Bill would increase number of moose permits for 2011 hunting season

Nicholas Barnes (left), 15, his uncle John Cox and father, Billy Barnes, all of Edmunds, help secure Cox's 793-pound bull moose after it was tagged and weighed at Gateway Variety in Ashland in September 2010.
Bridget Brown | BDN FILE
Nicholas Barnes (left), 15, his uncle John Cox and father, Billy Barnes, all of Edmunds, help secure Cox's 793-pound bull moose after it was tagged and weighed at Gateway Variety in Ashland in September 2010.
Posted May 20, 2011, at 5:22 p.m.
Last modified May 21, 2011, at 5:27 p.m.

Many prospective moose hunters have griped about buying chances in the annual moose permit lottery for 10, 20 or 30 years, only to find out each June that their name had not been drawn.

A legislative committee took action on a bill Friday afternoon that would help make 21 percent more hunters happy during next month’s permit lottery: If passed, LD 291 will make an additional 657 moose permits available for this year’s hunt, as well as tweak other rules designed to give every applicant a more equal shot at the highly coveted permits in coming years. If passed, that would bring the total of moose permits to a record 3,862 for this fall’s hunts, which are staged in seasons from late September through November.

According to Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife deputy commissioner Andrea Erskine, the committee included several other provisions in LD 291 that wouldn’t take effect until 2012:

  1. Allowing Maine residents to purchase only one chance in the lottery, instead of the six that is now permitted. The one chance would cost $15. This year’s in-state entrants had an option of buying one chance for $7, three chances for $12 or six chances for $22. Non-residents, who are prohibited from winning more than 10 percent of the available permits, would still be allowed to buy multiple chances.
  2. Raising the non-resident permit fee, which is paid after an applicant’s name is drawn in the lottery, from $484 to $585. The Maine resident permit fee would remain unchanged at $52.
  3. Allowing successful applicants to choose their sub-permittee, or second shooter, after the lottery is held instead of during the lottery application period.
  4. Mandating a three-year “sit out” period for hunters after their names have been drawn for a moose permit. The current wait is two years.
  5. Allowing those waiting for the chance to re-enter the moose lottery system to continue to pay $15 to enter the moose lottery so that they can accrue “bonus points” even while they’re not eligible to win a permit. Bonus points are extra lottery chances awarded to applicants — one for every consecutive year that they’re unsuccessful in having their names drawn.

The DIF&W sets permit numbers according to its rule-making process, during which proposals advance through three steps over a period of several weeks. In earlier action, the DIF&W had approved the allotment of 3,205 permits for this fall’s hunt. But during discussion of a number of moose-related bills earlier in this legislative session, the DIF&W indicated to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries & Wildlife that it might be able to add a substantial number of permits for 2011.

By including the additional moose permits as “unallocated language” in the bill, the committee has forwarded a bill that won’t affect statutes in the future, Erskine said, but allows the DIF&W to leapfrog the rule-making process and put the additional permits on a fast track for the 2011 season.

“As part of [testimony offered on the various bills] we had indicated that we were partway through a survey. [Biologists] were doing moose survey work at the same time that they were doing the deer aerial surveys,” Erskine said on Thursday, before the legislative work session that resulted in this version of LD 291.

“So we indicated that if [the committee] would give us time to complete those surveys, we would have better data that could indicate more permits could be issued,” Erskine said on Thursday, a day before a committee work session that would cobble together elements of the moose bills. “That was the case. So now we’re tyring to figure out how to get them into the system for this year.”

Maine’s head deer and moose biologist, Lee Kantar, has said in the past that the aerial surveys would help further illuminate the status of the state’s moose herd, the size of which has been the subject of heavy debate over the years. The DIF&W has traditionally taken a conservative approach to permit allocation and increases. With better data available, the addition of permits was deemed biologically feasible.

The added permits —- the vast majority of which would allow hunters to shoot non-antlered moose —- would be awarded in Wildlife Management Districts 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8. Those districts are in northern and northwestern Maine.

Maine’s modern moose hunt began as a one-year experiment in 1980, then began on an annual basis in 1982. A permit lottery determines who will be allowed to hunt moose each year and in recent years has been held in locations around the state. This year’s lottery will be held at the Cabela’s store in Scarborough on June 18.

Matt Dunlap, the interim executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, served on a five-member DIF&W working group that was formed earlier in this legislative session to examine the issues that were raised in seven moose-related bills and to make recommendations to the joint standing committee that could be combined for use in one or two bills. Also on the working group: John Boland, Bill Swan and Warden Lt. Tom Ward of the DIF&W, and moose hunting guide Roger Lambert. Dunlap said a common sentiment resonated in each of the bills studied.

“What we were really looking at as a working group was the underlying theme of each bill, which is, ‘The hunt’s not fair. The lottery’s not fair. People put in for year after year after year and they never get drawn.’ But everybody knows somebody that’s been on seven or eight hunts.”

The result of that attitude is that many prospective hunters eventually become disenchanted with their lack of success in the lottery system and simply refuse to enter at all, Dunlap said.

“What’s happened as a net result of that is they’ve seen the participation in the lottery, in terms of the sheer number of people putting in, really decline over the years,” Dunlap said. “It’s probably not half of what it used to be. People just give up and say, ‘I’m never going to get drawn.’”

The numbers seem to support Dunlap’s assertion: In 2010, just 49,729 people — the second-lowest total ever —- applied for the 3,140 available permits. The record low, 36,636, was set in the first year of the modern moose hunt, 1980. In 1994, a record high 94,532 applicants signed up for a chance to win one of 1,200 permits.

Limiting lottery participants to a single entry each year was a priority that DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock is committed to, Erskine and Dunlap said. Dunlap said that he often heard complaints from those who said their inability to pay the necessary fees for more chances in the drawing put them at a competitive disadvantage to those who could afford to pay.

“We really wanted to address the fairness issue of it and a vast number of people out there sort of perceive a multiple-chance lottery as being inherently unfair,” Dunlap said. “If you’re a working-class person and you’ve got two or three kids and you want to buy chances for them, you can’t afford the 22 bucks for each person in your family [to receive the maximum six chances allowed to Maine residents]. It’s a lot of money.”

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