What's Wrong With This Picture?

Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and its warden service have come under scrutiny before - perhaps we again need to look at their policies and actions? 

Remember the embarrassing issue back in 1996 regarding supervisor wardens urinating on new recruits? Not only was their behavior unacceptable but their refusal to be held accountable for their actions was further evidence a department gone wrong. They, Fish & Wildlife, maintained the incident was an accident even when it was determined the event had not been a solitary occurrence. Maine Dept of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continued to refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. According
to reporter Roberta Scruggs, they were "trying to blame someone - anyone - else for what's gone wrong." Not only that but "You've accused the legislatures of playing politics because they tried to get to the bottom of it." 

Scruggs further stated in her August 24,1997 report in the Portland Press Herald, referring to her attempt to convey both sides of the story, that "you got angry. Because to some of you, there aren't two sides of the story. Only one. Yours." Are we to accept this as procedure by wardens acting on Fish and Wildlife's policies? Have they been granted asylum to be above even federal law? 

In 1997, the Maine F & W Dept wielded their power over a citizen when they insisted on seizing a capuchin monkey alleged to have bitten a local woman. Even though there were witnesses who were willing to testify that there had been no bite. The actual summons handed out by Warden Neal Wykes stated the owner had no valid permit for the primate, when in actuality this individual had complied with the request given in March of 1997 by F&W to renew her permit. She maintains F&W was negligent in carrying out their responsibilities by fulfilling her renewal application in a timely manner. She further maintains F&W never contacted her until the day of the seizure, certainly never informing her they had "problems" with her permit renewal. 

Warden Neal Wykes wrote, in his statement (complaint # A13-2-97,98) fabricated circumstances surrounding the seizure of the primate that did not concur with numerous other witnesses at the scene . Other Maine F & W Dept staff chose to perpetuate those fabrications. In addition, at the time of the seizure, they intended to place the primate with a man whom they purported to retain as their "primate specialist", Norman Waycott, owner of the Saco Zoo. Waycott accompanied Warden Wykes and members of the Bridgton Police force to the home of the individual keeping the primate on July 2, 1997 in order to take possession of the primate. This very same man (Waycott), whom Maine F & W deemed to be their expert on primates, was later charged and found guilty of "improper care" of his own monkeys by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in November of 1998. Further investigation shows Waycott had been written up by U.S.D.A on July 23, 1997, less than a month after the seizure, and March 16, 1998 for keeping his animals in unacceptable conditions. This incident apparently occurred due to the
fact that they have no one but themselves to answer to, even when valid documentation supercedes their position. When the case finally made its way to court, months later, it was dismissed. It took another three weeks of constant phone calls from the individual and her lawyer to obtain a permit authorizing the monkey to be returned to her home. It appears F&W proceeded with totally unethical behavior during this confiscation. 

Again there appears to be a discrepancy in the actions of F&W employees and what is mandated by law. Canada geese removed "illegally" from Highland Lake? According to Mr. Gregg B. Feigelson, Ph.D. of Pearl River, N.Y., who is associated with the "Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canadian Geese", Commissioner Lee E. Perry "conceded that his personnel acted without the proper authority under federal law." Again, is Maine's Dept of F&W above the law, even federal law? Who is responsible to oversee this department and insure they follow the law? 

On the other hand, it has been noted that there were discrepancies within the law itself. In a phone interview with Mark Statler, in the Augusta office of F&W he states that up until as recently as two years ago, federal law allowed state officials to relocate what are commonly known as "resident" or native Canada geese. Maine Canada geese were fair game for Maine F&W (no pun intended) while the true Canada geese residents were not. Statler said "they were under the assumption they had acted
within the proper authority to remove the geese." The geese "confiscated" at Highland Lake were more than likely native geese, making them legal prey for our warden service to remove from their watery domicile, had the law not been changed. 

The "resident" population of geese spends most of the year living in the state of Maine. Occasionally a portion of this population will fly a short distance to the south of us when the winter is extremely harsh. The "non-resident" Canada geese breed in Canada and pass through Maine during their annual migration, heading north in the spring and south in the fall. Unfortunately neither population carries valid ID, making it difficult at best to determine which group you may be seeing. While some will
condone what was done to those innocent feathered victims, we should take a look at our society in general. It has become apparent that far too many people feel their needs/wants should always take precedent over the needs/desires of creatures that evidently infringe upon those same people. 

According to Statler, the incident at Highland Lake was an isolated case of Canada geese being euthanized. In the past attempts, geese were relocated, but unfortunately they are like homing pigeons and would return to their original habitat. He had some suggestions for landowners to discourage the overpopulation of native Canada geese on their property. 

First and most important: Don't Feed the Geese! Feeding them encourages settlement at the area and what goes in must come out. The end product may be great for your lawn but is not conducive to barefooted swimmers. Phil Gutekunst, of Parks and Recreation is in a difficult position. Some people want the geese gone no matter what the cost, while others enjoy their presence. Signs have been posted requesting people not to feed the geese at the public beach. He says the signs don't work. Even when a town employee personally asked people to stop the feeding the requests have been ignored. Town employees have spent hour upon hour clearing the beaches of goose manure each morning. Then people demand to know why our taxes need to be raised. 

Secondly, Statler suggests that landowners refrain from making their lawns lush green goose paradises. Geese are grazers and a well-manicured lawn is an invitation to dine according to goose philosophy. He recommends a "buffer zone", a strip of land between the water's edge and the lawn comprised of shrubbery and taller foliage to discourage the geese. Statler went on to say that the situation is even worse down south. The goose population is growing larger and the need for reasonable protocol is

So, where do we go from here? We all need to be held accountable for our actions, F&W included. It would behoove us all to work harder at working together for reasonable solutions, rather than be so quick to condemn actions of not only F&W but the citizens of our state as well. 

(Published February 2000 at:  www.neighborhoodamerica.com )


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