Senator Dill, Representative Nadeau and honorable members of the Fish and Wildlife Committee; I am Judith Ann Camuso, nominee for Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I am so pleased and honored to be here before you today.
Let me take a few minutes to introduce myself, my background, experience and vision for IFW.
I grew up in Melrose Mass, 11 miles outside of Boston, the youngest of 6 children. I studied Wildlife Biology at the University of Vermont, and my entire career and adult life has been devoted to fish and wildlife conservation.
I started my career at Maine Audubon, working as the staff naturalist. I taught and coordinated classes for every age group on subjects as wide ranging as tree identification, to birding, and wildlife tracking. I led birding and natural history tours all over the state, from the Downeast coast to the western Mountains.
It was at Audubon that I developed my passion for connecting people with nature and the outdoors, with the belief that people will protect what they care about. After 11 years at Audubon, I was hired by IFW as a regional biologist in Southern Maine.
As a biologist, I worked with hunters and trappers, birders, nature lovers and foresters. I worked on both game and non-game species and worked collaboratively with private landowners and municipal governments. I worked closely with the public and warden service to address nuisance wildlife issues.
After seven years, I was promoted to the special projects coordinator in our Augusta headquarters. After several months in this position I was promoted to the position of Wildlife Division Director. In a period of 8 months I went from a Biologist 1, to the Wildlife Division Director managing all the wildlife staff and programs.
As Director, I have gained extensive experience managing staff. I currently manage close to 50 professional biologists and foresters as well as administrative assistants. I work with staff to establish annual goals and objectives individually and for the Division. I strive to keep staff motived, inspired, and engaged.
I also have excellent project management skills; I coordinated and directed the 10 year-update to our State Wildlife Action Plan, our Big Game Management Plan, and worked with communication staff to develop a Communication and Marketing Plan for the agency. I also developed, managed, and tracked the $12 million budget for the entire Wildlife Division.
I feel I have gained the trust and respect of Maine’s hunters, trappers and the conservation community. I work closely with the members of the Departments senior staff and have proven myself to be an effective, passionate leader for the Wildlife Division and will apply those same as Commissioner.
Challenges: The biggest challenges facing our agency are climate change, engagement, access, and funding.
Climate Change: will affect habitats, migration patterns, food supplies and availability, and will increase the spread of disease and parasites for our fish and wildlife populations. The potential impacts are catastrophic and mitigating climate change will require high level support, planning and funding. The Department needs to be prepared to address or plan for these issues.
Engagement: People will protect what they care about. However, more and more people are not going outside. Richard Louv documented this back in 2005 with his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”. Nationally the rates of people participating in hunting and fishing activities are steadily declining. People are increasingly disconnected from the outdoors and more connected to their phones and tablets. It is incumbent on us to reverse this trend.
ACCESS: One of the key obstacles to hunting and fishing is access to land. I would like to ensure we have a wildlife management area or water access site within 30 mins of all major communities. It also is imperative to maintain the access we are fortunate to have now. Over 90% of Maine is privately owned. It is essential that we continue to support our private landowners so that both Mainers and visitors alike will be able to continue to access areas to fish, hunt, snowmobile, trap, bird, boating and many other outdoor activities.
Funding: The Department is funded almost entirely through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and through a federal excise tax on hunting, fishing and shooting sports. Most of our work on any bird or mammal (game or non-game) and fish management is funded using these federal funds. I will work with the Legislature to identify the need to secure a more stable, consistent source of funding for the agency.
PRIORITIES: One of my first priorities as Commissioner would be to evaluate our Information and Education (I&E) Division. Our ability to educate and engage the public is vital to our success as an agency. Currently, the Director of I&E is an appointed position; and there have been 6 directors in the past 10 years. If appointed Commissioner, I would like to assign the appointed position to the Commissioner’s office to coordinate communication with the Governor’s office and press secretary. I will strengthen our team in marketing, social media, and web design.
In 2018 we hired an R3 coordinator to increase interest in hunting, fishing, and trapping. R3 is a national program designed to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and anglers. I argue it should be R5, and include relationships and relevancy. We need to reach out to new audiences to make sure the public understands that in addition to managing deer, bear, moose, and brook trout, we also manage bald eagles, piping plovers, New England cottontails, and spring salamanders. We have volunteer citizen science programs to engage people, get them outside, and participate with our agency. We need to continue develop relationships with people from all walks of life, so they understand what we do and why we do it. We need to recruit new to hunters and anglers. As a woman, from a non-hunting family; I plan to n lead the agency on this issue.
Closely aligned with the R3 strategy is our communication plan, which also outlines the need to engage with a broader audience. Our R3 plan will include measurable goals for recruiting, retaining and reactivating hunters and anglers but it will build relationships with non-consumptive users as well. Our agency has faced two statewide referendums on bear hunting in a period of ten years; I am keenly aware of how important it is to have public support for our programs. If we want to maintain our authority to manage the state’s wildlife, we need support from a broad spectrum of citizens.
For resource enforcement, I will work with the Warden Service to continue their focus on intentional and repeat violators. I will also work to simplify our rules and laws. I’m not sure which are more complicated, our fishing or trapping rules. They are a challenge for our staff to interpret, let alone the public. Simplifying our rules and laws will help Warden Service dedicate their time to intentional violators.
I will work with the Fisheries Division to manage fisheries on a watershed basis where appropriate. I will also encourage additional focus on conservation issues/non-game fish, invasive species, and more involvement and engagement with partners and the public. I will look to simplify our regulations while continuing to protect our native fisheries, and implement a simple to use, online, map-based regulation program.
VISION : In ten years, I would like to see MDIFW flourishing; managing healthy fish and wildlife populations with broad support from the public, the conservation community and staff. I envision people from all parts of the state engaged with the Agency at some level. We will have increased participation in hunting and fishing as well our volunteer citizen science programs. Hunting and fishing are the core of our agency and will continue to be so; as hunting and fishing are the primary tools we use to manage fish and wildlife populations, ensure these populations are healthy and at socially acceptable levels. As more people are engaged in wildlife watching, birding, and non-consumptive activities, the Department needs to grow, stay relevant to their needs and connect with these markets.
We are uniquely poised to address these challenges in Maine. The citizens of Maine overwhelmingly support the Department, fish and wildlife management, and hunting and fishing. MDIFW has one of the highest approval ratings of any wildlife agency in the country. We need to bring consumptive and non-consumptive users together to help us address the complicated challenges facing fish and wildlife. I believe I am uniquely poised to help grow the agency in this area.
As Commissioner, I will work to keep IFW not only relevant but vibrant; will develop relationships with new partners, solidify existing relationships and will also develop a broad base of support from the people who call Maine home.
I stand before you as the first woman ever nominated for Commissioner of IFW. The majority of Department staff and our license holders are men. I will work to bring more women into the IFW community. I am so honored to be in front of you today, and I want to thank Governor Mills, Maine’s first female Governor for nominating me and all the people in this room, and outside the room, my colleagues, friends and family who have helped and supported me every day. I look forward to working with you all and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.