AUGUSTA — Judy Camuso, Maine’s first female commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is an avid birder. And she hunts. But she says with a chuckle, she’s not an avid hunter.

Maine’s first female commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Judy Camuso, stands at the department’s headquarters in Augusta on Feb. 26. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

“I’m not a skilled hunter,” Camuso said. She’s gone deer hunting, but hasn’t shot one.

People are surprised to hear her say the two activities have much in common.

“Any good birder knows what time of year you need to go and find a particular species of bird. Any good hunter knows the same thing: the habitat, time of day, wind direction.”

Camuso, 48, lives in Freeport. She grew up outside Boston. As a girl, she was always outdoors, always fascinated by wildlife. She grew up with dogs, but she wanted more animals. As a youngster she’d often sneak frogs and birds into the house, “much to my mother’s chagrin,” she said.

In college she met her now ex-husband. They moved to Maine, where she stayed.

A wildlife biologist, Camuso worked for Maine Audubon for 11 years studying songbirds and migrating owls. Owls are around more than most people realize, Camuso said. As part of her research, in one season alone she caught 500 owls in her backyard.

When nominated by Gov. Janet Mills, the governor said Camuso is right for the job. “She got rave reviews from everybody, inside and outside of the department.”

Before she became commissioner, Camuso was the director of the department’s Wildlife Division, a post she’s held since 2013. As director she was responsible for policy decisions, legislative proposals, wildlife rules and a $12 million budget to manage Maine’s wildlife.

Camuso helped defeat the statewide bear-baiting ban referendum in 2014. State game wardens and biologists were opposed to the referendum saying it would not allow traditional bear hunting and result in too many instances of bear nuisances.

Camuso also created a communications campaign that gained national attention. In 2015, she received the department’s Employee of the Year award. She canoes, hikes and bikes.

She accepted Mills’ offer as commissioner because it’s a job “I always wanted. There was never any hesitation about doing the job.”

Her top goals are to recruit new people into the agency with the “Citizen Science Program,” recruit more hunters and anglers, and improve communication with the public about how they can participate in outdoor programs.

Another goal is employee retention. “We have a lot of really talented, brilliant people,” she said. “I want them to be happy, motivated and feel respected. We have a phenomenal staff.”

Her department has a number of significant retirements coming up. That means there’ll be some hiring.

Camuso hopes being commissioner will encourage girls and women to consider careers as biologists, game wardens or working with wildlife policies. It can be easier for females to picture themselves in the field “if you can relate to someone in the job.”

 

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