GREENVILLE, Maine — When Registered Maine Guide Chris Young learned state biologists are recommending an increase in moose permits, including 50 cow moose tags, in Wildlife Management District 9, he decided to buck the biologists and stand up for a moose herd he says is decreasing.
His online petition via the website Change.org drew 2,000 “signatures,” which he hoped would have necessitated a public hearing in the Greenville area. Young said he since has been informed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that the support he garnered online does not meet the standard of an actual petition.
But Andrea Erskine, deputy commissioner at DIF&W, explained Wednesday that those who oppose any part of the moose permit plan will be heard, whether or not a public hearing is scheduled.
“Submitting written comments, in the view of the department and the [Administrative Practices Act], has the exact same weight as if we’d rented a room and held a public hearing,” Erskine explained.
Not staging a public hearing at this late stage — the proposal is in the final step in a three-step rulemaking process — has it advantages, she said.
“If we initiate rulemaking and we don’t set up a public hearing … [and then] five people from the public request a public hearing, we need to stop the process and set that up,” Erskine said. “Because our moose rulemaking process is so [time sensitive], by the time we get all our moose registration books in [from the previous year’s hunt], get our proposed numbers from our staff, then we have to have an application period [for a permit lottery] and the lottery is held in June. So anything right now that suspends this proposal potentially throws the whole lottery system into disarray.”
Public comments are being accepted until Friday. The DIF&W’s advisory council will discuss the recommendations and pass their opinion to DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock on March 27.
WMD 9 is just east of Moosehead Lake, in an area that recently has been open to moose hunting only during the October six-day hunting season. Last year, 75 permits for antlered animals were allotted in the zone. This year’s proposal calls for 100 bull permits and 50 cow permits during a six-day session in November.
Moose are important to Young, who says they’re important to the region.
“I’m a moose-hunting guide. I hunt them with cameras, and I hunt them with guns. We do both,” he said. “I’m a conservationist, also. And if our animals are on the decrease, which they are, it jeopardizes our ability to see moose here. And I think that our [permit] numbers should be drastically decreased, not increased.
Young said businesses in and around Greenville depend on the presence of moose, and visitors have come to expect to see the burly animals.
“If you went to Greenville and asked people at all the businesses ‘what’s the thing that brings people to your place?’ they’re going to tell you, every time: ‘moose,’” Young said. “And it’s not just people from around here. It’s all over the world. So it’s a huge thing here for our economy. And not even looking at the money part of it, if we lose moose, I’ll leave Greenville. I live here because I love being around moose. I love interacting with them, and I love showing people moose.”
Judy Camuso, wildlife division director at DIF&W, said in a telephone message neither she nor her biologists would comment on Young’s assertion that the number of permits should be decreased because he thinks there are fewer moose on the landscape.
“Our rules don’t allow for us [to comment] because the public comment period is still open,” Camuso said. “We don’t want to sway people’s comments.”
But in a DIF&W memo itemizing the proposed moose-permit levels by WMD, state moose biologist Lee Kantar explained why biologists have recommended an increase.
“We determined that the moose population in WMD 9 is above objective based on aerial composition surveys and current aerial population estimates,” Kantar wrote. “The percentage of mature bulls and sex ratio in this WMD appear to be on target based on management system criteria. In addition, aerial flights show a bull-to-cow ratio that is close to par. The combination of these factors should allow for an additional bull harvest. There has been no cow harvest in this district since 2002. We understand the importance of moose viewing in this district. Therefore, we recommend an initial cow harvest of 50 permits.”
State biologists have been generating new population estimates by flying aerial surveys the past two winters. Young says he doesn’t trust the data and doubts flights over mountainous and coniferous forests in WMD 9 are as effective as they might be in other areas.
“You can tell me that you can fly over [evergreen forests and mountains] and get an accurate number of moose that are there per square mile?” Young said. “You’ve got to go by the guys that are actually in the woods — the hunters and the guides — that are in these areas and live there. I’m one of them.”
Those interested in commenting on the recommended moose permit levels can contact by mail at Becky Orff, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 284 State St., 41 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0041, by emailing Becky.Orff@maine.gov or by calling 207-287-5202.