January 27, 2023

IFW Opts to Manage Moose by Social Demands

I get it! No, I really do get it. People have been told, and they believe, that they “own” the natural resources in their state and therefore they have the right to demand that wildlife biologist base their decisions about wildlife management on the demands of that public. And the public should have a say in decisions about wildlife management…to a point.

If, as has been the case in Maine, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), for whatever reasons, has managed deer populations in many parts of the state at levels nearing or below sustainable levels, I will make my demands as much as the next guy. At the other end of the spectrum, if that same department manages deer populations at such high levels that disease is rampant, starvation persists and personal property is being damaged or destroyed, I also will have my demands.

And, yes, I will be transparent enough here to state that I want MDIFW to manage deer, moose, bear and all game animal species, at levels where hunting is an important tool in controlling numbers. This method has worked well for decades and when implemented correctly and responsibly is extremely valuable to a lot of people and wildlife.

However, I’m confused as to what is going on in one Wildlife Management District (WMD) in the Greenville region of the state. WMD 9 sits just east of Moosehead Lake. MDIFW had made its decision as to how many and of which species of permits would be issued as part of the Moose Lottery to be held in a few weeks in Bethel, Maine.

Residents of the Greenville area became incensed when they discovered that MDIFW planned to increase the number of permits for WMD 9. A public meeting was held in which residents spoke out against any plans to increase permits and, as a matter of fact, mostly demanded a reduction from the previous year’s numbers. Driving that opposition were claims that moose sightings were not prominent and it was hurting tourism business.

I’ve written in the past about MDIFW’s plans for moose management, mostly about how it may concern the presence of the winter ticks, but have not said that much about the social demands that drive wildlife management decisions concerning the moose in Maine.

In a John Holyoke article in the Bangor Daily News, John reports some things that perhaps more outdoor sportsmen should pay attention to.

First off, the article states that it was Commissioner Woodcock who caved in to the demands of the Moosehead Lake area residents.

Camuso said DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock took those public comments into consideration before deciding to return the number of moose permits in that district to 2014 levels — without additional cow permits.

Second, MDIFW, according to the BDN, had confidence in their data and that is what they based their decision to increase permits by.

Camuso said she was confident with the data that biologists have gathered, which was relied on to determine that increasing permits in that district was biologically feasible. But she said that biologists ultimately serve both the animals and the state’s residents, and the people of Greenville made their position quite clear.

“It’s important for people to remember that our jobs as biologists is to manage at a level that’s what the public wants,”

Here we have a clear indication that regardless of moose management plans, regardless of the data or the confidence that MDIFW says it might have in that data, MDIFW has decided to disregard that information in order to placate the demands of the public. One might ask why Maine bothers to conduct aerial surveys, do studies or even have paid biologists. That’s a lot of money for nothing.

It is my opinion that the statement made that it’s the job of a biologists to manage game species at levels demanded by the public, if unfortunate when the possibility exists that such social demands put the animals’ health at risk, if that be the case here. Earlier in the article it is stated that meeting public demands was PART of the equation. It shouldn’t be the driving force however.

But it gets worse. The article states that while MDIFW is preparing rewrites of their 15-year management plans for deer, moose and bear, MIDFW declares:

“Certainly one of the things we’ll be looking to do is to get input from a broad range of people and find out what level do they want, not just for moose but for deer, bear,” she said. “Obviously, we want to maintain healthy animals, but there’s what we call a biological carrying capacity, but we also want to make sure that we’re not exceeding the social carrying capacity, or underachieving the social desires.”

Huh? When MDIFW reviewed their moose data and stated they had confidence in that data when establishing proposals for the allotment of moose permits, was MDIFW attempting to increase moose numbers, decrease moose numbers or maintain the population they thought they had at present? Did they say? Not that I’m aware, but from past history if MDIFW increased permits from a previous year, they were at least attempting to maintain a current population target goal, to perhaps reducing the numbers.

I’ll have to go back and review the moose management plan, not that it gets followed anyway by anybody, but I believe the plan calls for attempting to keep the number of moose in ideal locations at about 80% of the biological carrying capacity. If MDIFW was using that as a guideline when, with the compliment of new data from aerial surveys, they made the proposal for the number and sex of permits to be issued, then lowering the permits might be putting the herd at risk of exceeding carrying capacity.

There needs to be some kind of balance here and in my opinion the balance should not be equally weighted between biological demands and social demands necessarily. There are so many other determining factors. Things on the ground are constantly changing. I understand the desire of businesses in the Greenville area wanting to take advantage of moose viewing and the tourism it might draw. I was quite involved in the tourism business in Maine and New Hampshire for several years. However, simply because people say they don’t see moose on their moose watching trips “like they used to” does that necessarily mean there needs to be more of them?

Most will concur that the ease of sighting a moose has diminished simply because the animal is now hunted and has been, legally, for about 30 years. The places where moose frequented – in large cuttings – are growing up and driving down wood roads in search of moose isn’t as easy a task as it once was. Hunting the creature is more difficult now for many of the same reasons. Were these and all other things considered before Commissioner Woodcock caved in to the demands?

Few will argue that the moose population has dropped over the last 5 years, but MDIFW has not made a definitive statement as to why, other than to guess it’s ticks and global warming. While I don’t consider Mr. Woodcock’s decision to reduce the number of moose permits for WMD 9 something detrimental to the moose herd, I do have to wonder if we should be spending tax dollars to gather data that will ultimately be trumped by social demands. I would like to see Commissioner Woodcock make a statement fully disclosing every factor he used in making his decision – and I hope it is based on more than simply people demanded it.

In addition, if representatives of MDIFW are going to publicly state that the biologists have confidence in the information they used to make recommendations for moose permit allotment, of what value, then, does it really have?