For several months leading up to the 2014 vote on the bear-baiting referendum, wildlife management was among the most popular and divisive topics in Maine politics.

The electorate for the most part has moved on, but the difficult work of crafting management plans that satisfy residents with different interests and disparate goals goes on at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which this month is holding a series of public hearings to help guide changes to how the state handles bear, deer, moose and turkeys.

So now is the time to speak up, and not just for outdoorsmen and women.

It’s not only hunters and hunting guides — as well as lodge and restaurant owners — that have a stake in the size of the moose population in different parts of the state, but also the tourism industry, as well as anybody who would like to see more of the animal in the wild.

The same is true for bear, deer and turkeys. With each animal, the size of the population impacts not only hunters, guides and the people who serve them, but landowners, motorists, and the businesses who depend on hikers, nature photographers and other visitors, too.

Each of these groups has a different view on how to manage wildlife. Some favor hunting over tourism, or vice versa. Some are more concerned about the health of a certain species, or nuisance animals, or the methods that are used to control population.

The wildlife department must weigh these often-competing points of view to craft management plans that are a reflection of residents’ values and goals.

That’s no small task.

Hunters, for instance, may want policies that lead to greater numbers of deer, bear and moose. That would improve the odds of a successful hunt, but also of waking up to find a bear in your trash, or a deer in your garden.

What residents say now will inform the department on how to deal with these issues, and lead to real changes in what happens in and around the woods. Hunting areas could be expanded or contracted, bag limits increased or decreased, seasons lengthened or shortened.

Any of those changes would effect a lot of Mainers, so the more voices that are heard, the better.

The process starts Wednesday with meetings on bear management in Portland and Presque Isle, with more meetings in coming weeks. Information can be found at maine.gov/ifw, and residents can weigh in any time at metownhall.org.

This is a rare opportunity to shape wildlife management policy in Maine, and we hope residents can recapture the passion and excitement of November 2014.

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