you know how to do that.


Steering Committee member Alicyn Smart of the Maine Farm Bureau said she’s getting lots of complaints from farmers whose crops are hard hit by deer, especially blueberries.

I had a private conversation with Lee Kantar, who has told me before that, in the north woods, we can’t expect large populations of both deer and moose. Lee said he’s looking at a Canadian strategy in which they manage for moose in northern regions and deer in southern regions.

I have a particular concern about Lyme disease and was disappointed that there was no discussion of this section of the deer plan. The plan calls for “maintaining deer densities below currently accepted thresholds for ensuring human health.” But they don’t know what those thresholds are. I had a conversation with a researcher at Maine Medical Association about this today and will write about that soon.

Lots of other questions were raised by the Steering Committee, from predation by coyotes and bears to a dealing with high populations of deer in some areas.


The moose plan is very detailed with solid goals, objectives and strategies. But there is still a lot we don’t know.  One strategy calls for raising more money for moose research through auctions and raffles with moose permits for prizes. That is totally inadequate, in my opinion, after looking at the list of things that need to be done.

This propelled me to propose a bill that I offered years ago to direct a percentage of the money raised from the moose lottery and moose permits to moose research and management. I think I will suggest, in the bill, that all the money go to moose research and management, and see if we can draw DIF&W out to support this at a lesser level. The agency opposed and killed my earlier bill, but it’s nice to see that they now recognize they need more money for research.

There are some interesting strategies involving moose hunting. For example, one calls for temporarily discontinuing issuing permits for the southern Maine moose hunt in WMDs 22, 23, 25, and 26. Another would “attempt to stabilize the population near current levels over the short term by implementing an antlerless moose harvest to prevent population growth in WMDs 1 – 11 and 19.”


The turkey plan drew tons of conversation and questions. For a while, I thought the entire meeting would be spent talking turkeys.

Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, summed up the feelings of his members very well, saying, “When I ask SWOAM members about turkeys, I never get a smile.” He pointed out that turkeys make it impossible to successfully plant chestnut trees. They eat them!

The committee made many suggestions for changes in the objectives, including a call for reliable methods for monitoring turkey populations and trends. Apparently we don’t even know how many turkeys we have in Maine.

I was encouraged by one strategy that called for changing the law to give DIF&W flexibility for bag limits and season frameworks. I’ve submitted a bill on turkeys that could be used to accomplish this along with several other objectives.

I got a kick out of one strategy: Identify locations with viable, unoccupied turkey habitat where the public supports establishment of turkeys. Good luck finding anyplace in Maine where the public wants turkeys!

My bill includes eliminating the turkey permit and fee, to encourage more hunters to hunt turkeys. DIF&W reported that only 5,000 hunters hunted turkeys in the fall this year. And I think they sold less than 18,000 permits overall.


The bear plan emphasizes a need to increase hunter participation and the harvest of bears. That’s a very tall order. They do offer several strategies, including encouraging more deer hunters to kill bears while deer hunting. They even hope to create a Youtube video promoting bear meat as good table fare. Having enjoyed Kate Krukowski Gooding’s dishes that include bear meat, I can tell you it is delicious.

They would also like to alter the bear hunting season framework in order to increase hunter participation and overall harvest levels, but I don’t know what they mean by this. I would be astonished if they propose a return to a spring bear hunting season, but that would be one obvious strategy. Bob Parker, a Maine guide and lodge owner, reported that the spring hunt in New Brunswick is both popular and effective.

The overall goal is to maintain the bear population below social and biological carrying capacity in all regions of the state. Tom Doak suggested that landowners would be willing to work with DIF&W to reduce the number of bears with tactics including baiting.


I’ve only touched on a few of many issues and concerns raised in these new plans. Future columns will focus on specific game animals to help you prepare for your opportunity to comment and influence these plans.

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,, 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.