My turkey bill got plenty of support at yesterday’s public hearing before the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. And the committee will quickly get to work on the bill on Thursday.
The bill would eliminate the permit requirement and fee, allow on-line and phone tagging, and expand the bag limits to three toms in the spring season and three birds of either sex in the fall season. I tried to eliminate the permit and fee in 2014, and believe that is going to be essential if we’re going to get more hunters to hunt turkeys. Last year DIF&W sold only 16,000 turkey hunting permits and estimated that no more than 5,000 of us hunted turkeys in the fall.
Senator Paul Davis, the bill’s sponsor, did a great job of presenting the bill, while acknowledging he’d received a letter from Commissioner Chandler Woodcock reporting that he didn’t want to lose the $300,000 the agency now gets from the sale of turkey permits. Senator Davis did note that the agency currently has a surplus of more than $1 million. He also noted that at a farm near his Sangerville home, he frequently sees 200 to 300 wild turkeys.
Representative Jeff Timberlake, whose family owns a large apple orchard in Turner, also gave compelling testimony, suggesting that for turkeys we should allow year-round hunting with no bag limits. Yes, Maine farmers hate turkeys.
Jeff reported that their orchard has spent over $250,000 putting up deer fences but turkeys just fly over them. And turkeys are very destructive. The population is growing rapidly on their farm, costing more than $1 million in crop damage each year. “They don’t like Macintosh or Cortland apples,” he reported. “They like Honey crest and Gala - the most valuable apples). They take a peck out of every apple. They can devastate an orchard in an afternoon. And they are hard to kill. They are smart. Bringing them to the state of Maine was a terrible mistake,” he concluded.
That last statement drew some discussion. While I love to hunt turkeys, I recognize the legitimacy of the argument that reintroducing turkeys, which cause so many problems for farmers and woodland owners, can be challenged given that only 16,000 of us hunt them.
Tom Doak, executive director of the Maine Woodland Owners, also did a good job speaking in support of the bill.
“The reestablishment of wild turkeys in Maine has succeeded beyond pretty much everyone’s expectations,” said Tom. “The wild turkeys can now be found in abundance in many areas of the state, including some areas where they apparently never naturally occurred. Our support of the principles behind this bill are based on the concerns that turkeys are fast on their way of becoming nuisance wildlife in areas of the state.
“What started out as a genuine success story to be celebrated – the reestablishment of wild turkeys has the potential, and is some cases is, turning into ‘why did we bring these birds back’ moments,” testified Tom.
The only opponent to the bill was Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso delivered that testimony, stating that “The Department is opposed to this bill because it does not allow us to manage Maine’s wild turkey population based on biological principles and sound science.”
Judy also noted that a survey conducted in 2015 found that “overall Maine’s public is very satisfied with the management and population levels of Maine’s Big Game species.”
Judy did offer two suggestions that, in my earlier testimony, I’d encouraged the committee to include in my bill.
“Two key management strategies recommended in the draft big game management plan (for turkeys) are:
Refine the turkey management system in order to adjust harvest of female wild turkeys during fall by altering bag limits and season lengths in response to information on wild turkey populations trends and weather conditions and
Request an adjustment to statute to give the Department the ability to alter bag limits and season frameworks through rulemaking.
Both the Maine Professional Guides Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine testified “neither for nor against” the bill.
Don Kleiner, speaking for the Guides Association, recommended “that instead of doing what this bill asks as far as setting seasons and bag limits, you give the Commissioner the authority to set bag limits and provide him or her with broad guidelines for what seasons would best be held.”
Don also said, “With permit sales declining we need a real strategy to encourage increased participation from both resident and nonresident hunters. Removing the fee…does not meet the longer term goal of providing a funding source for improved management that we all agree is needed.”
“The department has not done a good job of promoting the hunt or educating potential turkey hunters and we would ask that you give them strong encouragement in that direction.”
David Trahan, SAM’s executive director, said that although his organization supports “some of the concepts within LD 98, we don’t support some. We do not support expanding spring bag limits, but do support fall bag limits expansion for areas the department deems appropriate. We are reluctant to expand turkey bag limits statewide when the department is still trying to grow the population.”
In 2014, the legislature enacted my proposal to reduce the turkey permit fee and expand the seasons and bag limits.
The final bill in 2014 reduced the turkey hunting permit to $20 for both residents and nonresidents, with no additional fee for a second Tom in the spring, expanded the fall season to the entire month of October and added a second turkey of either sex to the fall bag limit, reduced the tagging fee from $5 to $2 for each turkey (with all of the fee going to the tagging agent), extended the spring season to all-day, and authorized all-day hunting for Youth Day.
Today’s bill would eliminate the permit requirement and fee, allow on-line and phone tagging, and expand the bag limits to three toms in the spring season and three birds of either sex in the fall season. I tried to eliminate the permit and fee in 2014, and believe that is going to be essential if we’re going to get more hunters to hunt turkeys.
Last year DIF&W sold only 16,000 turkey hunting permits and estimated that no more than 5,000 of us hunted turkeys in the fall.
DIF&W is currently completing work on a new turkey management plan. And I am pleased to report that the goals, objectives, and strategies in the new plan support the provisions in this bill. For example, the department hopes to increase the number of turkey hunters to at least 20,000 by 2022. In my mind, that is far too modest a goal, but at least they recognize the need to get more hunters out there after turkeys.
And the easiest way to do that is to eliminate the permit and fee. That would, for example, allow our 50,000 grouse hunters to shoot a turkey if they saw one in October while hunting grouse. And really, why not?
We also need to make it easier to let the agency know we killed a turkey. There are not as many turkey tagging stations as deer tagging stations, and some hunters have to drive 30 miles to tag their turkeys. I know that some just don’t bother, and drive on home with their turkey. I think they’ll actually get a more accurate count by allowing online and phone tagging.
I also hope you will eliminate the $2 tagging fee for those using the online and phone system. It is not reasonable for DIF&W to get an additional fee when they ask us to let them know what we harvested.
And clearly, we need to harvest more turkeys. Turkeys are really my secret weapon to access private lands and farms to hunt. They all beg me to come shoot their turkeys! The new plan includes an objective to reduce turkey complaints by landowners. The obvious way to do that is to let us shoot more turkeys. I promise you, landowners and farmers will be delighted.
In the new turkey management plan, one objective of the agency is to adjust the statute to give them flexibility to increase turkey bag limits and seasons through rulemaking. In addition to specifying the new bag limits we suggest in this bill, you could use the bill to give the agency the authority they seek. The new plan also seeks authorization for the agency to “establish wild turkey hunts in hotspot areas of conflict.” Great idea! And I hope you will use this bill to give them that authority.
We had a lot of support for the bill last session, including from three legislators who own farms. But even with all of that support, I had little hope that much would be done because DIF&W opposed the bill.
But DIF&W’s Judy Camuso, at the final work session on the bills, delivered a big surprise, informing the IF&W Committee that the department had decided to support many of the proposals, all of which were then enthusiastically embraced by the committee. Truly, I was astonished. I was also very pleased when the department informed the Appropriations Committee that it could absorb the estimated loss of $100,000 of fees that would occur because of the reduction in the permit fee. That was very helpful in getting the bill to final enactment.
Now I know that getting a bill through the legislative process is a lot harder than harvesting a turkey, but I know you are up to the task, and I hope you are willing to embrace the changes we propose. Thanks!
Dale Hubbard’s Testimony
Dale Hubbard, an avid and experience turkey hunter, was unable to attend the hearing, but sent me this testimony to present to the IFW Committee.
My name is Dale Hubbard and except for 22 years as a Naval Officer, I have lived in Hartland since 1948. I started hunting turkeys in 1985 when I was stationed in New York state. I've since pursued them in Vermont, Idaho, here in Maine and I continue to return to N.Y. to continue that tradition with good friends who also journey here to do the same.
Here's my impression and opinion, being a lifetime hunter and a 30+ year turkey hunter. The numbers of hunters, in general, are down and turkey hunters are down significantly. License fees, special turkey permit fees, limited tagging stations and tagging fees all contribute to this lack of interest. It is expensive and too much hassle for what you get. Rollback of license costs, expanded hunting opportunities and increased limit are all great ideas for breathing some life back into this hunting opportunity.
Make the experience easy, a small game classification with a harvest report online or by phone will reward the state with a more accurate picture for meaningful game management. (This was related to me years ago by New York's Dept. of Environmental Conservation while I was researching another "turkey bill") Also, while the committee debates this bill, don't forget our out of state friends, get them here once and they may come back for multi-season hunts.
I strongly support this bill and approval, combined with our all day spring hunting hours, it will be a serious incentive for resident and out-of-state turkey hunters.
Thank you for the chance to put in my "two cents.” - Dale Hubbard, Hartland