Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series of stories about newly appointed Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner Judy Camuso and her priorities as she charts the agency’s course into the future.
When Judy Camuso took over as commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on Jan. 30, she did so with an advantage over all of her recent predecessors: She had 12 years of intimate knowledge of the agency she was about to lead.
Camuso has hit the ground running and has begun prioritizing the kinds of changes that could help her department manage Maine’s diverse challenges and responsibilities.
Her priorities include restructuring some staff positions to help broaden their perspective on issues involving native fish and invasive species statewide. In the wildlife division, one area of focus is making decisions about how to best pursue their three major management plans.
Camuso also wants to work with the Warden Service to build on its landowner relations program.
Camuso said several people already have reached out to say they thought the fisheries division could benefit from being structured more similarly to the wildlife division. The difference in staffing — 43 wildlife staffers versus only 23 in the fisheries division — will make that a challenge, she said.
But there is room for change.
Camuso said she has talked to the fisheries director about altering some people’s job descriptions so the DIF&W can address issues such as native fish and invasive species on a statewide level, rather than with a regional focus. She has made a departmental budget request to accommodate plans that would allow for that.
A full-time planner would be stationed in Augusta, while two others — a native fish specialist and an invasive species specialist — would work out of Bangor.
One common complaint among some fisheries activists is that Maine’s regional fisheries biologists have too much power over their individual areas, and that more standardized control is needed. Camuso said regional biologists know the most about the ponds and lakes near them, but a wider perspective can add balance to discussions.
“I think our fisheries director, Francis [Brautigam], has been working very effectively with the regional staff, and making sure that everybody is trying to think beyond just water body to water body, and trying to think a bit more regionally,” Camuso said.
When it comes to the wildlife division, Camuso had plenty of praise for the group’s work collecting and analyzing data, along with running its research and habitat management programs.
With that said, Camuso said the division staff can’t do everything at once and must balance what it would like to do with what it can accomplish.
“The goal for the wildlife staff is to prioritize what we can do, because we do have limited staff, and we have limited funding.”
Camuso said the division has three different management plans: One for big game, one for non-game species, and another, which is under development, that covers furbearers. The non-game plan alone has 1,600 listed actions the division may want to tackle.
That’s simply not possible, so setting priorities ahead of time is essential. So is letting Mainers know they helped determine the actions the department ultimately takes.
“I want people to know that all of those plans — the two that are done and the ones that are coming — were done with public input,” Camuso said.
Camuso also said the variety of data that has been gathered in recent years on a variety of species — including moose, deer, bears and turkeys — continues, and will continue to help inform departmental decisions.
A third area of responsibility for Camuso: the warden service.
“I will work to support and enhance our landowner relations program. So much of what we do is dependent on access to land that is owned by others,” said Camuso, who stressed that will be a top priority for her and the department.
Another point of emphasis will be trying to make the state’s hunting and fishing rules easier to understand.
“[We need] to simplify our rules and regulations so that [the warden service] can focus on repeat and intentional violators,” she said. “Some of our rules [involving] fishing and trapping are pretty complicated, and can be a challenge for staff to understand, let alone the public.”
Another priority: Taking advantage of technological advances to provide updated services to people who are supportive of and interested in pursuing outdoor activities in Maine. Camuso said that will included a web-based fishing regulations app and other web-based tools that will show people where they can go on state-owned land to recreate.