Recommendations for Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
By George Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlock the door
In the good old days, anyone could walk into DIF&W and meet with staff. Commissioner Bill Vail’s door was always open. My Dad would go in and visit with Bill from time to time. Today you must check in downstairs, wear a numbered badge around your neck, and the door upstairs is locked, so you only get in when someone notices you standing outside the door. It’s time to unlock that door!
Twice in recent years I proposed bills to expand the bag limit and eliminate the fee and permit to hunt turkeys, which are included in the big game license. DIFW opposed my bills, but I did succeed in expanding the bag limit and reducing the fee.
Originally DIF&W thought turkeys could only survive along our southern coast, but today they are statewide. I even see them in the north woods. And very few hunters hunt turkeys. I’ve known quite a few who quit turkey hunting because in the spring, you’re hiding in the bushes, and you are covered in deer ticks. Only about 16,000 hunt turkeys in the spring and only 5000 in the fall. I saw turkeys everywhere this fall (including 26 on our lawn) but did not see a single turkey hunter.
Finally, DIF&W has decided we have too many turkeys, but their solution is to try to recruit more turkey hunters. That will not work. I suggest that we eliminate the fee, so anyone with a big game license can hunt turkeys, and we substantially increase the bag limit so those who do enjoy turkey hunting can take more of them.
The fisheries division should be reorganized to match the wildlife division, with species specialists and a teamwork approach. The wildlife division works very well, but the fisheries division is a disaster.
For example, the wildlife division worked with advisory groups to craft an exceptional new wildlife management plan. The fisheries division started working on a new plan at the same time, but eventually got rid of its advisory groups and stopped working on the plan.
This reorganization is a priority of many of us who’ve worked on fisheries issues for decades. I would be happy to pull together some of these people to advise the new governor and the new commissioner on what needs to be done with the fisheries division.
Lots of moose are being killed every winter by ticks. Lee Kantor, the well-respected moose biologist at DIF&W, believes that eventually the population will be reduced to a level where ticks will not be such a problem.
That is not a satisfactory solution for me. I have suggested setting up feeding stations in the winter to bring the moose in and to spray them to kill the ticks. Lee does not think this will work but I think we should try it. After all, they can land in a helicopter and put a collar on the moose so they can track it until it dies, so why can’t we try to save some of them?
Also, moose have become a very popular item for tourists, but I’ve been told that some businesses have given up their moose tours because they couldn’t find a moose to show their customers. I have photos of our kids, when they were young, at our north woods camp, standing on the lawn surrounded by moose. But in the last three years we’ve only seen one moose a year there.
We failed to protect deer wintering areas in the north woods and western Maine, and the deer herd was lost, along with lots of nonresident hunters. DIF&W is now managing the north woods for moose but not for deer. This has been a disaster for our outdoor industry, particularly sporting camps.
In southern Maine, and all along the coast including on the islands, concern over Lyme disease has caused people to be unhappy to see lots of deer in their neighborhoods. In the late 1990s, Monhegan had the highest per capita cases of Lyme disease. They tried lots of things to solve the problem, none of which worked.
So I helped them get a permit to kill all the deer. That was controversial but when they did it, they eliminated Lyme disease. In the last three years, they’ve had one case of Lyme each year, with the ticks being delivered by songbirds. But no, I’m not suggesting we kill all the songbirds!
DIF&W has been trying to help reduce the deer population in some places but their strategy is not working. For example, in Eastport, in each of the last three years, they put up tree stands and placed hunters in them trying to shoot 100 deer each year. But they’ve only managed to shoot 20 deer each year.
Similar results in other places convinced me that the only real solution is to let hunters, during their hunting seasons, shoot more deer.
DIF&W used to work with the outdoor industry, including guides and sporting camps, to market hunting and fishing in our state. But they don’t do that today.
I wrote a book, at the request of Down East Books, about Maine sporting camps, many of which are failing. When I asked them what their greatest challenge is, many said the loss of hunters and anglers. The camps that are open in the winter, serving snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, are doing better.
For example, at Claybrook Mountain Lodge in Highland Plantation (east of Kingfield), the Drummond’s most profitable business used to be deer hunting. Today deer hunting is their least profitable business and their most profitable business is cross-country skiing. They also hold two wonderful birding weekends in May, which Linda and I have enjoyed for several years.
It is critical that DIF&W work with the industry to market hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities in Maine.
It is time to demand public funding for the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department, which does a lot for all the citizens of Maine, but gets almost no funding from most Mainers. Public funding for DIFW should be the top priority in the next legislative session for all of Maine’s groups representing hunters, anglers, conservationists, and environmentalists.
The last time we made a serious effort to achieve this was in 2010 when the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (for which I worked at the time), the Nature Conservancy, and Maine Audubon stepped up to offer a permanent fix for this long-standing problem.
The initiative would have provided an ongoing revenue stream of public funding for DIFW, protected by the Constitution. Thanks to our previous work, the department’s revenue from hunters and anglers is protected by the Constitution.
Sadly, we were unable to get that support in the House and Senate. It’s time to try again, and I would focus on getting a percentage of the sales tax for the department.
I want to share with you today some of Ken Elowe’s 2010 report to the legislature on this issue. At the time Ken was DIFW’s Resource Bureau Director. Here’s what he said.
“Today, money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses pays for the person you call for information about fish, wildlife, and related outdoor matters, the people that ensure that moose, birds, and other animals are there for viewing, the person who acquires and develops boat ramps for the use of recreational boaters (including kayakers and canoers) and commercial enterprises in addition to hunters and anglers, the biologists that protect loons, seabirds, and bald eagles, biologists that provide regulatory review of development permits to ensure that habitat for fish and wildlife is not degraded, biologists that work with communities to plan development to ensure that open space and wild places are preserved in your communities and remain open to traditional activities, the warden who rescues you when you are lost while hiking, the person who helps you deal with your child’s scout project, a response when your pet or child has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, the person who provides conservation education in your local school, and the list goes on.”
Ken actually understated the astonishing impact that the staff of this agency has on the quality of life here in Maine. Yet at that time, of the 1,316,456 individuals in the state of Maine, only 326,500 purchased some kind of service from the department and helped pay the bills. The rest were freeloaders – and still are.