March 29, 2013

OUTDOORS: Answers from Woodcock

By Gary Hawkins
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A few mild winters, coupled with efforts by large landowners and initiatives from the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, have helped Maine's deer herd rebound.

This issue and a variety of others important to outdoorsmen were addressed by IF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock during a seminar Friday at the 33rd State of Maine Sportsman's Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

The former English teacher, basketball coach and state senator expounded on a number of subjects from the department's funding issues to a controversial bill that would ban live bait on nine Maine waters to help preserve the wild brook trout population.

Woodcock touted three initiatives undertaken by his department which are scheduled to take effect this year. First, there is a dramatic proposed increase in any-deer permits from 34,000 last year to 46,000 this year. Just two years ago the numbers of permits had dipped to 26,000, the product of bad winters from 2008-21010.

Woodcock admitted mild winters are the best antidote for a declining deer herd, but said his department has also tried to help, particularly in northern Maine, by trying to eliminate coyotes from 35 targeted deer yards. The department paid an average of $100 for approximately 500 coyotes that were trapped and killed last year by hunters who were paid mileage for their efforts if they desired.

"I think the result has been a gradual increase (in the deer herd)," Woodcock said.

The department has also worked with large landowners and land trusts to increase and preserve deer habitat. Ideally, 10 percent of the state's land would serve at habitat for deer but that number is currently three percent.

Woodcock noted most of the deer in the state are in more densely populated southern Maine and the department is working to restore a balance to the herd.

"They're coming back in the big woods," he said.

The state has also increased moose permits this year to 3,000 to 4,100 although many hunters have called for even more.

Thirdly, the state is on the verge of an agreement with the Federal government to allow incidental take permits (ITPs) for trappers who accidentally trapped Canadian lynx, an endangered species. This is related to coyotes trappers who sometimes find lynx in their trap and are subject to heavy fines. It would allow a certain number of lynx to be taken without penalty.

Woodcock added that non-lethal constraint devices that would preserve the lynx are also part of the plan.

The funding issue is a tough one for the department which relies on funds from licenses and other fees and receives no money form the legislature. Woodcock said revenue from this winter has been decent because of snow in the mountains and in areas frequented by snowmobilers. The department took a big hit last year in snowmobile registrations because of lack of snow.

The commissioner also touched on the department's search and rescue operations, which are mandated by law. The issue of billing those who are rescued has been both tried and debated.

"We don't want to become a bill collection agency," Woodcock said. "Besides, how do you define who you bill."

A bill to ban live bait in nine northern Maine waters has drawn the ire of ice fishermen. The proposal originally considered 16 Maine waters -- there are more than 2,300 in the state -- but no longer includes the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The transport of live bait is believed to introduce species detrimental to wild brook trout into Maine waters. A debate over evidence has ensued but Woodcock cited studies in the Allagash that prove the department's point.

"It's not an ice-fishing discussion," he said. "We think those brook trout are important. We want to be responsible with that resource."

A registered Maine guide asked if more could be done to educate children in schools about hunting and the outdoors in general. Woodcock said game wardens regularly address students and he believes the anti-hunting sentiment is changing. Admitting there are extremists on both sides, he said the issue has been reframed and most people are satisfied when wildlife is properly managed.

Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638


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