GORHAM — A lightly attended meeting Thursday on Maine’s request for a federal permit for a trapping program was an anticlimactic chapter in the long effort.

No more than 20 people turned out at the University of Southern Maine for the third of three public meetings held this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on what could be the first such federal permit for a trapping program. Officials and trappers at the meeting said they think the permit might be granted.

“I’m surprised there are not more people, said Mark McCollough,” a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist from Orono. “There were about 36 at the other two meetings (in Orono and Presque Isle), and mostly trappers. Considering there were two lawsuits (against Maine for its trapping program), I thought there would be more people.”

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife now is paying hunters and trappers to target coyotes in deer yards to decrease the coyote population enough to help the dwindling deer herd.

The federal government is considering how the special permit could allow Maine’s trapping program to continue at past levels and still protect Canada lynx, an endangered species.

In 2006, a lawsuit against the state prompted restrictions on trapping, including rules that prevent trappers from using foothold traps with jaws larger than 5 and 3/8 inches in diameter.

In 2008, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife applied for the incidental-take permit to allow the state’s trapping program to continue without restrictions in northern Maine, where lynx live.

Maine recently submitted its application for the permit, which would allow occasional, incidental trapping of Canada lynx.

“Other trapping states are watching this process closely,” McCollough said.

McCollough told those who showed up Thursday that there has been pressure for the Fish and Wildlife Service to finish the permitting process in Maine.

“There is interest in this permit to (help) trap coyotes or control coyotes in northern Maine. (Gov. Paul LePage) wrote a letter to the service asking to help preserve the northern Maine deer herd, and asked this permitting process get done. And the Maine Legislature drafted a resolve asking that it get done,” McCollough said during a break in the public forum.

Trappers seemed cautiously optimistic as they listened to a panel discussion by state and federal biologists in USM’s Bailey Hall.

The federal permit would protect Maine trappers from being sued for taking lynx in traps if they follow all state and federal trapping laws. The permit would allow for a limited number of lynx to be taken incidentally by Maine trappers. The number is still being determined by the state and federal wildlife agencies.

“I hope they get it. I’m a little skeptical. But I hope so,” said Dave Bridges of Kennebunkport. “I have a camp Down East in the new (regulated trapping) area. I want to be able to trap there.”

McCollough said the pressure from LePage and the Legislature to hurry the process could lead to the permit being issued by the next trapping season, next fall.

“It’s a high priority for our office right now,” said McCollough.

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