The nominee to become the first woman commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife faced a friendly room on Wednesday during her confirmation hearing in front of the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The committee approved her nomination by a 11-0 vote. That nomination will now advance before the whole Senate for approval.
In all, 13 people testified in favor of Judy Camuso, while another testified neither for nor against. Nobody testified against her nomination.
Early in the hearing, Camuso became choked up when she thanked Gov. Janet Mills for nominating her to become the first woman commissioner in the department’s history.
Camuso noted that while the majority of licensed hunters and anglers in the state are men, there’s no reason why hunting and fishing can’t be a fun pastime for anyone looking to get outdoors.
“I’ll work to change that,” she said, speaking softly.
Later in her remarks, Camuso said that on many occasions, she has encountered people who don’t understand the role that women play in the wildlife department, as biologists, wardens or supervisors, and make incorrect assumptions.
“I’ve been in full uniform, in my state truck, and I’ve been asked if I’m a game warden’s wife,” Camuso said, highlighting the climate she’d like to help change.
In opening remarks, Camuso highlighted her experience, and told the committee that the biggest changes facing the department are climate change, engagement, access and funding.
In order to communicate with the public, Camuso said stability in the department’s information and education division is essential. The director of that division is an appointed job, and she said six people have served in that position over the last 10 years. More stability in the information and education division would help the wildlife department improve its marketing, social media and web design, she said.
The commissioner is entitled to choose his or her own deputy commissioner and the chief of the Maine Warden Service. Camuso said that if confirmed, she planned to retain Tim Peabody as her deputy and Col. Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service in their current roles.
Rep. Rick Mason of Lisbon Falls addressed a hot-button topic when he asked if Camuso would be willing to consider supporting Sunday hunting in the North Woods.
Sunday hunting has been proposed dozens of times over the last three decades, and has been consistently shot down by the Legislature.
“Rep. Mason, you and I both know that I can’t answer that question in this setting,” Camuso said, eliciting laughter in the hearing room. “Nice try, though.”
Camuso described herself as a novice hunter, but said that wild game meat is her preference. She said she’s trying to learn to be more comfortable with firearms, which has been a bit of a barrier to her participation.
While most who spoke before the committee were generally approving, John Glowa Sr. of China, a frequent critic of the department, described Maine government as “broken,” and wondered aloud if Camuso was the right person to correct what he sees as a system biased toward hunters and anglers.
“Maine does not need an IF&W commissioner who will maintain the status quo of a broken and corrupt system,” said Glowa, who referenced her role fighting a referendum that would have changed Maine’s bear hunting methods as evidence.
Camuso has served as wildlife division director since 2013. Before that, she was an assistant regional wildlife biologist from 2007 until 2012, and special projects coordinator in 2013. Before joining the department, she served as Gilsland Farm Center Director at Maine Audubon from 1996-2007.
Camuso is an avid birder and hunter who enjoys canoeing, hiking and biking. She graduated from the University of Vermont and lives in Freeport.
As the director of the wildlife division, Camuso oversees all wildlife program activities, including all research and monitoring programs, hunting and trapping seasons, endangered species management, and all habitat management activities, according to the press release.
In all, she manages a staff of 45 wildlife professionals, and the wildlife division oversees more than 60 wildlife management areas covering more than 106,000 acres.