Gardners fail to protect deer wintering habitat

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In a Sun Journal column published March 28, Commissioner Dan Martin of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made inaccurate and inflammatory charges against the two of us. He dismisses our concerns that the Gardner Land Company violated a legally binding long term habitat management agreement with his department.

The agreement covered public lands sold to the Gardners in the Katahdin Lake deal in 2005. The legislative resolve that authorized the deal required the Gardners to protect deer wintering habitat on the lands they obtained.

Commissioner Martin charges that we made the complaint “without contacting this office to verify these outlandish allegations,” and we “went straight to the news media without confirming these accusations,” calling our actions “both distasteful and unfair.”

DIFW wildlife biologists provided all the information that served as the basis for our complaint, including e-mailed messages to Commissioner Martin and Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan and others raising concerns about the Gardners’ harvesting plans.

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We met in December with Commissioner Martin’s staff, including Dr. Ken Elowe, director of the Bureau of Resource Management, and three biologists to discuss our concerns. Then we received a memo from DIF&W biologists Joe Wiley and Allan Starr providing detailed information about what the Gardners had done on these lands.

We took our concerns to Ted Koffman of the Maine Audubon Society and Rep. John Piotti, who chaired the legislative committee that created the resolve authorizing the Katahdin deal.

Koffman and Piotti took our material and concerns to Karen Tilberg in the governor’s office, after which the press began writing about the matter. The governor directed Commissioner Martin to investigate the complaint.

Commissioner Martin issued his report on March 2. He minimizes the importance of the deer wintering habitat on these lands, ignores many of the requirements in the habitat management agreement between DIF&W and the Gardners, and presents an analysis of the habitat on these lands that is stunningly different from two previous analyses.

“Since there was no current deer use, Gardner’s harvests have had no effect on deer use in the areas and did not diminish any current or future value for deer,” he concludes. If deer must now be present to pursue protection of wintering habitat, we’ll never be able to rebuild our deer herd in northern Maine.

He also dismisses all of the material presented to us by his wildlife staff as inaccurate, stating that the lands in question, “according to studies done both before and after Gardner’s acquisition of the lands, failed to provide real opportunity for wintering,” and “none of the habitat management areas in question possessed any potential to be high quality deer wintering yards.”

If the commissioner is correct, the Legislature was badly misinformed about the wildlife habitat on these lands.

Here are a few quotes from information on these public lands provided to the legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee prior to enactment of the resolve.

T2R4: “The lot contains a remnant of a large deer wintering complex, although it is not zoned. This is a high priority deer management area for IF&W regional biologists.”

T2R9: “Easterly portion of the lot is part of a major deer wintering complex.”

Glenwood East: “There is current deer wintering associated with a large wintering complex on the east side of the parcel.”

Glenwood Center: “IF&W has mapped current deer wintering on the lot but no zoned yard.”

Glenwood West: “Regional IF&W view the parcel as being important in the area as there is a component of very large trees as well as deer cover.”

The resolve required the Gardners to enter into “an agreement with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to continue management of winter habitat for white-tailed deer on those lots that is consistent with the management agreement between DIF&W and the Department of Conservation in effect on March 30, 2006, and that agreement will remain in effect as long as the grantee owns the lots.”

DIF&W and the Gardners signed an agreement on Dec. 13, 2006. Many elements of the agreement have not been honored, nor have the Gardners continued to manage deer winter habitat in a manner that is consistent with the BPL’s management of those lots.

Experts outside of the agencies should now do a fair and objective investigation of this matter.

State Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro. George Smith lives in Mount Vernon and is the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

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