April 27, 2013

Hunting: Science alone must regulate turkey hunt

By Bob Humphrey

Gun bills weren't the only thing flooding Augusta this spring. There was also a pile of proposed legislation dealing with turkey hunting. Here are a few examples.

If enacted, L.D. 84 would purportedly "expand" turkey hunting opportunities in three ways. Eliminating the required $20 permit and big-game hunting license, it is assumed, would encourage greater participation. Insufficient evidence supports that conclusion.

Tend analysis shows interest in Maine turkey hunting has leveled out. That was in large part why the state did away with the permit lottery. Eliminating more costly requirements won't increase participation; it will generate less income.

The mere fact that L.D. 84 would remove wild turkeys from the list of Maine's big-game species is cause for concern. Turkeys are one of the big four species -- along with deer, bear and moose -- that make up the Maine Slam.

Next, L.D. 84 would provide for electronic or telephone registration of turkeys. Such tagging puts hunters on the honor system. Under a mandatory check-station system, the number of turkeys (and deer) now poached is estimated at close to the legal harvest. It's not unreasonable to assume that number would increase under remote registration.

Last but hardly least, the bill would require the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) commissioner to establish spring and fall seasons that allow hunting during all daylight hours, and require that the fall season include October with a two-bird, either-sex bag limit.

I'm all in favor of all-day spring hunting. Studies show it won't much impact the birds. Most importantly, it would provide significantly more opportunity to youths.

Bu the decision to make that change should rest not with the Legislature but with the professionals at IFW, and should be based on biology, not politics.

The same applies to adding a second turkey to the fall bag limit.

L.D. 143 addresses only one aspect of the above by allowing a hunter to harvest a turkey of either sex during the month of October without an extra charge for the permit. It sounds simple but could be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Currently the $20 spring permit also includes a fall permit. How would eliminating the fall permit requirement affect the spring permit or the annual bag limit?

More concerning is "during the month of October." Is this an attempt to open the season for the entire month?

Presenting opposing testimony, IFW wildlife division director Jim Connolly said, "It does not allow the department to manage the wild turkey population" based on biological principles and science. Instead it "mandates a uniform approach across the state that is excessive."

Essentially L.D. 143 on steroids, L.D. 477 directs the commissioner to establish an open season during October with no bag limit. And IFW opposes it for the same reasons: It removes their ability to manage based on sound science.

Furthermore, science indicates fall hunting can have a much greater negative impact.

L.D. 200 directs the department to establish a six-day spring youth season that would fall "in April when school is not in session." IFW opposes this one too: States generally set spring turkey seasons to begin after the females have begun incubating. Earlier hunting could significantly disrupt breeding and production.

Wild turkeys are a sustainable resource. The current hunting framework ensures a stable population, all other things being equal.

But all other things are seldom equal. During cold, wet springs, turkey populations could experience substantial short-term declines. Liberalizing seasons or bag limits would only exacerbate the problem.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered guide in Pownal. Reached him at:



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