IFW’s- Lands Management Program Background

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Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) holds title to approximately 106,000 acres. Most of these lands were purchased with Pittman-Robertson funds (generated from the federal tax on the sale of firearms-related equipment), other federal matching funds, Maine citizen approved bond monies, gifts, Maine State Lottery Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars and North Atlantic Wetland Conservation Act Grants. Holdings range from freshwater wetland habitats to coastal islands necessary for sea bird nesting to upland forested habitats with a multitude of tree age classes and species. The Department’s team of Regional Biologists constructs management plans for each of the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) describing the vast natural resources, history of past uses, wildlife objectives (this includes several species of wildlife from the inconspicuous invertebrate insect species to our largest game mammals) and future long term plans. Plans are updated every five years to accommodate new land acquisitions and any changes in the Department’s objectives.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is charged in statute to manage Wildlife Management Areas for the benefit of the wildlife resources present on them. Many of these same properties provide areas where Maine’s residents and visitors can enjoy the traditional recreational past times of canoeing, hiking, hunting, fishing, and trapping. Along with the charge of managing WMAs are three primary objectives which govern all administrative decisions: Enhance upland and wetland habitat for a featured species or variety of species, maintain or improve public access for traditional recreational uses and serve as a habitat demonstration forest for other landowners to model their woodlot activities. By employing active management strategies outlined in the Department’s resource plans, habitats can be improved for all wildlife species, game and non-game.

Founding of Lands Management Program

In 2001, the Wildlife Management Section of MDIFW and the Legislature approved a new Lands Management Program position and supporting dedicated account to coordinate activities on WMAs. This dedicated account, the sole funding source for the Lands Management Program, is not funded from the General Fund. Initial startup funding was from both public and private sources including the Ruffed Grouse Society, Wild Turkey Federation, Outdoor Heritage Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and a State Wildlife Grant. Current funding of this account is supplied by projects designed to enhance wildlife habitats on WMAs, including stumpage from timber harvest operations and farm leases.

Prior to the initiation of the Lands Management Program, all WMA activities were coordinated from one of the seven Regional Offices having jurisdiction. Land management efforts were one of the many tasks MDIFW biologists were called upon to implement at that time. During the 1990’s priorities began to shift away from state-owned lands to the conservation of the wildlife habitat resource as residential and commercial development scaled upwards to unprecedented levels in Maine. The Department also began implementing a nationally recognized Species Management System approach to monitoring and controlling statewide wildlife populations. To project the accurate status of a particular wildlife species, this system relies on sound field data collection to feed population models; hence field sampling efforts by biologists increased. In summary, development permits, the Endangered Species Act, the Natural Resources Protection Act and MDIFW Species Management Systems became the focus of Regional Biologists’ time.

With the Lands Management Program firmly in place, the Department can focus again on habitat enhancement efforts on state-owned WMAs. Current staffing in the lands program consists of a Lands Management Biologist and a Forest Technician, the latter being a project or temporary position that sunsets in April, 2006. Both positions are diligently working to apply the dedicated account funds to five distinct WMA projects: Boundary lines, infrastructure upgrades, natural resource assessment, culmination of data into a geodatabase and future project planning.

Boundary line work, for any of you who have participated in this laborious task, is a dire necessity. Knowing the location of property boundary lines should be paramount to all other landowner’s objectives. However, knowing is not enough. Boundary lines that are neglected for more than 10 years may increase the potential for trespassing, littering and overall disregard for the land ownership. Boundary lines, especially those > 500’ in length need to be maintained by brushing and demarking. The conventional method of property line delineation is the axe blazing and painting of “line trees,” those trees exactly on the property line and “witness trees,” trees adjacent to the property line. Witness trees should be blazed and painted indicating the face towards the boundary line in question. Approximately 600 miles of boundary lines encompass MDIFW WMAs. Since maintenance efforts should be repeated every 10 years, our goal is renewing 60 miles each year.

Infrastructure refers to the miles of roads and numerous locations of culverts and bridges occurring on these public properties. Many WMA roads need a lot of work. The public relies on access roads to engage in the traditional recreation experiences. The Department of Conservation’s Best Management Practices (BMPs) are being applied to all roadwork in an effort to minimize any sedimentation of brooks, streams, ponds and lakes. Statewide, spring and storm runoff from road surfaces are the two greatest non-point source contributors to riparian area pollution. With BMP filter strips in place, sedimentation to water bodies will be minimized. Protection of the WMA infrastructure will ensure long-term public use.

Natural resource assessment catalogues flora and fauna abundance by species in a given area. Aerial photography combined with ground reconnaissance surveys is the tool most often used to delineate forest and habitat types. The Lands Program will have approximately 90,000 acres of WMAs typed with forest and habitat codes by summer’s end. This data helps achieve the fourth goal, creation of a geodatabase; a computerized package that enables the cataloging of important data attributes while spatially referencing these features on geographic information system, or GIS. For example, a user can query, a request for information: All softwood habitats that are at least 35’ tall and have greater than 75% crown closure. This query will show all potential habitats on the land base or on a given lot, which meet the minimum criteria of a deer wintering area (DWA). In the Maine, a DWA, a critical winter cover component, is the most limiting factor to our white-tailed deer population. This query could be broken down further to identify only those habitat blocks greater than 20 acres and are composed primarily of spruce and balsam fir. After isolating the unique dataset request, maps over topographic maps or aerial photos can be generated for field use. The map production step gives a spatially representation of the information query. The value of habitat information cataloged in a geodatabase is endless; however, this data is imperative to sound habitat management.

Regional Biologists identify high priority projects for WMAs within their respective areas of responsibility. Projects may consist of herbaceous opening maintenance mowing, salvage of declining trees within a deer wintering area, a stand where age class diversity harvests were overdue from past planning periods or a regeneration operation to perpetuate a rare forest community. To realize the economics of scale, habitat enhancement projects have focused on areas 250 to 1000 acres in size. This enables MDIFW to specify equipment preferences to achieve desired end results and focus attention on boundary lines and roads within a particular WMA. Regardless which project is embarked upon, the same planning steps are executed to ensure a desired habitat result. First, Department or professional contract staff performs ground reconnaissance. A detailed plan is created to describe the assessed resource before and after proposed management. Layout of set aside, riparian and treatment areas is performed where necessary. Upon project commencement, monitoring inspections assess and detail project progress through to completion.

Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species, Rare Plants and Plant Communities

Habitat planning involves a thorough overview of parcels before any habitat work can begin. MDIFW’s Biological Conservation Database and Maine Natural Areas Program’s (MNAP) Biotics Database are the tools required to meet this pre-requisite. Thirty-five of the 54 WMAs behold rare, threatened or endangered (RTE) wildlife species; rare plants and plant communities are often associated with these documented locations. To emphasize the tenant of responsible forest stewardship, the Department has teamed with MNAP to implement a more extensive survey all WMAs, statewide, for RTE and rare plants. This effort commenced during the spring 2005 and will complete southern and mid-coastal areas in the summer 2006. At locations of RTE, the Lands Program staff, Regional Biologists and the Species Specialist staff at Bangor MDIFW office culminate to design a habitat enhancement project most beneficial to the natural history and lifecycle of the species in question.

Why shouldn’t MDIFW let nature prevail on its WMAs?

Maine’s forests are much different today compared to pre-European settlement. Fire has been suppressed, many streams and rivers have water control structures to minimize flooding, insect outbreaks have been dampened, trees are often harvested before entering a state of decline, and thus reducing the introduction of wind throw pockets. Weather events such as ice storms and droughts are certainly out of our control, however, our ability to change the forest after these events through spontaneous harvest changes the natural dynamic of such events. Forests adjacent to developed areas, over the longer term, tend to be older, more homogeneous communities. Although older forests have a habitat niche, overall wildlife diversity is generally lower in these environments. In fact, many of Maine’s nuisance wildlife species (raccoons, skunks, bats) have an affinity for older forests due to the higher percentage of cavity trees present in these communities. Maintaining mature forests on the landscape as well as a mosaic of regenerating, sapling and pole-sized stands of trees enable landowners to diversify a landscape and thereby, provide for a greater species richness of different wildlife species within a given area.

Managing for horizontal diversity (patchiness) and vertical diversity (herbaceous, shrub, understory, mid-story and canopy layering) has become imperative, especially on larger tracts that contribute a high proportion of acres to a landscape. Wildlife Management Areas, having long-term objectives and a consistent landowner (counter to the trend today in Maine’s land ownership patterns) must be managed at the landscape level, providing those habitats not present on adjacent properties. MDIFW is creating a variety of regenerating, seedling, sapling and sawlog-sized aged classes in softwood, mixed wood and hardwood types depending on past harvest trends on adjacent landowners. Age class and forest type diversity combined with the maintenance of herbaceous openings and the protection of riparian areas and wetlands, enables the ultimate goal, indigenous wildlife diversity, to be met.

Maintaining or enhancing rare habitats and significant wildlife habitats are foci of many conservation agencies, including MDIFW. A project at Kennebunk Plains during the spring of 2004 cooperated with The Nature Conservancy to improve and provide for additional early successional habitat and regenerate the rare pitch pine community, which exists there. Changing the conditions of habitat by fire, harvesting or mowing, initiates preferred surroundings for species that prefer varieties of thickets, regenerating stands and large open meadows. Many RTE species depend upon these habitats to survive and reproduce. Deer wintering area management, a significant wildlife habitat, has been the prominent feature to which all habitat work has centered at Frye Mountain WMA in Montville and Knox in Waldo County. An 850-acre project area has been delineated for a variety of habitat improvements. Revenues generated from Frye Mountain and all other WMA enhancement work accomplished through sound silviculture (forest harvest prescriptions) practices is deposited into the dedicated Lands Management Account for re-dispersal to Frye Mountain and other WMA projects.

Opportunities abound on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Wildlife Management Areas. Although providing for the highest quality wildlife habitats, both upland and wetland, is the highest priority, as defined by legislative statue, traditional recreation experiences can be realized by many. Current and future project activities include boundary line re-establishment, road maintenance, field mowing and multiple habitat enhancement projects. These activities will enable MDIFW to be a model for forest and habitat stewardship.