When the governor signed a bill that jump-started the state’s open-water fishing season on Thursday, he also enacted a number of other provisions in the so-called “omnibus” legislation, which regularly deals with a number of housekeeping matters.
On Monday I caught up with Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, the senate chairman of the state’s joint standing committee on inland fisheries and wildlife.
Bryant was instrumental in shepherding the bill through the Legislature, and is one person you might want to thank for the extra week of open-water fishing.
As far as thanking him for the not-so-friendly fishing weather we’ve had since the bill was signed into law — freezing temperatures followed by pouring rain — well, Bryant has already heard plenty about that.
“Mother Nature is a strange thing, she is,” Bryant said with a chuckle.
I asked Bryant about the thought behind other additions to last week’s bill, and he was happy to offer a bit of explanation.
The DIF&W opted not to comment and referred questions about the law’s provisions to Bryant.
Three other parts of the bill that you may not have heard about:
ä The state will now allow bear hunters to utilize six dogs while pursuing bruins in Maine. The previous law, which was scrapped, limited those hunters to just four dogs.
“Department [of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife] biologists didn’t have a problem, so we allowed six [dogs],” Bryant said. “There were a number of hunters who wanted six dogs.”
At the recent Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono, DIF&W deputy commissioner Paul Jacques told a seminar audience the Legislature made the switch to a four-dog limit several years ago in response to the practices of some unscrupulous bear hunters.
Some hunters would head north with one or two good “strike” dogs, Jacques explained, and view their other dogs as expendable, often leaving them in the woods after a hunt.
Nowadays, that practice has been eliminated, and raising the limit to six dogs made sense to legislators.
ä Coyote hunting has moved onto the front burner among some of the state’s sporting groups, with sporting clubs and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine focusing efforts on encouraging Mainers to shoot more coyotes in order to lessen predation on a struggling deer herd.
In the recently passed law, a new provision was added to the state’s “wanton waste” law, which requires hunters to make serious efforts to retrieve and use wild birds and animals that have been shot while hunting.
Wasting that game is still not allowed, but the new law adds the phrase “this subsection does not apply to coyote.”
Bryant explained that he and his fellow legislators still want hunters to find and use the carcass of coyotes, when possible.
“The main thing, the Warden Service wanted some clarification on the coyote hunting, and we tried to clarify that for them,” Bryant said. “You still have to make an attempt to make use of it. But if it’s past the fur being of any value, it allows it to be exempt from the wanton waste law.”
The problem: Trappers and hunters may sell or use the pelts of coyotes, but some hunters view the critters as deer-killing machines that should exterminated when possible. And some hunters who shoot coyotes while deer hunting don’t have any intention of using the coyote carcass for anything.
According to the letter of the previous law, those who shot coyotes and made no effort to retrieve or utilize the carcasses could have been found in violation.
The new law exempts coyotes from the wanton waste law, but Bryant chooses his words carefully when explaining its purpose.
“We still want people to take [the coyote] out of there, and we still want people to process as much as they can,” Bryant said.
ä Another coyote-related item was also included in the bill: Existing state law doesn’t allow people to “poison, defile or in any way corrupt” any water, such as a lake, pond or river, that is used for domestic drinking purposes.
Included in the unlawful acts: Putting the carcass of any dead animal on those ponds, lakes or rivers.
The new law allows the placing of a carcass on those waters, as long as the carcass is used for bait by those hunting coyotes, and as long as the carcass is removed before the ice melts and the carcass falls into the water.
“The thing was, under the current law, it’s illegal to even put [bait] on the ice,” Bryant said. “It’s a Class A felony.”
But some lakes and ponds offer hunters long, unobstructed shots at coyotes … if the coyotes have a reason to come onto the ice in the first place.
“This effort that we have right here is [related to] a big push on to protect the deer yards. These are some of the issues that the warden service brought to the legislature as needing clarification,” Bryant said.
But Bryant admitted the adjustments that were made last week might have to be tinkered with in the future.
“A lot of times, once you start clarifying a little bit, you run into a lot of hornets’ nests,” Bryant said. “I’m not sure we’re done with that, but this was our first effort to offer some clarification to the warden service.”