AUGUSTA — State wildlife biologists have been given a new road map for managing Maine’s four big-game species – bear, moose, turkey and deer – with a mandate to do a better job educating the public about wildlife issues.

The state’s new Big Game Management Plan, which will be released in the coming week, is the latest version of wildlife management strategies that have been used by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife for the past half-century. Maine residents have had a say in the plans since 1989.

This plan was three years in the making and never before has the public been so involved. It had a 14-member steering committee as well as subcommittees that included members of the public. There were focus groups and a $60,000 statewide survey conducted by Responsive Management in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Seventy-five percent of survey respondents said they knew a lot about deer, but only half said they knew much about moose or wild turkey, and 44 percent said they had knowledge of black bears.

“Some people didn’t know what kind of bear we had in Maine,” said Belgrade hunter Erin Merrill, a member of the bear subcommittee.

As part of the new plan, Mainers can expect to see more black bear hunted in future years as the state works to thin a growing population, either through expanded hunting opportunities or recruiting more hunters. There will be more wild turkeys hunted as state biologists try to minimize human conflicts with the birds. They also can expect to see moose permits increase as state biologists try to maintain a healthy herd in the face of winter tick infestation; and they can expect to hear state biologists talk less about how many deer there are in Maine and more about how healthy the deer herd appears to be.

Maine’s Big Game Management Plans have been unveiled at roughly 15-year intervals – the last one was released in 2001.

Bob Cordes, Maine’s wildlife special projects coordinator, said the new plan is focused on managing the health of a herd or population, rather than trying to reach a certain population number.

For example, the previous goal for whitetail deer was to achieve 20 deer per square mile in southern Maine, 15 per square mile in central Maine and 10 per square mile up north. Now the goal is to maintain a healthy herd as indicated by other biological information, such as antler beam diameter in bucks or the buck-to-doe ratio among deer taken by hunters.

“There is no absolute density (number),” Cordes said. “There is more flexibility now in management.”

The statewide population of more than 35,000 black bears is too big and needs to be kept in check. Education is critical so the IFW receives informed public input on whether to increase the bag limit, season or other change other hunting parameters.

“It has been managed on a statewide basis, now it may become more localized,” Cordes said.

Wild turkeys, which were only reintroduced in Maine 40 years ago, now thrive in most parts of the state. As a result, the goal now is to “ensure public satisfaction with the wild turkey population,” as well as to promote hunting participation.

The 5-year moose radio collar study has shown that the population will be more resistant to winter tick infestation if it’s smaller – rather than larger for easier wildlife watching – so more hunting permits will be issued, said Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso.

To achieve all of the goals, educating the public has taken on new significance, Camuso said.

Four years ago, a fund was created by the Legislature to raise public awareness about wildlife and hunting, paid for with $1 from the sale of every hunting license. This has been coupled with matching federal funds to total $570,000, Camuso said.

Turkey hunting guide Jim Wescott, a member of the turkey committee, said much needs to be done to educate the public about turkeys – and he hopes the department will do more.

“People think turkey are evil,” Wescott said. “They don’t degrade the habitat. If anything, they eat ticks, which helps. The department can help better educate the public if they implement their plan, if they follow through.”

Merrill, 35, said she and others on the black bear steering committee plan to meet on their own a year after the plan is released to make sure the department follows through.

“I hope they take steps to improve awareness of wildlife and hunting, to put (the plan) into action,” Merrill said. “I want to make sure I didn’t just sign my name to a piece of paper.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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