COLUMBIA FALLS – The old village hall in this small town north of Jonesport filled up Monday night with folks who had come to discuss and debate the outdoors.

The ancient ritual of people gathering to talk about such things at rod and gun clubs runs deep across the state.

But when Jeff Geel stood up at the Pleasant River Fish and Game Conservation Association meeting, a strange thing happened. And it caused a kind of ripple effect.

Geel of East Machias offered surprising solutions to the decade-old problem of the state’s failing whitetail herd.

“Why not make coyotes an invasive species rather than a fur bearer?” Geel proposed.

Geel came to speak to Chandler Woodcock, the newly appointed commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Matt Dunlap, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who came together to listen to sportsmen’s concerns and ideas.

The double-team approach of the IFW commissioner and SAM director was different — but an approach Dunlap said the two men will continue.

Geel also did something different Monday.

Proposing to classify the eastern coyote in Maine as an invasive species, or a vermin, could mean new funds, like farm relief money, to help remove the coyotes from the landscape, and help the deer herd, he said.

“That’s real interesting,” Dunlap said, with a hand on his chin.

“I’ve never heard that,” Woodcock echoed.

Then Geel proposed something Dunlap said he never expected to hear: Raise license fees. The perennial hot-button issue with sportsmen was offered up by a sportsman to help the whitetail herd.

“Fees are not always the answer,” Dunlap cautioned. “We’re competing for sportsmen with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Montana and Illinois.”

But Geel proposed a new fee, suggesting it go specifically to a coyote eradication program. Even $1 from every hunting license holder would amount to $250,000 a year.

Within four years, Geel pointed out, IFW would have $1 million to control coyotes, which hamper the deer herd in severe winters.

“I don’t think anyone would have a problem with $1,” Geel said.

And a show of hands indicated others agreed.

People in this rural Down East town hall favored the idea, they said, if the money were designated for IFW and deer habitat or coyote control, not the general fund.

“(The general fund) is a big taffy pull and whoever has the biggest hands gets the most taffy,” said Maine Guide Clayton Blake of Alexander.

Dunlap and Woodcock listened intently. Between them, they have well over a decade of experience with fish and wildlife legislative issues.

They both served on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Dunlap went on to serve as Secretary of State and Woodcock to a failed run for governor.

Now they plan to travel the state together to gather sportsmen’s ideas about how to help Maine’s struggling deer.

“We’re in a state of collapse for the whitetail herd,” Dunlap told the crowd of 50 on Monday.

Last week, IFW proposed cutting the number of any-deer permits to historic lows, issuing 26,390 antlerless deer permits, down 46 percent from the 48,825 issued in 2010.

New signs also are being put up around the state to caution motorists to watch for deer in the road.

But all the steps taken in the months ahead won’t amount to an immediate rise in deer numbers, Woodcock said.

So all new ideas, both men agreed, are worth considering.

“What was new was the invasive species idea, and the fact so many people were in favor of raising fees. That spoke to the level of frustration,” Dunlap said. “Those two ideas are worth looking into.”

Blake and others urged the new commissioner make bold moves to help the herd.

“You have the magic wand,” said Blake.

“I’m learning what I have for a wand,” Woodcock replied. “It’s a little humbling, but yes, I do have a wand.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

 


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