The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is continually looking for ways to increase or improve hunting opportunity where, when and how it can be done without adversely impacting the resource. The agency also must protect wildlife populations where and when they are in decline. As a result, change is inevitable, and 2012 will see its fair share.

The lottery system for Maine’s moose hunt will see big changes this year. Though too numerous and complex to list, they basically involve an alteration of the point system that will supposedly increase the odds for unsuccessful applicants over time. That’s what the old system was supposed to do, so I’m optimistically anxious to see if it works.

I wouldn’t expect much to change with regard to spring turkey hunting. IF&W goes through a rigorous planning process in establishing goals and objectives, then setting seasons, bag limits and the like to accomplish them. It’s prudent to allow several seasons to see if objectives are met before making additional changes.

We’ve seen some pretty significant changes over the last few years — going from a lottery to over-the-counter permits, and doubling the bag limit to two birds. Now it’s time to evaluate the effects of those changes. We’ll probably see more areas open to hunting under the current season framework as turkeys continue expanding in number and area.

Not much is expected to change with deer seasons. Sportsmen and biologists are holding their collective breath to see what this winter holds in terms of severity and associated deer mortality. A mild winter might bring a few more any-deer permits, while a rough winter will do the opposite.

Further down the road, we might see some more substantial changes. Maine’s deer herd is in rough shape, particularly in northern and Down East regions. IF&W released a plan last year designed to address some of the principal issues. To a large extent, however, it consists of some slight modification or enhancement of existing management programs. If it doesn’t work, sportsmen will be looking for more substantive changes.

The expanded archery season is probably due for some re-evaluation. The original impetus for this season was to reduce “problem” deer numbers, primarily in the more densely populated areas in terms of both humans and deer.

The human population and its associated development continue to grow while deer numbers have steadily declined. I hunt these areas regularly, and the only problems I’ve experienced are more hunters and fewer deer, in an area with virtually no limit on antlerless deer.

Serious consideration is now being given to a spring bear season. Traditionally, Maine had a spring season, but the practice ended in the early 1980s. Recent bills to restore a spring season were defeated, in no small part due to opposition from Maine guides, and with good reason.

The declining deer herd has placed more importance on bear hunting for many guides and outfitters.

Spring bear hunting generally has a much higher success rate, and removing too many bears in the spring could result in less hunting opportunity (shorter seasons) and lower success rates in the fall.

Research from several other states has shown bears to be a significant predator on deer. No research has been conducted in Maine, but it’s no mere coincidence that those areas with the most bears also have the fewest deer. Reducing the bear populations there could help with efforts to restore the deer herd. And now that Maine guides and outfitters are behind the idea of a spring season, it may gain more momentum.

Change is difficult, especially in a state like Maine. The planners and biologists at IF&W give careful consideration to any proposals, and considerable weight to public input. But change will come, hopefully for the better.

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