Maine’s wildlife biologists face a lot of challenges trying to manage our wild critters in ways that satisfy landowners, the public, and the hunting community. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with the help of a steering committee of groups that represent landowners, sportsmen and women, and environmentalists, is preparing new 15-year big game management plans.
The discussions at steering committee meetings raised some significant issues. For example, two of the goals in the draft moose management plan are to increase opportunities to view moose through education, outreach and management, and to provide a diversity of hunting opportunities and seasons across the state to ensure hunter satisfaction. It is not easy, in most management districts, to achieve both of those goals.
At the last Big Game Steering Committee meeting, Barry Burgason, representing the Maine Forest Products Council, reported that landowners have concerns about the impact of moose on the forest, and urged the agency to include a response to this in the new moose management plan. He had actually sent IF&W a photo of a maple tree that had been destroyed by a moose.
Believe it or not, turkeys are considered big game animals, so a new plan is in the works for them. Lots of farmers and other landowners hate turkeys. Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides reported, “Twice this week at the Union post office I heard turkey complaints. Boy, people hate turkeys. You could sell a lot of turkey poison.”
Indeed. At a recent legislative hearing on a bill to increase the turkey bag limit, Rep. Jeff Timberlake, whose family owns a large apple orchard in Turner, gave compelling testimony, suggesting we should allow year-round hunting with no bag limits on turkeys. Yes, Maine farmers hate turkeys.
Jeff reported that their orchard has spent more than $250,000 putting up deer fences, but turkeys just fly over them. And turkeys are very destructive. The population is growing rapidly on their farm, causing more than $1 million in crop damage each year. “They don’t like Macintosh or Cortland apples,” he reported. “They like Honey crest and Gala — the most valuable apples. They take a peck out of every apple. They can devastate an orchard in an afternoon. And they are hard to kill. They are smart. Bringing them to the state of Maine was a terrible mistake,” he concluded.
You could argue that IF&W did make a mistake in reintroducing turkeys here, given the problems they have caused farmers, and the fact that only 16,000 of us hunt them in the spring, and 5,000 in the fall.
The same argument could be made about geese. The state brought geese here beginning in the 1960s to recreate a resident population for hunters. At that time, we only had geese to hunt that were migrating through Maine in the fall. But IF&W did too good a job. Now we are overrun with resident geese, and few hunters pursue them in the special September season when the bag limit is an astonishing 10 geese a day in two zones, and eight in the third zone.
An adult goose poops eight times a day, depositing one-half to 1 pound of droppings, leaving a disgusting, unhealthy mess. As I read last year in a flyer titled “Don’t Feed the Geese,” “Goose droppings are slippery, unsanitary and unsightly. They harbor parasites that may cause human health problems, and they increase algae growth that, in turn, causes fish kills.” Yikes!
At a seminar I attended last year, USDA biologist Ben Nugent said that you can’t shoot problem geese until you get a depredation permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and they would require you to take many other steps before giving you a chance to shoot the nuisance geese. “It takes years before we give permission to shoot them,” said Ben, in response to one of my questions.
We were told at that seminar: “Response must be planned, consistent, persistent, and utilize multiple techniques including habitat modification to have any lasting effect.” Yes, they are talking about ripping out your lawn and planting shrubs that will discourage geese from coming ashore.
You might question why all of this is necessary to shoot a goose in June, while we can shoot 10 of them a day in September. Good question!
Deer are an even bigger issue, now that Lyme disease has become a serious problem. While hunters want high populations of deer, lots of folks aren’t that happy anymore to see deer in their yards.
There will be opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed big game management plans, and those opportunities will be advertised on IF&W’s website, and in my outdoor news blog posted at www.georgesmithmaine.com, if you want to weigh in on these issues.