SAM, Trahan end-run unfair, untrue

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In his Outdoors in Maine column of March 14, V. Paul Reynolds reported on a Downeast Magazine column written by George Smith, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Smith’s January 2010 Downeast Magazine article, “Maine’s Deer Wintering Area,” takes to task the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for not complying with a legislative resolve that required Gardner Land Company to enter into an agreement with the department to continue management of winter habitat for deer on certain parcels that is consistent with the management agreement between the department and the Department of Conservation in effect on March 30, 2006.

Smith states that an investigation by state Sen. David Trahan proved that this has not been done and, in fact, “according to DOC’s very credible long-term wildlife biologist, Joe Wiley, the deer wintering habitat that was to be protected had instead been harvested and no longer provides winter shelter for deer.”

Smith then writes that Sen. Trahan had obtained a series of e-mails through which Wiley and other biologists had notified their superiors — including the two commissioners of those agencies — that the Gardners were violating the agreements.

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In an attempt to further discredit MDIFW, Smith and Trahan circulated a letter addressed to the attorney general outlining these allegations. Although the letter was never submitted to the attorney general, it was delivered to the news media.

All of this was done without contacting this office to verify these outlandish allegations.

When Smith got wind that the Gardner Land Company harvested wood on forest lands it acquired from the Department of Conservation four years ago, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that wintering yards for deer were decimated right under our very noses.

Smith joined Sen. Trahan — vaulting across chains of command by circulating a letter containing these allegations. It flew directly over the heads of both DOC and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife officials — decrying the cutting of areas that would then, in turn, further decimate Maine’s whitetail deer herd. They made charges of secret e-mail exchanges, cover-ups by commissioners at both DOC and IF&W, and gross abuses of the land by the Gardner company itself.

All of which, it turns out, were nothing more than unsubstantiated coyote cries into the night.

Gardner never improperly cut lands on the five parcels traded in the Katahdin Lake acquisition project.

That the area “no longer” provided winter yarding opportunities for deer, as suggested by Smith in his January column, was misleading. That same area, according to studies done both before and after Gardner’s acquisition of the lands, failed to provide real opportunity for wintering, anyway.

In February, at the governor’s request, a group of licensed foresters and wildlife biologists visited and assessed the five parcels in question. What they found was that none of the areas in question provided much in the way of quality wintering habitat to begin with, and none of the areas had been harvested in a way that detracted from their future potential as deer habitat.

“None of the Habitat Management Areas that were transferred from the Bureau of Public Lands to the Gardner Land Company were high-value deer yards,” states the group’s findings, dated March 2.

They weren’t high-quality wintering yards when Gardner began managing them, and none of them were going to develop into such areas years from now. The report clearly stated that none of the HMAs in question possessed any potential to be high quality deer wintering yards.

What IF&W found last month when it visited the five sites mentioned by Smith and Trahan was that foresters had done nothing that IF&W wouldn’t have proposed on its own.

What’s really going on here is that SAM’s leadership needed to review its material and concerns with the department before publicly stating its allegations. Noting that an area has potential as habitat — some three decades down the road, according to the report — is different from suggesting it holds critical winter yarding areas for deer at present.

Curiously, instead of going to DOC and IF&W commissioners, Smith went straight to the news media without confirming these accusations. Plainly stated, it was an end-around play designed to discredit both agencies — one that was both distasteful and unfair.

Roland D. Martin is commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

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