In 2014, the legislature enacted my proposal, sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello, to reduce the turkey permit fee and expand the seasons and bag limits. In the 2017 legislative session, I’ll be back for more.
The final bill in 2014 reduced the turkey hunting permit to $20 for both residents and nonresidents, with no additional fee for a second Tom in the spring, expanded the fall season to the entire month of October and added a second turkey of either sex to the fall bag limit, reduced the tagging fee from $5 to $2 for each turkey (with all of the fee going to the tagging agent), extended the spring season to all-day (1/2 hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset), and authorized all-day hunting for Youth Day.
Senator Paul Davis will sponsor my turkey bill this session. It would eliminate the permit requirement and fee, allow on-line and phone tagging, and expand the bag limits to three toms in the spring season and three birds of either sex in the fall season. I tried to eliminate the permit and fee in 2014, and believe that is going to be essential if we’re going to get more hunters to hunt turkeys.
Last fall DIF&W estimates that no more than 5,000 of us hunted turkeys. And I think they sold less than 18,000 permits.
If you would like to know more, here’s the story I wrote in 2014 after the bill was enacted. I expect this year’s proposal to be an equally tough fight, and hope you will step up to support our bill.
Turkey hunt expansion didn’t come easily
If you hunt turkeys, you must be ecstatic about the expansion of the spring hunt to all day (from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset), the 50 percent reduction in the fee (no more $20 extra fee for that second Tom), and the reduction in the tagging fee to $2.
These new opportunities kick off for adult hunters on April 28. The spring season wraps up on May 31.
I am proud to say that it was a bill I proposed in 2013 that led to this expansion of opportunity and reduction in cost. It is a good time to review the history of this issue, because these changes did not come easily.
This is a great lesson in how a legislative bill becomes a law. It’s nothing like they tell you in the brochure. When Maine turkey hunters took the field last fall for their expanded fall hunt, few knew how they got this new opportunity.
Here’s the story. During my 18 years as executive director and lobbyist for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I learned that Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife manages fish and game very conservatively. While SAM often pushed for more opportunities, and was pleased to win things like fall fishing and more moose permits, I also appreciated the careful and cautious approach taken by DIF&W’s professional staff.
It was clear to me that change, especially aggressive expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities, has to start outside of the agency, from groups like SAM. And when change is initiated from within, it often takes outside support to make it happen.
In 2013, while at the legislature to report on what is happening (or not happening) there in my Outdoor News blogs, I found it hard to just sit there and write. So I tossed a half dozen of my own bills into the hopper, with sponsorship and help from legislators. In several of the bills, I tried to give legislators a chance to deal with an issue comprehensively, something that rarely happens.
When I laid out my ambitious turkey bill to Senator Tom Saviello, at a breakfast meeting at the Olde Post Office Café in Mount Vernon, he loved it, and quickly agreed to sponsor the bill. The bill called for elimination of the turkey hunting fee, online and phone registration of turkeys, spring and fall all-day hunting, and expansion of the fall season to the entire month of October with a two bird either sex bag limit.
Three legislators who have suffered losses on their farms because of turkeys also sponsored bills calling for longer seasons and higher bag limits. At the public hearing on the turkey bills, Representatives Jeff Timberlake, Russell Black, and Craig Hickman spoke forcefully. Throughout the process, Senator Saviello and these three Representatives worked hard, as I did, to achieve an expanded hunt.
Even with all of that support, I had little hope that much would be done because DIF&W opposed all of the bills. The agency even whipped up a one-day “task force” that included groups like SAM and the Maine Farm Bureau, and issued a report indicating the task force only supported an expansion of the October turkey hunt to four weeks.
But DIF&W’s special projects director Judy Camuso, at the final work session on the bills, delivered a big surprise, informing the F&W Committee that the department had decided to support many of the proposals, all of which were then enthusiastically embraced by the committee. Truly, I was astonished. And I was certain that the change of heart happened because DIF&W’s lead birding biologist, Brad Allen, supported most of my bill.
Over the years I came to admire Brad as one of the most thoughtful wildlife biologists, and to appreciate his openness in discussing any and all ideas. I had a pretty good idea going into this session what Brad could support and what he’d oppose.
The final bill reduced the turkey hunting permit to $20 for both residents and nonresidents, with no additional fee for a second Tom in the spring, expanded the fall season to the entire month of October and added a second turkey of either sex to the fall bag limit, reduced the tagging fee from $5 to $2 for each turkey (with all of the fee going to the tagging agent), extended the spring season to all-day (1/2 hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset), and authorized all-day hunting for Youth Day.
Although DIF&W supported all-day hunting only in the final two weeks of the spring season, many committee members strongly supported all-day hunting for the entire spring season. And that’s what the committee supported. But to pick up the vote of Rep. Ellie Espling and get a unanimous vote on the bill, the committee sunsetted all-day spring hunting after 2016, meaning the legislature or department will have to reaffirm it if it is to continue in 2017.
All of these changes were inserted in a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Marks that originally called for an extension of youth day to a full week.
Lest you think this was the end of the process, there was a long road still ahead. First, the Appropriations Committee had to fund it. DIF&W will lose almost $100,000 from the fee reductions. But the agency stepped up and informed the committee that it could absorb this loss, negating any need for more funding to be appropriated. That helped drive the bill quickly through the House and Senate and onto the Governor’s desk where it was signed into law.
A great ending, wouldn’t you say? Except, this is not the end of the story. In order to give DIF&W flexibility in changing these provisions in the future, the legislature directed the agency to adopt the changes in rules, and did not put them in law. If you don’t know, the agency’s rule-making process is long and complex.
Worried that they wouldn’t be able to get through that process and adopt the changes in time for the 2013 fall turkey hunting season, DIF&W had asked the legislature to add to the final bill a delay in its implementation to 2014. A bit frustrated, I dropped out of the process at that point, convinced that we’d have to wait until next year for the expanded fall hunting opportunities.
So I was amazed when, in late-September, a press release from DIF&W arrived in my email announcing that the fall season would begin on October 3, run for a month, and include a two bird bag limit. Good for DIF&W! They cut it close, with the Advisory Council and Commissioner officially adopting the new rules on September 19. But they got it done.
Enjoy the season!