July 3, 2011 -- Vt. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry joins Jennifer Reading and Darren Perron to discuss the deer herd, new rules and regulations, and other fish and wildlife issues.
Good morning, everyone. I'm Darren Perron. Our news maker this Sunday morning is pat berry, the Vermont fish and wildlife commissioner. We'll talk to him about the proposed changes to the hunting season, the health of the herd, the state's fish and nor. And your neighbors in the news making a profit off worm poop. Need a diet? Get a dog. Plus, a woman who's breaking barriers at the fire house and the patriot flag comes to Vermont. But first, pat berry, thank you for joining us this morning.
>> Thanks for having me.
>> Let's begin with the for laying of the deer herd. How is it looking, are numbers up? Are they healthy?
>> The animals themselves are healthy and the weights have gone up year after year. When we have a tough of tough winter like this one, they're able to survive through the winter but certainly it was difficult in a lot of areas through the state and when we make our adjustments for permits from year to years, we look at the winter severity index and that gives us an idea of how much the deer have been impacted in certain areas of the state. So you know, we're assuming based on that model and based on a lot of, you know, the data we may collect in the field, that the numbers are down depending on where you live. The northeast kingdom was affected a lot more than the southwest corner of the state.
>> do we have an idea on the total population of the deer herd?
>> We estimate it to be 120,000. Give or take. And we use that number based on, again, a regional basis to determine how many permits we're going to issue from year to year.
>> And is that number up or down from previous years?
>> It's a real good question. We try to keep the herd in balance with forest resources basically, what can we sustain as a state, and you know, Vermont's changed a lot in the last 40 or 50 years, so people may remember back in the '60s and '70s, when they saw more deer, but that was a very different place when with a lot of regenerating farms, active forest manage many going on, so we try to keep the herd anymore between 120 and 140,000. We're in that range, probably on the low end in some places, right at target in other places, but we're pretty much where we need to be, even with this last winter.
>> and speaking of the population being on the low end, there has been a proposal to limit the number or him nase the number -- eliminate the number of doe that are danny and stop that in muzzle loader season. Where that is process now and that is likely to happen?
>> timing of that question is perfect. We give out basically by application these permits based on 25 different units in the state, and in some places, there's a reduction, but maybe not as significant as you might see. Franklin county, the southwest corner of the state. There are some of these units, especially along the mountains in the northeast kingdom, parts of the southeast foothills, where the winter was more severe, or we've been harvesting more deer to try to get the numbers down in balance with forest resources a little bit better. So there are still, you know, between nine and 10,000 permits that are available for information but certainly a far cry from, let's say, 209s,000 you -- 20,000 you may have seen in past years. And probably right about where it should be in terms of a sustainable level and allow some of these units for the deer numbers to come back a little bit, so generally speaking, you want to expect numbers to be lower or not -- have no permits available at all. In the mountains, northeast kingdom and down in the southeastern part of the state.
>> strictly for muzzle loader or talking about rifle too.
>> strictly for muzzle season, there are no changes for muzzle lowered season and we're able to project for harvest to determine what we ask the fish and wilet life board to approve for ber mitts to the December muzzle loader.
>> so no changes to the rifle season.
>> no changes to the rifle season. That's quite a ra digs that i'm sure folks would be nervous about. Just for the December muzzle loader season.
>> and maybe you can reiterate why that is. Of course, hunters don't like to see seasons changed, it's a long-time tradition here in Vermont. Is it because the population is on the low sigh at this point and you want to increase the number of doe?
>> yes and no. It depends on where you are in the state as to where we're trying to allow deer numberses in you know, in some places along along the mountains, the green mountains, the northeast kingdom, those numbers are already low. It's limited by habitat and by winter severity, and we like to see an increase in number of deer in those areas. In other places like the southeastern foothills, we've been trying to reduce those numbers and, you know, it's real really tough for your average hunter. We hear a lot from big forest land owners who are trying to regenerate trees and basically have working landscape and be able to make some money to pay their taxes that there are too many deer and we hear from folks who live in the same area when they're out there during the November season, that they're not seeing any. Frankly, i think the two biggest issues are access and had been stat. There's an imbalance of habitat in some areas of the state where maybe we could enhance that more and there's more limited access. We've doubled the amount of posted land in the last 40 years which means in deer pressure, they may move into larger blocks of posted land and that means hunters may not have access and hears what's really important from the fish and hiled life perspective, is that this is not about hunter satisfaction. This is about our ability to actually manage wildlife. We try to work with land owners and foreres land owners to manage the herd and balance, but when people can't get on that land to help us manage the herd, you know, we've lost a lot of our top predators and we count on hunters to be able to help us with that. That makes it really difficult for us. . So, you know, we're trying to work on some ways to enhance access and allow for more even manage many across the Vermont landscape.
>> but it doned sound like this will be a state wide rule, it will be regional?
>> yes, that's a really good question. While permits have dropped in almost all areas of the state, there will be, you know, a lot of areas where, you know, people have historically seen a lot of deer, will certainly have plenty of permits available and in past years am some of these years, there have been unallocated permits. What's really interesting is that we had a couple hearings over the last couple weeks to let hunters know what we're thinking of and let them know what the numbers were, and it was pretty light turnout, and the folks that were there were generally very supportive. So i think that, you know, the hunters, they're our partners this all this and they understand that it was a tough winter and a lot of them think back to the days when you couldn't shoot does anyway, so generally depending on where you live, there's a sentiment that maybe we shouldn't be harvesting as many does, so we've gotten support for this and feel pretty comfortable that, you know, hunters will understand how we've gotten to these numbers.
>> so taking input from hunters at this point, is this a done deal or is it still in the process?
>> it's still in the process. What we do as a department is we make a proposal to the fish and wildlife board and the board as completely separate entity. They make hunting and fishing regulations. That's what they dos. They're appointed by the governor and they have six-year terms so they're often stagger over a number of different administrations and that sort of thing. And a proposal passedion man mussily on the first vote. There's three veets it has to go through the standard rule-making process and it passed unanimously. The hearings were very good, so they may make some minor changes, but generally speaking, i think we'll be in the ballpark again between 9 and 10,000 permits state wide.
>> and if history repeats itself, usually those recommendations are accepted by the boards?
>> within -- yes, they're usually accepted. Sometimes they may add more, sometimes they may take a few away. It depends. The interesting point is that generally speaking, if there's 100 permits here or there in a certain unit, biologically it probably won't have that great an impact. You have to assume maybe a 15% success rate, so 100 permits means 15 deer in a unit. State wide you're looking at 120 to 140,000, so there's definitely some scientific variability there and the board probably knows that as well.
>> all right. Moving from deer to fish now --
>> -- we've heard from a lot of anglers that the fishing is pretty decent right now, spring and into summer, minus the flooding situation and trying to get to the lakes, but we're also seeing, you know, we saw this woman real in a record-breaking salmon during the lci fishing derby. You are seeing that? Is fishing really solid this summer so far?
>> i think the fishing has been exceptional. I've been trying to get out there, take my kids out there, and also trying to do some different kinds of fishing on the lake that i haven't been doing before, and every time i've been out on the lake, it's been great. You know, it's too bad that a lot of access areas and marinas weren't able to get open because during the height of the flooding, boats can float and fish can swim and the fishing was great. We've been getting great reports and the lci derby from a couple weeks ago, we weighed in -- they weighed in, i was at one of the weigh stations working the scales so i was a part of that, but there were significantly more fish weighed in this year and we're certainly seeing bigger fish, and just to follow up on the woman who caught in giant 11.42-pound salmon, their family was at the weigh station that i was at the day earlier and they were they're an enthusiastic family. They all fish together, really great people, and from a personal perspective after spending a little time with them, couldn't happen to a nicer lady and to a better family.
>> and she really turned in to quite the celebrity from what we gathered.
>> yes, i mean it's -- in this derby, the top 10 salmon were about ig ger than drp -- there were more seven-pounders caught than the last ten years combined and the top 10 were all seven pounds or greater which we've never seen before, so certainly for the salmon fishing, it was really good and i think that, you know, bruiser that they caught was indicative of how good the fishing is getting out there. But the fishing has always been exceptional no large mouth bass, small mouth. We saw monster catfish caught in the southern part of the lake and there's a die-hard following for folks who go for catfish. I managed to get out after work one day and i do a little fly fishing for carp and bowfin which people may not think about a game species and it was about as much fun as i can remember having catching fish because they're big and you're sight fishing for them. So the lake as tremendously diverse fishery and its something that few other states and few other lakes can boast is having that many quality fish to trophy sizes of such a great diversity of species. You know, from the 120 miles of lake, from the southern end to the northern end, it's very diverse. There's room for everyone and it it certainly panned out this year that the quality of fishing was what we all hoped for.
>> what do you think, do you think lamprey control plays a role in the quantity and size of fish we're seeing right now?
>> no question. Depending on the species, they certainly have some species that they target over others, but we track wounding rates when we do sampling for fish and lamprey kill fish and those rates have been reduced dramatically, so i think the lamprey control program, the cormer also in program, they not only impact the fishery but have a severe impact on some of the sensitive habitats on some of the islands on the lake, so there's a dual purpose there. Certainly it's had a huge impact and, you know, those are species that are out of balance with what the lake can sustain and certainly in terms of fishery, so there's no question that it's made a big difference, especially with, you know, species like salmon.
>> as you know, lampreycide is kind of controversial and especially when it was first started here in vermont. Are we going to see those treatments continue or are at we at a point where we can back off on treating rivers so the fish do get bigger and lamprey go away?
>> we are getting better and better at fine-tuning the control program so that we're, you know, applying chemicals to a control them in doses that, you know, have the right impact on lamprey but don't have necessarily the impact on non-target organisms. And the great lakes and parts of the upper midwest have been working on lamprey control prasms for a long time. They have got a lot of research and we've been able to learn a hot from them. I definitely think we'll see a strong lamprey control program and in concert with the, you know, the tfm application. We're also looking really hard at things like alternative treatments which could be fair ro moans and trapping and there's a lot of other ideas out there because what we're trying to get to is a lamprey control program that's sustainable, long term and where we don't necessarily have this controversy over, you know, how we go about doing it.
>> pat berry, vermont fish and wildlife commissioner, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate your time.
>> thank you very much.
>> have a great sunday.