Is Micro-Management of
Maine's Fish and Wildlife
Good or Bad?

By Stu Bristol

Every inch of Maine's nearly 17 million acres of real estate falls under the control of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Every deer, every bear every chipmunk and every dragonfly is dependent upon how the Department's biologists and law enforcement personnel interact with the outside influences on the wild environment. Increased pressure is being exerted by developers and urbanites who seek the peace and serenity Maine wilderness has to offer. Towns and cities are plagued by the growing"sprawl" and hunters, anglers and all species of fish and wildlife are being "micro-managed."

It's easy to understand how a backyard vegetable garden works. We dig up a plot of ground, free it of rocks, and plant neat rows of vegetable seeds or partially-grown plants. Throughout the growing season we water the seeds and plants and remove unwanted vegetation (weeds) and in the fall we harvest the fruits of our labor. We have complete control over everything that grows in that plot of dirt.

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Imagine the chaos if your neighbor had the only avenue of access to portions of your garden and wouldn't allow you to pull weeds or water your vegetables. On a larger scale, apply the same reasoning to diary or beef farmers, then to fish and wildlife species.

Farmers know how to best manage their property and livestock to achieve the maximum yield for market, and the same rule of thumb is true with fish and wildlife managers. Imagine if farmers were forced to keep double or triple the carrying capacity of livestock in one meadow without tending to the sick or supplementing their feed, as fish and wildlife managers are being forced to do.

In the Maine wilderness, fish and wildlife species roam freely. They seek out food and shelter on their own and disease or predators help to maintain a balance of livestock to carrying capacity of the land.

Other than a few bobcats and coyotes, man is the chief predator for species such as deer, bear, moose and wild turkey. If hunters are not allowed access these species of wildlife statewide, pockets of mismanaged environments form.

Peaks Island and others along suburban communities along the coast are prime examples. Deer were left to roam the island and propagate unfettered by predators. After years of population growth and no predators, the population had over-stepped its food sources and turned to alternate domestic food sources such as shrubs and gardens, planted by the human inhabitants of the island.

IF&W chose not to upset the island residents by sending in Game Wardens to kill off the deer herd, and "the inmates were allowed to run the asylum" so to speak. Residents of Peaks Island dictated how and when the deer would be managed, not the Department biologists.

If there were a population of cats, dogs or cattle on Peaks Island instead of deer and the animals became overpopulated, individual homeowners on the island would be forced to take action. Some may even be charged with cruelty to animals.

Instead, their solution to wild animal management was to hire a sharpshooter to come on the island, at night, using a silencer so as not to alarm residents, kill most of the deer (250 or so) then get the dead carcasses off the island by daybreak. When the population again reaches problem proportions, I assume the same management technique will be employed again.

Is this type of management in the best interest of fish and game species? As sprawl takes over more and more acreage and fish and wildlife are forced to endure less than ideal living conditions, will sharpshooters take over the predatory role currently occupied by hunters? Will our Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife yield to political pressure again and again?

Maine has the dubious honor of being the most highly taxed state in America. When our tax structure reached it's maximum, politicians sold the legislature on the idea of scratch tickets and megabucks lotteries. It's true some of the money goes to fish and wildlife conservation projects, but is gambling a viable option?

There still isn't enough money to satisfy the liberal agenda of the Maine Legislature, so lawmakers are now looking to add casino style gambling.

Maine hunters, according to a University of Maine study, contribute between $183 million and $290 million to the state's economy each year. Anglers contribute another $300 - $494 million. If "sprawl" continues to diminish the hunting opportunities and license sales continue to drop, will those homeowners who took over our roles as stewards of fish and wildlife be asked to make up the difference?

Put the money issue aside for a moment and concentrate just on the management problems biologists face right now due to "micro-management."

When Gerald Levigne formulates his deer management plan or other Project Leaders formulate grouse, rabbit, bear and turkey management programs, how do "posted" land and land trusts that do not allow hunting or angling fit into those plans?

Should we ask the Legislature to set up an increased taxation system aimed at landowners that do not allow public access to fish and wildlife? Is it fair to just not manage fish and wildlife on lands and waters not accessible to the public?

Other states have "wildlife" stamps and permits to offset this problem. Still others have a taxation fee similar to our boat registration, for floating docks and slips. Should Maine be looking at similar programs before it's too late?

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is charged, on our behalf, with the stewardship of all critters and finny things large and small, game and non-game, regardless of where they reside. But should licensed hunters, trappers and anglers be forced to pay for management of fish and wildlife they have no access to?

Certainly, we should not stock waters that have no public access. If Lake owners associations block public access then IF&W should stock the fish if that is in the best interest of the species in those waters, but perhaps we should send the rearing and stocking bill to the associations.

A loosely-knit group of waterfowl hunters blocked the City of Biddeford from sneaking past a "No Firearms Discharge" ordinance last month. The big watchdog organizations such as SAM and others were made aware of the problem and were asked to help. No help came and the small group of about two dozen hunters acting on their own was able to save half the viable waterfowl hunting territory in southern Maine. If "Micro-management" due to urban sprawl is not being adequately addressed by our watchdogs, perhaps it's time for individual hunters, anglers and trappers to take back the reins.

Stu Bristol is a freelance outdoor writer living in Lyman. His weekly newspaper columns and monthly features have appeared nationwide for over thirty years. Visit www.stubristol.com to check out more of his stories.


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