Big challenges ahead as new big game management plans are created

Bob Duchesne photoNew management plans for all of Maine’s big game animals should be ready for review and comment by sportsmen and the general public sometime in December. Draft plans prepared by wildlife biologists and representatives of various groups are nearing completion.

Those plans will go to a larger Big Game Steering Committee, which will work with the department to complete the plans. A statewide poll, online comments, and public meetings have all been part of the process, and once the plans are completed, you will get one more chance to comment before they are officially adopted.

A lot of interesting information has been shared with the steering committee, including lengthy histories of the management of each game animal. I’ve asked DIF&W to post the histories on their web page so you can read them. So far, the agency hasn’t posted the information, and if they don’t do that soon, I’ll try to do it myself.

I think it’s important for you to have this information, in order to make comments and suggestions when you get access to the final plan. For example, the notes from the August meeting of the Steering Committee were very interesting.

The committee talked about tagging and registration inefficiencies that keep surfacing. I’ve tried in the past to get the legislature to authorize on-line and phone tagging of turkeys, but the department continues to resist. In August, the committee also noted that economic issues had not been fully addressed. “Biology needs to be the foundation,” they were told, “but the economic component is key.”

When they got to goals and objectives of the plans, they were told that DIF&W in the past has had a tendency not to manage density of game animals. “Density targets need to drive harvest targets,” was one interesting statement I found in the notes, along with this: “Challenge – regular people don’t understand density.” I think they might have been talking about you and me! “In reality,” they noted, “we don’t always manage by density because accuracy is difficult.” Very very interesting!

Most distressing to me was the statement: “There is a reluctance to settling wintering habitat.” Our failure to protect critical deer wintering habitat played a big role in the loss of our deer herd in the north woods. In fact, in the history of deer management, DIF&W reported that in Wildlife Management Districts 1 – 11, to meet their long term populations goals for deer, about 780,000 acres of deer wintering habitat would be needed. Currently there is only 258,000 acres of deer wintering habitat in those WMDs.

The July meeting notes for bear, moose, and turkey are also interesting. On bears, these questions were raised: “Do we need a population target? Should we actually reverse growth? How can we balance social and biological carrying capacity?” And most interesting, “What is the impact of bear carrying capacity on deer and moose?” I can’t wait to hear the answer to that one!

Given the decrease in moose productivity, and the devastating impact of ticks on moose, that plan is sure to be controversial. Maine’s moose hunting permits were slashed by 50% in the last three years, and many are worried that permits will continue to be reduced.

Moose are currently being considered for the endangered species list in four states, and in August, Walt Driscoll, a Vermont Taxidermist, told an Associated Press reporter he thought, “The hayday of moose hunting in Vermont is over and I don’t think it will ever come back.”

Turkeys, on the other hand, are doing well, and I was pleased when a bill was enacted that I proposed that increased the bag limits, extended the seasons, and reduced the fees for turkey hunting. It was amusing to see, in a presentation to the Big Game Steering Committee by a DIF&W wildlife biologist, that those things were cited as accomplishments of the agency – because DIF&W strongly opposed my bill, right up to the last work session when they recognized it was going to win the support of the legislature’s IFW Committee.

But questions have been raised during the planning process, including “Are we considering turkey impact on other species?” A “need to address the issue of delay in getting harvesting information and other data” was also raised as a concern. I thought this one was particularly interesting: “It is unclear if turkeys are ‘fully occupied in current habitat.” A lot of landowners would answer yes that one!

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.