Maine Trappers Association August 2010 Report

President — Dana Johnson Sr., 115 Thompson St., Wells, ME 04090; phone: 207-646-5467

Vice President — Dave Wilson, 76 Drummond Rd., Sidney, ME 04330; phone: 207-458-0590

Secretary — Pat Favolise, 115 Farnsworth Rd., Columbia, ME 04623; phone: 207-483-4779

Treasurer
— Linda Bridges, 93 Arundel Road, Kennebunkport, ME 04606; phone: 207-967-4237

Editor — Gary Sewell, 262 Lake Rd., Monticello, ME 04760; phone: 207-538-0945

Membership Director — Ted Perkins, 1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449; phone: 207-947-5109

Legislative Liaison — Norm (Skip) Trask, P.O. Box 265, Readfield, ME 04365; phone: 207-685-4643

NTA Director — Brian Cogill, 416 Moulton Hill Rd., Parsonsfield, ME 04047; phone: 207-793-4605

Membership Options:

• Regular with The Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $31
• Supporting with The Trapper & Predator Caller subscription — $36
• Junior (under 16 years) with subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller — $16
• Family (up to 2 adults and all children under 18 yrs.) with subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller — $34
• Regular lifetime (under age 65) — $235
Plus $11 per year for subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller
• Senior lifetime (65 yrs. and older) — $110
Plus $11 per year for subscription to The Trapper & Predator Caller

Complete membership application on first page of association section and send dues to:

MTA Membership Director
Ted Perkins
1826 Hudson Rd., Hudson, ME 04449

LEGISLATIVE LIASON’S REPORT

New Administration Will Impact Outdoor Activities

Another gubernatorial election is just around the corner! When Maine voters elect a new Governor on November 2nd, we’ll be starting a chain reaction resulting in the replacement of many bureaucrats who’ve been making policy decisions about our natural resources. The departments of Fish and Wildlife, Conservation, Agriculture and Marine Resources will likely have new commissioners and deputy commissioners. Even some Bureau Directors will be replaced. The new Governor will have new advisors in his or her office making recommendations on issues related to the outdoors.

Many of us who represent groups and organizations whose members rely on natural resources for their livelihood or recreation have been looking forward to this election with enthusiasm. While there are a couple of high-ranking officials we’d like to have stay where they are, a major change in philosophy among top Administration officials is a top priority. For too long we’ve been fighting to keep the current Administration from consolidating our small constituent-focused natural resource agencies. For too long we’ve been fighting to keep our public lands open to all user groups, both consumptive and non-consumptive. For too long we’ve been trying to keep the State from deciding what forms of outdoor recreation will be allowed on privately owned lands. Even as I’m writing this article, we’re trying to make sure that the Administration in Augusta and the Administration in Washington DC don’t “cut a deal” behind our backs that gives the Feds regulatory authority over millions of acres of Maine’s working forests. Maybe 2010 will bring the change in direction that we’ve been working toward. Maybe this will be the year we elect a Governor who understands and appreciates the economic impact of hunting, fishing, trapping and guiding and is willing to commit the funds necessary to properly manage the natural resources that these activities require.

When was the last time we had someone in the Blaine House who actually hunted? My best guess is that it was back in the 50s when Ed Muskie was Governor. We missed a chance to place an avid hunter on the November ballot when Steve Abbott failed to win the Republican primary last month. Word on the street around the Augusta area is that the gubernatorial candidates who survived the primary elections, Senate President Libby Mitchell (Democrat) and Waterville Mayor Paul LePage (Republican), will have a tough time getting elected this fall. Mitchell is viewed by many as too liberal and LePage as too conservative. If that thinking holds true, the stage will be set for Maine to have another Independent Governor (the third Independent of the six most recent Governors).

Three Independent gubernatorial candidates will appear on the November ballot: Shawn Moody of Gorham (owner of Moody’s Collision Centers), Kevin Scott of Andover (owner of a high tech employment firm) and Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth (an attorney who was born and raised in Bangor and who began his legal career working in Washington DC for Ed Muskie). Of the three Independent candidates, Cutler appears to be the only serious contender at this point in time. In my next newsletter report, I hope to be able to give you information about how each of the five candidates feels about our way of life and the natural resources that make our life-style possible.

Elowe Leaving Fish and Wildlife

Dr. Ken Elowe is leaving his position at the Fish and Wildlife Department, effective July 30, 2010. Ken has been with the Department for more than 20 years. When he first joined the Department, he served as project leader for the bear and furbearer groups. Over the past 12 years, Ken has served as the Director of the Bureau of Resource Management at the Department – the top fish and wildlife biologist in the State. Ken is leaving the Department to accept a position as Assistant Regional Director of Science Applications at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Region 5 Headquarters in Hadley, Massachusetts.

Earlier in life, Ken trapped and hunted with hounds and, throughout his stint with the Department, has remained a strong advocate of trapping and hunting with the use of dogs. He played a key role in helping defeat the 2004 ballot initiate that would have banned bear trapping as well as hunting for bear with dogs and over bait. More recently he was the State’s expert witness in the lynx lawsuit that threatened to shut down trapping in the northern half of the state. In deciding the lawsuit in favor of the State and Maine trappers, Federal Judge John Woodcock stated that he had relied heavily on the testimony presented by Dr. Elowe.

While the MTA may not have agreed with every furbearer related decision that Ken made over the past two decades, we always felt that our concerns were considered, and our working relationship with Ken has remained strong. We’re going to miss Ken and the role he played in helping to keep our trapping heritage alive. I personally have enjoyed a long positive relationship with Ken, and I’m going to miss being able to give him a call at any time, at work or at home, and get the help I need. We all wish him well in his new endeavor and expect to hear a lot of good things about his accomplishments at the federal level.

SAM Looking For New Executive Director

George Smith is also stepping down from the position he has held at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine for nearly twenty years. He will remain at SAM for the remainder of 2010 and help train his replacement.

Over the past 18 years, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has withstood its share of controversy. Several times throughout that period I’ve been thoroughly convinced that George Smith would either be forced out or walk away in frustration. Needless to say, I’ve been wrong every time! I frequently refer to George as a survivor. Not only that, he’s a heck of a lobbyist! Whether you agree with him or not, you can’t help but admire his passion, his tenacity and his intense desire to come out on top.

I’ve known George for longer than either of us probably cares to admit. I got to know him really well when we worked side-by-side, day in and day out, for a year-and-a-half leading up to the 2004 bear referendum. We were part of a larger team of decision makers, but George was clearly the “top dog”. I doubt we’d have defeated the referendum without him. A short time later, George and I were on opposite sides of the contentious Sunday hunting battle. We’ve been on opposite sides of the fence a few other times. Through it all, our relationship has remained the same. I’ve always considered George to be a good friend even when we were at odds.

Whenever a really tough trapping bill would come along, George was usually one of the first to volunteer his help. Several times he reminded me that he didn’t know a lot about trapping, but if I would tell him what needed to be said, he say it. Then he’d jump in with both feet, and work really hard to do what was best for the future of trapping. George has done a lot for the sportsmen and sportswomen of Maine. Things won’t be the same at SAM after he’s gone. The MTA wishes him well wherever he goes and whatever he does. I’m personally going to miss watching him in action in the halls of the Legislature next winter.

Department Rule-Making Agenda Includes Muskrats

Last fall when the F&W Department filed the 2009/10 beaver trapping rules with the Secretary of State, some of the language related to the winter trapping of muskrats was mistakenly left out. As a result, as I reported in the April newsletter, we inadvertently lost the use of foothold traps for taking muskrats during January, February and March. When I brought the error to the attention of Mark Stadler, Director of the Wildlife Division, Mark took responsibility for the mistake and promised to fix it prior to another trapping season. I recently touched bases again with Mark on this issue. He assured me that they are already working on the beaver trapping rules for the coming season, and the new rules will restore the use of footholds for muskrats from the end of December through March 31st in areas open to beaver trapping.

Mark also indicated a willingness to pursue the use of footholds for muskrats on covered floats after the end of March in areas that remain open to beaver trapping. I’ll be working with Mark, as well as the furbearer biologist, John DePue, on an understandable definition of “covered float” that can be incorporated into the rule. Unless something unforeseen happens, it looks as if we’ll finally be able to use covered floats for ‘rats in the spring of 2011.

Governor Creates Task Force To Review ATV Law

If Governor Baldacci has set any records during his nearly eight years in office, one of those records would almost certainly be the number of Task Forces he has created. In fact, I’ve heard him referred to more than once as the Task Force Governor. Most of those Task Forces have been well intentioned, have involved a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated volunteers, have produced a tremendous number of outstanding recommendations and have resulted in relatively few changes. The reason is obvious. Most Task Force recommendations cost a lot of money to implement, and there hasn’t been a lot of extra money in the State’s checking account in recent years.

One Task Force that resulted in numerous beneficial changes was the ATV Task Force that Governor Baldacci brought together early in his first term. At that time, problems associated with the misuse of ATVs were so bad that some folks were actually calling for a ban on the use of these machines. Several Task Force recommendations were enacted into law, and the future of ATVing in Maine was soon looking a lot brighter. The Task Force recommended change that seems to have helped the most is the requirement that ATVers must have permission before operating on someone else’s land.

People seem to have short memories, however, and in 2009 the Legislature enacted a new law that made it virtually impossible to enforce that landowner permission requirement. Many landowners were extremely upset with this new development and threatened to post their lands against the use of ATVs. As a result, Representative Ralph Sarty submitted LD # 1536, An Act To Amend The Standards By Which Game Wardens May Stop All-terrain Vehicles When Operating On Private Property, in hopes that it would resolve the landowner relations problems that the newly enacted law has created. His bill would have given law enforcement officers the exact same authority to stop an ATV being operated on privately owned land that was in place prior to 2009 – the exact same authority that currently exists for stopping snowmobiles.

Unfortunately, LD # 1536 didn’t make it. The bill proved to be extremely controversial and, after bouncing back and forth between the House and the Senate, it eventually died between the two Bodies for lack of agreement. Failure of the Legislature to enact LD # 1536 was, in my opinion, a huge mistake. It has already resulted in more posted land.

This recently heightened tension between ATVers and landowners has caught the attention of the Governor, and it’s like “deja vu all over again”. The Governor has assembled a 16 person Task Force to look into the matter and report back to him by December 15th, a couple of weeks before he leaves office. According to a recent article in the Kennebec Journal, the Governor is concerned the law enacted in 2009 will cause ATV riders to lose access to property because “Law enforcement officers are no longer authorized to proactively address safety and landowner relations issues”. Too bad he hadn’t just vetoed the troublesome bill when it hit his desk in 2009.

Not to worry! I’m predicting that the Legislature will resolve this issue next winter, and a brand new Administration will be able to take the credit for it.

Charges Against “Wronged” Trapper Will Stand

In March, I told you about an MTA member who was cited by a game warden because he set a trap within 200 yards of a dwelling without the permission of the homeowner. The trapper had caught the homeowner’s cat and released it. The trapper did not have permission from the homeowner to set the trap. He did, however, have permission from the owner of the land where the trap was set. The trapper did not believe he had violated the law, but he chose to handle the matter in what he considered to be the easiest and cheapest way out. He appeared in court, pled guilty and paid a hefty fine.

I found out about the incident after the case had been settled. Based on the information available to me, I didn’t think the trapper had done anything wrong either. As I’ve explained several times in past newsletter articles, the law only requires permission from the owner of the land on which the trap is set. You are never required to get permission from an abutting landowner regardless of how close the trap is set to the abutting landowner’s home. Consequently, I contacted the two top officers in the Maine Warden Service, Colonel Wilkinson and Major Sanborn, and asked if they’d look into the matter. I received a quick response from both, and the Colonel’s email message assured me that one of the Lieutenants would be “gathering the facts on our side of the shop and we will get back to you on this one”.

In late March I received a very nice letter from the involved trapper thanking me for all my efforts on behalf of Maine trappers. Included with the letter was a copy of the report he received from a warden sergeant outlining the sergeant’s investigation into the incident. In a nutshell, the Warden Service determined that the violation would stand. The investigation showed that “The verbal permission that was granted on the land where you had set the trap did not conform to the statute. The permission you had to trap was not in writing by your own admission.”

I’m disappointed at the way this all played out. Here was a trapper who had been trapping on a farmer’s land for the past eight years with that farmer’s permission. Here was a trapper who thought he was doing things right. I can’t fault the findings of the sergeant who investigated the incident. He was technically correct in his findings — the permission was only verbal and not in writing. What the investigation failed to show, however, is that the trapper was cited for not having permission from the abutting landowner, a violation that doesn’t exist. Had the warden fully understood the law at the onset, I doubt that a citation would have ever been issued The trapper did have permission from the person who was supposed to give it — the owner of the land where the trap was set. Unfortunately that permission was not in writing and, as a result, the warden is off the hook. In the meantime, the statistics simply show another trapper that broke the law, received a citation and was found guilty as charged.

I recently had a long telephone conversation with the involved trapper. He continues to believe he was wronged, but his attitude remains good. He can’t wait to go trapping again! His permission from the farmer is now in writing, and, come October, he’ll likely be placing another 1.5 coil spring at the same set that got him in trouble last year. His conviction is now water over the dam, but, in my opinion, this was a case that was handled poorly all the way around and is not consistent with the goal of the Maine Warden Service to catch and prosecute intentional violators.

No Change In Status Of Lawsuit Appeal

Nothing has changed since my last newsletter report with regard to the plaintiff’s appeal of Judge Woodcock’s decision in the lynx lawsuit. We (the interveners) filed the last of our required paperwork with the US Court of Appeals in Boston at the end of March. Since that time we have heard nothing from the Court. Our attorneys still believe that it will be September, at the earliest, before the Court moves ahead with this appeal

What’s The Holdup On The ITP For Lynx?

In the April newsletter I reported that the US Fish and Wildlife Service was on the verge of publishing in the Federal Register their intent to issue an Incidental Take Permit for lynx to the State of Maine. They had hoped to do it sometime in May. That didn’t happen, and it doesn’t look as if they’ll get it done in June either. During a recent telephone conversation with Ken Elowe, he told me that he was doing everything within his power to get the Feds to publish the ITP proposal in the Federal Register before he leaves his current position. If he’s successful, we’ll get to see the proposal before the end of July. The word Ken has been getting from the Feds is that it’s taking their lawyers longer than they thought to get all the legal issues resolved.

When they get it done, as I said in April, we’ll be contacting all MTA members, describing the trapping restrictions that are included in the proposed permit and explaining when and how to submit comments to the Feds.

Have a great summer. See you at the Rendezvous in September!

— Norm (Skip) Trask
 

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