Wildlife biologist Randy Cross (left) and summer intern Joanna Ennis are shown posing with a rare chocolate-phase black bear in 2016. The state's new big-game management plan suggests that the proliferation of Maine's black bear population could have significant consequences if measures are not taken to reduce the number of animals. Credit: Courtesy Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

State wildlife officials have unveiled Maine’s latest long-range management plan for four crucial “big game” species, and have invited the public to view and comment on the document for the next month.

The plan, which covers moose, deer, bear and turkeys, will guide biologists and wildlife managers in decisions for the next 10 years, and has been in the works for the past three years — ever since the previous 15-year planning document expired.

During that span, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife contracted with researchers from Responsive Management, which gauged Mainers’ opinions on wildlife issues through meetings, surveys and written comments.

“There was a tremendous effort to reach out to a broader audience than we have in the past, and I think that’s the future of wildlife management,” said Judy Camuso, the DIF&W’s wildlife director.

Camuso said department staffers went into the process with open minds.

“Sometimes, you know what the end product is going to look like when you start,” Camuso said. “We really didn’t. We went into this like, ‘We’re going to do these surveys, we’re going to hear what the public says, and we’re going to go from there.’”

One common thread: The No. 1 goal for each species is to maintain a healthy, sustainable population of that particular animal.

Hunters, non-hunters, landowners and other stakeholders were included on each of four subcommittees, some of which met nearly weekly for a year in order to formulate a plan, Camuso said.

The result is a polished, 93-page document that includes plenty of graphs and data displays, as well as timelines describing key management changes for each species covered.

“I felt that it was important, because we put so much time into it, that we make the plan visually look attractive and be appealing and accessible to everybody,” Camuso said.

To that end, a graphic designer was enlisted to pitch in, as was a technical editor.

“In the end, I think we got a good product,” Camuso said.

And while hunters may be especially interested in the four “big game” species included in the plan, Camuso said all Mainers have a stake in the health of each species.

“One of the things that we do as managers is manage for healthy wildlife populations,” Camuso said. “In particular for game species, it doesn’t matter if you hunt or not. If we’re not doing a good job managing a species, you’re possibly going to have unpleasantness in your area. Whether you hunt or not, the number of deer you see in your backyard impacts you, or the number of turkeys you have in the backyard impacts you, the number of bears you do or do not encounter impacts you.”

The BDN will write separate stories about the plans for each of the four species in the coming days. For now, here are a few highlights to consider.

In the bear management plan, a stark increase in the bear population in recent years is itemized, and managers warn that such a continued increase could be disastrous. A problem: There’s not enough hunting pressure to cull 15 percent of the state’s bears from the population each year, which has led to a 2 to 4 percent increase since 2005.

“Failure to substantially increase bear harvests over the next five to 10 years, or to target harvests to meet regional population objectives, could result in significant, likely irreversible consequences to Maine’s people and bears,” the document warns.

In the deer management plan, a “new, high-priority” goal involves developing a chronic wasting disease response plan. The disease hasn’t been detected in Maine, but managers are taking a possible outbreak seriously. In addition, the plan mentions managing deer differently in certain areas to deal with more localized problems than can be addressed at a Wildlife Management District level.

In the moose management plan, the department addresses a situation that may prove to be controversial. While talking about the current threat of winter ticks on moose survival, the document suggests that more moose is not always a good thing, and can in fact affect the herd’s health negatively.

“Moose densities themselves may be the biggest reason why winter tick has exerted such an influence on moose abundance; in other words, high moose densities have led to high rates of parasites. Lower densities of moose are likely necessary to reduce the rate and influence of winter ticks and other parasites and maintain a healthy moose population,” the document reads.

In the turkey management plan, a special emphasis on increasing the number of turkey hunters is mentioned as a goal. Another key point: In surveys, turkeys are the big game species that Mainers know the least about. Another goal, moving forward, is to provide more education about turkey biology, management and ecology.

And the plan sets a high priority on finding new ways to track turkey populations in the state, and identifying those trends.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...