Much effort focused on stream crossings, fish passage

Report at MFPC annual meeting, By Barry Burgason, Plum Creek, Wildlife Biologist, Huber Resources

For SFI members, stream crossings and fish passage continue to be the focus of much of our activity.  The Fisheries Improvement Network (FIN), holds an annual meeting with landowners and a variety of state and federal agencies and NGO’s.  Pat Sirois (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and Keith Kanoti  (Maine Forest Service) have put much time and effort into outreach and education efforts that reflect well on the forest industry including sharing many stream crossing innovations developed by landowners and contractors.  The recent stream crossing video produced by Roberta Scruggs and others has been very well received.  The next step in the process is to develop a system that will allow landowners to quantitatively report the number of stream crossings and the amount of fish habitat that has been upgraded by landowners, all on a voluntary basis.

The one significant legislative issue this past session was  a wind power bill (LD 385) promoted by several environmental groups that would have placed a Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) plant community, the “Fir heart-leafed birch subalpine forest”, as off limits to wind power development.  When push came to shove, the groups admitted that their true focus was on Bicknell’s Thrush, a bird that nests in high altitude areas and has shown significant population declines.  We had two major objections to this proposal.  In the first place, the Maine Natural Areas Program’s community classification system was never designed to be used in a regulatory scheme.  In fact, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) testified that both they and MNAP had not been contacted about this legislation, did not agreed with it and wanted it removed from the bill.  Cooperation between landowners and MNAP would be severely challenged if community types were used as a zoning tool.  In the second place, allowing the zoning of a habitat based on the community type to benefit Bicknell’s Thrush would be akin to zoning all mature softwood stands as deer wintering areas without the presence of deer or significant vernal pools without the presence of frogs or salamanders.  In the end, we prevailed on the legislators to require the documented presence of Bicknell’s Thrush during the breeding season as a criteria for restricting development.

Biologists at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) have developed internal management guidelines for a variety of species including Roaring Brook mayflies, spring salamanders, great blue herons and rusty blackbirds.  Except for the mayfly, none of these species are listed as rare or endangered.  While developed as guidelines, some landowners report that they have ended up being used as regulations which have not been vetted in a public process.  In cases where a permit is required, IFW makes recommendations based on their guidelines to the permitting agency, either LUPC or DEP.  When the permit is issued, the guidelines sometimes become conditions of the permit.  Often these guidelines are based on scant or untested data and are a “best guess” by IFW.  Obviously, this is something we will continue to track and perhaps have some discussions with the agencies.

Two key wildlife policy positions in IFW remain open at this time.  The Resource Management Section leader and the Wildlife Management Section leader positions are currently open.

 UPDATE:  On Sept. 24, the Center for Biological Diversity announced it had reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service late Monday giving the agency four years to consider whether to protect the Bicknell’s thrush under the Endangered Species Act. The thrush nests only high in the mountains of the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Scientists have predicted that 98 percent or more of the songbird’s U.S. habitat could be lost to climate change.