DIFW Rejects More Money for Moose Research and Management

Moose permits have been cut in half and nothing is being done to save moose that are being killed in big numbers by ticks, but the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says it needs no more money for moose research and management.

That was their testimony against LD 1065, a bill sponsored at my request by Representative Peter Lyford, to dedicate all the money raised from the moose lottery and permits to research and management of moose.

While the lottery brings in as much a $3 million a year, and the sale of permits $1.5 million, the department has spent only $1.2 million on moose research in the past six years. And of course, nothing is being spent or done to save our moose from being killed by ticks.

The draft of the new 15-year moose management plan includes this goal: “Generate a stable stream of funds dedicated for moose research as it relates to the management and health of Maine’s moose.” In the agency’s “expected outcomes” draft for the plan, one goal is to “implement management actions to stabilize or decrease winter tick effects on moose mortality.”

The agency’s testimony on LD 1065 certainly didn’t indicate that they needed more money to achieve these goals.

Judy Camuso, the exceptional Director of the Wildlife Division, delivered the testimony and answered many questions from IFW Committee members. “Although at first glance, this seems like it might be a good idea and we appreciate the bill sponsor’s effort to provide additional funding for moose research and management, this bill would have tremendous negative unintended consequences for the entire agency.”

She went on to inform the committee how the money from the moose lottery and permits is currently used, while only $300,000 a year is spent on moose research and management (she noted that this does not include “all our staff time, or the overhead associated with general operations.”) The agency also gets some federal money for moose research.

“Directing all the money from moose permits and applications would have negative impacts on a variety of species, and limits our ability to determine what is an appropriate funding level for moose or any species,” testified Judy. “As part of the North American Model of Conservation, the income from the sale of hunting and trapping licenses are used to conserve a wide range of species, not just the game species the permit or license was purchased for. Money from moose permit sales is used to benefit a wide range of species including the recovery of our National Bird, the Bald Eagle, as well as white-tailed deer, black bear, New England Cottontail, and a whole host of other game and non-game species.”

Last session I proposed a bill to direct 1/3 of DIF&W’s money raised from the moose lottery and hunting permits to moose research and management. The department opposed and killed my bill. I expected more support from the agency this time.

The agency recognizes the importance of moose to our state, both for viewing and hunting opportunities, and is struggling to measure and figure out what to do about the large number of moose that are dying of winter ticks. More than 60 percent of moose calves are being killed by ticks and about 1/3 of cows.

In my opinion, after looking at the list of things in the new moose management plan that need to be done, and the plan’s recognition that they need more money to achieve these goals, I proposed this bill to give them a chance to get that money soon.

If the committee rejects this bill and opportunity, it will be two years before the plan is finalized and the agency can ask for the money it needs to achieve the plan. Most troubling to me, they already have the money they need, raised from those of us who want to hunt moose, but they are spending that money on lots of other things including nongame species.

I proposed in LD 1065 that we use all the money raised from the moose lottery and hunting permits for moose research and management, in order to provoke DIF&W to tell the committee how much money they really need. And then the committee could use this bill to give the agency that amount of money. Sadly, that isn’t going to happen in the face of the agency’s strong opposition to the bill.

Although Judy couldn’t give the committee a population estimate for moose, she did say “We still have a lot of moose. Most challenging,” she said, “are moose densities and climate change.” She also noted that “fewer moose will reduce the impact of ticks.”

That’s certainly true. But it’s also reducing our opportunities to hunt moose and is doing great harm to our hunting industry. It appears that the agency is going to be satisfied with a significantly reduced moose population.

In my testimony, I talked about the need to come up with a way to kill the ticks and save moose, and Judy discussed some possible ways that could be done. But there is no plan to do that. Nor any money in the budget to do it.

Judy promised the committee a report on the moose research done this past winter, and I’ll let you know about that when the committee gets the report.

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.