Once a year, Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife staffers stage a barnstorming tour of the state, sharing information and answering questions at local forums.
On Wednesday, that road show arrived in Bucksport for yet another well-attended event.
The Bucksmills Rod & Gun Club often fills its clubhouse for these annual forums, and Wednesday was no exception: About 80 people gathered to enjoy a meal, meet old friends, and learn more about state policies and initiatives.
The menu: Ham steak, au gratin potatoes, vegetables, and ice cream.
The mood: Upbeat, with bird season ongoing, deer season approaching, and plenty of moose tales shared around the tables.
The key points of discussion: Well, that’s going to take a bit more room. Here are some high points, culled from the 90-minute meeting:
. Turkeys vs. Deer. One attendee asked if the steadily increasing wild turkey flock could be reducing the deer herd in places where both coexist.
According to Brad Allen, the group leader of the DIF&W’s bird group, no such threat exists.
The thought, often heard around the state, is that turkeys and deer eat the same foods, like acorns, and that added competition for that food source must be a limiting factor for one species or the other.
And since turkeys are visibly increasing their range, even as deer are struggling in some locales, many wonder if that competition is reducing the herd.
Don’t worry, Allen said.
His explanation: Acorns needn’t be the primary food source for either species, except when an exceptional mast crop is present and there’s plenty available for all.
When acorns aren’t present, both turkeys and deer find other food. Turkeys, in particular, eat an extremely varied diet and are able to subsist on many things that deer don’t have any interest in.
. If you want to be a warden, here’s your chance.
According to Col. Tom Santaguida, the state’s chief game warden, a new hiring process is under way, and potential wardens can sign up beginning on Monday.
“We’re going to continue [the process] in an open status until the first week of January,” Santaguida said. “We’re going to look to hire probably a dozen people to start school next summer, and they’ll go into the field in the spring of ’08.”
The Maine Warden Service is already grooming its next crop of wardens, and that class of law enforcement personnel will be heading into the field in the spring, Santaguida said.
And if prospective wardens aren’t quite 21 – the minimum age – they will likely have another chance in the near future.
“The next five years or so is going to be a good time to pay attention because we have a lot of people who have talked about retiring in the next year or two,” Santaguida said.
Another group of potential retirees also exists and may retire shortly after that batch of wardens, he said.
“So there will probably be some continuous hiring, just to fill vacancies, for the next several years,” Santaguida said.
Beginning Monday, more information will be available on the DIF&W Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.
. Wardens and computers. An ongoing effort will equip all of the state’s game wardens with laptop computers, and when that project is completed, it will eliminate the need for wardens to file paper reports.
Santaguida drew a few laughs when he told the crowd what that would mean.
“When we get to the point that we’re paperless, that means that wardens will be in your communities more,” Santaguida said. After a short pause, he delivered the punch line. “Which is maybe something you don’t want.”
. Points of emphasis. Santaguida said that each year, the Maine Warden Service designates certain issues for extra attention. This year’s “fall enforcement themes,” he said, will be landowner complaints and trapping enforcement.
“If landowners complain that somebody’s violating their wishes on their property, we’re going to respond more aggressively to that,” he said.
As for trapping, Santaguida – himself a trapper – said it is important for the public to have confidence in the department’s treatment of all outdoors enthusiasts.
“It’s to make sure we have a responsible enforcement program and nobody thinks we’re ignoring trapping,” he said. “And [focusing on] trapping and landowner [issues] go together quite nicely.”
. Moving toward a southern moose hunt.
Rich Dressler, who works in the DIF&W’s Resource Assessment Section, said the state is moving forward with a proposal to establish a moose hunt in parts of southern and eastern Maine.
“We’re proposing to open [Wildlife Management Districts] 15, 16, 23, and 26 … to a moose hunt in 2008,” he said.
WMD 26 includes Bucksport, the site of the meeting, and Dressler said that district’s season is tentatively planned to occur during the regular firearms season for deer, in November.
“Based on the comments we got, particularly the landowners were concerned about conflicts,” Dressler said. “They thought doing it coinciding with deer season made it less intrusive for the hunt.”
Two scheduled information meetings will deal with the proposals the state is studying.
The first will take place on Wednesday at Mount View High School in Thorndike. The second is on Thursday at Stevens Brook Elementary School in Bridgton. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.
Dressler said the current proposal involves issuing 25 permits in WMD 15, 20 in WMD 16, 45 in WMD 23, and 45 in WMD 26.
. How’s the fishing?
Regional fisheries biologist Rick Jordan and his colleague Gregory Burr outlined their office’s work over the past several months and updated the attendees on a variety of topics.
At nearby Toddy Pond, for instance, Jordan said a survey had shown many small smallmouth and largemouth bass.
The state has stocked splake in the pond in the past, but that effort has been discontinued, Jordan said.
“We’re switching that over to brown trout. We had some brown trout available this fall, so Toddy Pond just recently got stocked with 425 brown trout,” Jordan said.
Over on Craig Pond, Jordan said some “unscheduled” brook trout have become available and will likely be stocked soon.
The plan calls for 3,000 fingerling brookies to arrive later this month or in early November.
His tip to anglers: “If you have kids who like to fish, these are going to be small trout, but the way you can catch them is by ice fishing with a worm on a hook or by jigging little Swedish pimples or your favorite small jigs.”
Jordan also said three area waters – Phillips Lake, Branch Lake, and Lower Patten Pond – will have a rule change instituted in 2007.
Fishing for brown trout will be catch-and-release on all three waters. Jordan said dry summers that de-watered the nursery habitat during the 1990s caused a crash in the brown trout population.
Over on Beech Hill Pond, Burr said a trap netting proved that the pond’s togue are still too plentiful. In two days 35 were trapped, and the condition of those fish was “fairly poor.”
In contrast, the eight landlocked salmon that were trapped on Beech Hill were in very good shape, Burr said.
“It seems that the salmon are finding those smelts that we’re putting in there, but the togue aren’t,” Burr said. “They’re just covering some different niches out there.”
That discovery may lead to increased stocking of salmon, Burr said.
Another lake Burr has paid particular attention to is Phillips Lake, also known locally as Lucerne.
“We’ve had problems recently with the condition and growth of the salmon, but it looks like we’ve turned the corner,” Burr said. “We’ve really been pounding the smelt eggs to that water and the fish have responded very well.”
Trap-netting showed bigger, healthier fish, and Burr said Phillips may also receive “another slug of salmon this fall.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.