President — Dana Johnson Sr., 115 Thompson St., Wells, ME 04090; phone: 207-646-5467
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Secretary — Pat Favolise, 115 Farnsworth Rd., Columbia, ME 04623; phone: 207-483-4779
Treasurer — Joe Powers, 352 Carvell Rd., Mapleton, ME 04757; phone: 207-765-0236
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
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Lawsuit Should Not Be Allowed to Proceed
Trapping Poses No Threat to Maine’s Lynx Population
Many Unanswered Questions About Maine Furbearers
Meet Maine’s New Furbearer Biologist
Update on Natural Resource Agency Restructuring
Department Turns Down Request for May Beaver Season
Department Updates Nuisance Beaver Policy
Covered Floats for Spring Muskrats at Least a Year Away
MTA to Submit Legislation During Upcoming Session
LEGISLATIVE LIAISON’S REPORT
Maine’s new animal rights group, the Wildlife Alliance of Maine (WAM), has followed through on earlier threats and filed a lawsuit in Bangor Federal Court asking for a ban on trapping.
The alleged purpose of this lawsuit is to protect Canada lynx, a species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states. The real purpose behind this litigation is to further the political agenda of animal protectionists whose ultimate goal is to stop the consumptive use of wildlife.
The geographical areas where this trapping ban would be implemented, as well as the type of sets that would be affected, remain unclear. The lawsuit, a 13-page document filed jointly by WAM and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) on Aug. 11, 2008, alleges that Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department is violating the provisions of the federal ESA by allowing trapping practices that result in the incidental trapping of lynx.
The “Introduction” portion of the complaint filed by WAM and AWI summarizes their reasons for filing the lawsuit and their intended results. This is what it says:
“During the 2007 trapping season, between the dates of October 15, 2007 and November 13, 2007, at least eight Canada lynx were caught by trappers in foothold traps (also called leghold traps) authorized by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (hereinafter ‘DIFW’) trapping program. Six of these lynx were caught in leghold traps measuring 5 3/8 inches or less, which is under the trap size limitation set by an October 4, 2007 consent decree entered to settle a separate lawsuit between the Animal Protection Institute and the Defendant. In addition, two of the lynx were trapped in Wildlife Management Districts not covered by the consent decree.
Thus, according to this new information, which was collected by DIFW itself, Canada lynx have been, and will continue to be, trapped in leghold traps as well as within Wildlife Management Districts that are not covered by the consent decree. In fact, the number of lynx trapped in leghold traps rose subsequent to, and in spite of, the consent decree. More trapped lynx were reported in the one month period after the consent decree was entered into and trap restrictions were put in place than during the entire trapping seasons over the previous two years.
Due to this new information, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant has been and is violating Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (hereinafter ‘ESA’), 16 U.S.C. § 1538, by authorizing and allowing trapping activities that “take” threatened Canada lynx. Plaintiffs seek both declaratory and injunctive relief to stop these ongoing violations of federal law. Plaintiffs intend to seek an injunction prior to the early fox and coyote trapping season, which begins on October 19, 2008.”
How the Court will deal with this particular lawsuit is still up in the air. In my opinion, the case should be “thrown out.” This lawsuit is very similar to one that was settled less than a year ago by a Consent Decree, the terms and conditions of which are legally binding on all involved parties. While I acknowledge that the names of the organizations bringing this latest lawsuit are different than in the previous one, some of the primary participants are the same.
Daryl Dejoy is the executive director of WAM. He was an active participant in the earlier lawsuit and provided much of the information used by the Animal Protection Institute in trying to prove their case. His partner in this lawsuit, Ms. Camilla Fox, is affiliated with AWI, a national animal rights group with offices in Washington DC. She was employed by API as an expert witness in the earlier suit. She and Mr. Dejoy were recently married. They both worked for the plaintiff in the API lawsuit and should be bound by the terms of the Consent Decree that API agreed to last October.
The WAM/AWI lawsuit includes a statement that “Neither the Animal Welfare Institute nor the Wildlife Alliance of Maine were parties to the previous case.” In my opinion, that statement is devious and is intended to be misleading. It certainly does not constitute full disclosure.
Trapping Poses No Threat to Maine’s Lynx Population
As I stated earlier, this lawsuit is not about protecting lynx. Mr. Dejoy is well aware that trapping poses no threat to Maine’s healthy lynx population. He also knows that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will almost certainly issue an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to Maine’s F&W Department prior to the 2009 trapping season.
That ITP will allow a limited number of lynx to be “taken” incidentally in traps each year. Mr. Dejoy already knows that the number of lynx allowed annually under the terms of the ITP will be greater than the number taken in 2007.
Once that ITP is issued, Mr. Dejoy will no longer be able to make the claim that Maine’s F&W Department is violating the federal ESA. His “window of opportunity” is running out for being able to use the lynx to camouflage his true motives, and he’s trying to do as much damage as possible in the short time he has left. He already had “one bite at the apple” during the API lawsuit that was settled last October. Although he might not have been happy with the outcome, he should be required to live with it just like the rest of us that were involved. He shouldn’t be allowed to come waltzing back into court less than a year later and start all over again just because he’s wearing a different costume.
When I completed this report in late September, there had been no word from the Court about the disposition of this case. If this lawsuit is allowed to proceed, you can be sure that the MTA will be in the court room with the best legal representation available fighting to protect our trapping privileges.
Ever since the unwarranted listing of lynx as a federally threatened species in March of 2000, there have been lots of questions raised about how many lynx are really out there. WAM would like everyone to believe that there are only a couple hundred. Maine’s F&W Department has stated that lynx numbers are adequate to keep them off the state list of threatened species (500 animals), and I know from talking with biologists that most of them believe the number exceeds 1,000.
Knowing that the Department is always ultra conservative when estimating wildlife populations, and based on the large number of lynx sightings throughout an area covering 11,000 square miles, I’d guess the number to be in the thousands. The problem is that nobody knows for sure, in spite of all the attention focused on this animal over the past decade.
While I am bothered by the fact that we don’t have a better handle on the number of lynx, an animal that receives complete protection under both state and federal law, I am even more concerned about the lack of information about many of the 14 species of furbearers that we are allowed to trap.
Over the past few years, there have been lots of discussions about marten and fisher populations. Trappers have voiced concerns that mink and muskrat populations have declined dramatically in some areas. Down-east trappers have been upset about the high otter harvest. Trappers are questioning why there are almost no raccoons in portions of central Maine. With many of our furbearer populations, there are lots of questions and lots of theories, but there are very few science-based answers.
I remember when Maine’s furbearer management program was the envy of just about every other state in the country. More than 20 years ago, concern at the federal level about the status of bobcats and river otter resulted in a state-by-state inventory of those two species and a temporary closure on the harvesting of those species in any state that didn’t have population estimates and harvest goals supported by scientific data.
Maine was one of the few states that had already done the work the feds were requesting, and our cat and otter seasons opened on schedule. At that time, Maine was way “ahead of the curve” on furbearer management issues largely because of the efforts of two very dedicated full-time furbearer biologists, John Hunt and Alan Clark. Budget woes eventually resulted in the elimination of both those positions.
For more than a decade, Maine has been without a furbearer biologist. Wally Jakubas, the Department’s Mammal Group Leader, has done a commendable job trying to fill the void. However, he already had a full-time job and couldn’t begin to do all the furbearer-related work than should have been done. As a result, Maine’s furbearer management program has suffered, and critical questions about our furbearer populations have gone unanswered.
The MTA has lobbied hard for a furbearer biologist. Several times we were able to get the position included in the budget only to have the Legislature eliminate it in the final hours of the session. Our lobbying efforts finally paid off when Karen Morris, Maine’s moose biologist, decided to retire.
When that happened, it was decided that moose and deer could be handled by one person. Karen’s duties were passed on to deer biologist Lee Kantar. That left Karen’s position vacant and gave the Department the option of hiring a furbearer biologist without the need to go back to the Legislature.
If you attended MTA’s annual fall business meeting at the Rendezvous in Sidney, you have already been introduced to John DePue. During the meeting, we gave John a few minutes to tell us about himself. He, along with his new boss, Wally Jakubas, also joined me later in the day for a “Question and Answer” session on trapping related issues.
John started his official duties as Maine’s new furbearer biologist on Sept. 8. He is originally from the Midwest and received his BS degree from the University of Idaho. He and his fiancé moved to Maine from Laramie, Wyoming, where John attended the University of Wyoming for his Master’s degree.
For his Master’s work, John studied the gene flow among reintroduced otter populations in Colorado and developed a habitat selection model for otters in arid environments. John is an avid trapper and has extensive professional trapping and chemical immobilization experience throughout the Western United States and internationally. He has trapped marten, Canada lynx, otter, grizzly bears, black bears, skunks, Amur tigers in Russia, and Darwin’s fox, gray fox, and culpeo fox in Chile. In total, John brings about 11 years of wildlife experience to this job. He enjoys working with trappers and is eager to get involved with Maine’s trapping community.
I was very impressed with John during the short time that I spent with him at the Rendezvous. He seems to be a happy, sincere and down-to-earth young man with a good sense of humor. We all wish him well in his new position, and we look forward to working with him in a spirit of cooperation in the coming months and years. Although it will take time, we are hopeful that John will eventually be able to provide the answers that are needed to effectively manage Maine’s furbearing animals.
Update On Natural Resource Agency Restructuring
I agreed to serve on the Natural Resource Agencies Task Force, not because I really wanted all the extra work, but because several folks asked me to do it and because I thought it was important that the interest of trappers and guides be represented. I have a few ideas about how our natural resource agencies can operate more efficiently and improve services to Maine people.
My primary goal, however, as a member of this group is to help ensure that Maine’s small, unique, natural resource agencies don’t loose their identities. I’ve talked with a lot of trappers and guides about possible changes that might result from the work of this Task Force. Just about all of them have been insistent that we not allow the Fish and Wildlife and Marine Resource Departments to be swallowed up by a large Department of Conservation.
Task Force members have now spent a total of five days together. We’ve also been given a lot of “home work” assignments between meetings. The most recent meeting was a two-day retreat at Schoodic Point in Winter Harbor (a beautiful new addition to Arcadia National Park). Prior to this retreat, the Natural Resources Network, representing 14 organizations whose members depend on the use of natural resources for business and pleasure, got together several times and put together a restructuring proposal for the Task Force to consider.
We did this for a couple of reasons.
First, we were concerned that the Task Force was moving so slowly that nothing would be accomplished by our November deadline.
Secondly, we felt that some people were trying to use the Task Force to promote changes that far exceed the legislative mandate that this group was given. The Network’s proposal was limited to changes that we, the resource user groups, felt would make the natural resource agencies more efficient and improve the services that they provide to the public.
Our proposal was presented to the Task Force on the morning of the first day of the retreat. Not surprisingly, there was considerable opposition to some of our recommendations. Most troubling, however, at least to me, was that most of the strong opposition came from commissioners who objected to having programs removed from “their” departments.
This whole thing started when the Governor submitted legislation to merge four natural resource agencies into no more than two. Our Network played a key role in defeating that proposal. As a compromise, we reluctantly agreed to support the creation of this Task Force, and even to become members, with the hope that we could help bring about positive changes that would benefit Maine people.
However, when we suggested changes that we, the users, felt would increase efficiency and improve services, it was members of the Governor’s Cabinet who objected the loudest.
By the time the two-day retreat was over, the situation had improved somewhat. The Task Force had actually reached consensus on a few of the recommendations included in the Network’s proposal, but we still have a long way to go. I don’t know if all the commissioners were originally supportive of this Task Force being created, but at least some of them are obviously unhappy with the way things are progressing.
Within a few days after the retreat, one commissioner had the nerve to call the Board members of one of the organizations belonging to our Network to ask if they knew what was being proposed by their executive director and trying to get them to change their position.
Since the retreat, the Network has gotten together again and revised our proposal to address some of the legitimate questions and concerns that were raised. We’ll be making another pitch at the next Task Force meeting in mid-October. I’m hopeful that people will set their “turf” issues aside and work together to improve state services to Maine people. If I understand the Constitution correctly, government is supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.
Department Turns Down Request For May Beaver Season
Citing ethical concerns, the F&W Department decided against extending the beaver trapping season through May 15 in Wildlife Management Districts 1 through 4.
Earlier this year, I petitioned the Department on behalf of the MTA asking for consideration of this two-week extension after some of our members convinced our Board of Directors, it was a good idea.
I can understand the Department’s reluctance to allow beaver to be trapped that late into the spring when beaver may be rearing their young. However, if those same beaver are going to be killed during the months of May and June by ADC agents because they are causing damage, the ethical argument makes no sense.
Following the Department’s decision, I had a long discussion about this topic with Wildlife Director Mark Stadler. While he is not convinced that large numbers of nuisance beaver are being removed at that time of year in those districts, he promised that he would closely monitor nuisance beaver activity in that area this coming year.
He went on to say that if significant numbers of nuisance beaver are being removed from those districts during May and June, he would reconsider our request for two weeks of beaver trapping in May.
In my April newsletter report, I expressed MTA’s concern about excessive numbers of nuisance beaver being killed by ADC agents, both at times of the year when the fur is worthless and just prior to the start of the trapping season.
My comments generated considerable controversy and eventually led to the formation of a committee to take a look at the whole nuisance beaver issue. The committee was chaired by MTA Board member Joe Powers and, along with MTA president Dana Johnson and me, consisted of the representatives of three large landowners, the Small Woodland Owners Association, several ADC folks and a handful of wildlife biologists.
We got together in mid-July, covered a lot of ground and made several recommendations. We accomplished most of what we set out to do and shouldn’t need to meet again. The end result is an updated Department policy on the handling of nuisance wildlife. I would like to thank Joe Powers for chairing this committee and also thank the other members of the committee for their efforts in helping us get back on track as far as nuisance beaver are concerned.
In the future, all nuisance beaver problems will be handled in accordance with the new policy. It includes the following provisions:
• When animals cause a problem and must be removed, non-lethal measures must be considered first, except as noted with specific species. The feasibility and the biological and social consequences of non-lethal vs. lethal removal will be considered. It may be possible to alter the site conditions in such a way that the animal no longer poses a problem.
• Department staff, ADC agents and USDA\Wildlife Services will advise landowners that neither lethal removal nor relocation of beaver resolve chronic beaver problems if site modifications are not also undertaken and landowners should consider one-time cost vs. repeated future actions.
• ADC agents or USDA\Wildlife Services must obtain specific permission from a regional wildlife biologist or warden to relocate beaver. To make this determination, the regional wildlife biologist will consider circumstances, existing beaver densities, relocation distances and other significant resource impacts, including impacts to waterfowl habitat, native brook trout fisheries, important smelt spawning streams and Atlantic salmon habitat.
• ADC agents or USDA\Wildlife Services must obtain specific permission from a warden or regional wildlife biologist for lethal removal of beaver. Lethal removal of beaver should be justified by circumstances, existing beaver densities and other significant resource impacts, including impacts to waterfowl habitat, native brook trout fisheries, important smelt spawning streams and Atlantic salmon habitat.
• Relocation of beaver prior to July 1 may be lethal for young-of-the-year and should be avoided. Relocation of beaver just prior to ice-up is considered lethal and is also to be avoided. Except in emergency situations, no nuisance beaver will be removed within 30 days of the opening of the beaver trapping season in that area. A list of locations where beaver have been removed within 30 days of the opening of the beaver-trapping season will be maintained at appropriate regional office.
If you become aware of situations where this policy is not being followed, please contact the MTA director in your chapter, one of the MTA officers or me.
When we petitioned the Department to extend the beaver trapping season into the month of May in northern Maine, we also asked that they legalize the trapping of muskrats with foothold traps on “covered floats” after the end of March in areas that remain open to beaver trapping. Again, the Department chose not grant our request, at least not for this coming spring.
The Department remains concerned, despite our assurances to the contrary, that waterfowl and eagles might be taken incidentally in these types of sets. They did not, however, rule out the possibility of legalizing “covered floats” for spring ’rats in the future. The new furbearer biologist will be asked to further investigate this matter, including discussions with wildlife officials at Indian Township where Passamaquoddy trappers have been using these types of floats in the spring for several years with apparent success. We’ll continue to work with the Department in an attempt to eventually get these sets legalized.
Earlier this year, the MTA Board of Directors decided that the time has come to review all existing trapping laws and consider making some changes. Some of the old trapping laws have become obsolete; some need clarification; and some need changes in the wording to reflect changing technology. For now, we’re only talking about laws — provisions enacted by the Legislature. We’ll take a look at the rules (regulations imposed by the Department) at a later date, perhaps next year.
MTA President Dana Johnson has appointed a committee to review the laws and decide what needs to be done. In addition to Dana and me, the committee consists of Joe Powers, Adam Vashon and David Wilson. When the package is complete, I’ll draft the bill and find a sponsor.
In the December issue of the newsletter, I should be able to provide a list of the specific changes we’ll be proposing. In the meantime, if you know of any laws (not rules) that you feel should be repealed or modified, please let me know as soon as possible. If what you send me involves a rule rather than a law, I’ll let you know, but I’ll also keep it on file so that we can consider it at some later date when we get ready to do the rules.
Have a great fall trapping season!
— Skip Trask