Well, the moose weren’t pink – but the clothing moose hunters wear would have been. Today’s work session of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee debated the impact of winter ticks on moose, the pink clothing proposal, hunting with slingshots, and one long-fought fishing bill.
Two months into the 2015 legislative session, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee had acted on only a single bill, LD 22, An Act to Require Removal of Mooring Equipment. The committee adopted an amended version of the bill, sponsored by Representative Mike Shaw, authorizing a harbor master, code enforcement officer, or a county commissioner in the unorganized territories to direct the owner of a boat to remove that person’s mooring or floating dock from a great pond if the mooring “would create a public safety hazard.”
Legislative sessions are not sprints. They’re more like marathons, with a sprint at the end. While legislators wait for bills to be drafted, the first two months can seem like we’re just shuffling along, although lots can be happening behind the scenes, and the Appropriations Committee is always busy working on supplemental and biennial budgets.
Well, 600 bills have now been drafted and we’re picking up speed. From mining to maple syrup, legislators are now tackling a lot of issues. One day last week I testified in three different committees and monitored progress in a fourth. Fun!
The IFW Committee acted on four bills in a work session this afternoon. Here’s what happened.
DIF&W’s moose biologist, Lee Kantar, showed up to present a moose management report, in response to LD 134, a resolve sponsored by Rep. Danny Martin that would require DIF&W to expand its study of the impact of winter ticks on moose and bring recommendations to address those problems back to the legislature by January 4, 2016. IFW Committee members asked Lee a lot of questions, focused on what more, if anything, the department could do to research and address the tick problem.
DIF&W’s Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine said the agency would like to establish a second study area next year and suggested they could come back next week with that and possibly other recommendations. Rep. Martin asked a very good question: “You’ve been studying this for nine years. Where are the recommendations?” Kantar said DI&W has been counting the ticks on the back of moose since 2006, but that doesn’t tell us what we need to know about mortality. He also reported that there are other pathogens out there that have to be looked at, identified and quantified to figure out if there is anything they can do to reduce the impact of ticks.
Rep. Gary Hilliard seemed a bit disappointed that Lee was not ready or able to make recommendations on actions. Rep. Martin chimed in, “Let’s be proactive before we’re in the same position as New Hampshire.” Rep. Robert Alley asked if we’ve come up with anything to kill the ticks. “People want to have a paint ball season and shoot the moose with chemicals, and I’m not against that,” said Lee. He also told a story about a small moose taken to the Maine Wildlife Park that blossomed with ticks in the winter. The staff talked to veterinarians and doused the moose with chemicals, but that did not kill the ticks.
After a long discussion, the committee endorsed the bill by a vote of 7 to 4. In the good old days, nearly all bills emerged from the IFW Committee with a unanimous vote, but it looks like that isn’t going to be the case this session.
The differences between deer and moose management are fascinating. In areas of the state with few deer, we still allow unlimited harvests of bucks. But Lee says any increase in the harvest of bull moose will negatively impact the quality of those bulls. Do we not care about the quality of our bucks? And I believe we killed a huge number of very small deer last year. But after four months, we are still waiting for the 2014 deer harvest numbers.
You may want to hold off on the purchase of that pink hunting coat or hat. LD 242 that would have allowed hunters to wear pink instead of hunter orange got walloped by a negative vote of 10 to 1. Only Rep. Steve Wood supported the bill. The IFW Committee’s legal analyst, Curtis Bentley, handed out his analysis of the bill and hearing on pink paper, very appropriately. As Senator Dave Dutremble pointed out, “Hunters can already wear pink now in addition to the orange.” Senator Paul Davis, the IFW Committee’s Senate Chair, got a laugh when he concluded, after the vote, “I’m sure we’ll have a splendid display of debate on the floor on this.”
Sorry, but you won’t be hunting with slingshots this year, at least not legally. LD 291 that would have authorized hunting of small game with a slingshot, was sharply criticized by animal rights advocates at its public hearing, and was unanimously killed by the IFW Committee without debate.
This issue has been debated long and hard, and I doubt it came to a conclusion today, but we’ll see. LD 158 was a resolve directing DIF&W to change the rules for Webster Stream in Piscataquis County to allow one brook trout, one landlocked salmon, and one togue a day to be kept between August 16 and September 30.
While Analyst Curtis Bentley explained that the resolve could be used to direct DIF&W to bypass the usual rule-making process and place the change in its fishing rules, the committee, very unfortunately, decided to enact the change directly into law. I believe it is a bad precedent and very bad idea to start putting fishing rules into law. This sets Webster Stream, during that time period, entirely outside the normal processes that govern our fishing rules.
Senator Dutremble, who agreed with the change, questioned making the change this way, but Rep. Martin, a former DIF&W Commissioner, surprised me by advocating for it. The motion was adopted by a vote of 9 to 5, so perhaps it will be debated further as the bill goes to the House and Senate.