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Loon Plate and tax checkoff benefit Endangered Species
Thursday, March 25, 2004
IFW Outdoor Report - The Maine Endangered Species Act was passed by the Maine Legislature in 1975 due to concern that various species of fish and wildlife were in danger of disappearing from the State. This act provides the foundation for Maine's Endangered Species Program. Authority to oversee implementation of the Act resides with the Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The history of the Act includes legislative creation of the Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund, which provides core funding for the Program through voluntary donations via an income tax check-off (the "chickadee check-off") and the "loon license plate", as well as direct contributions. Additional funding support comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and competitive grants.

As of 1997, 47 species of fish and wildlife are listed as endangered or threatened in Maine, either under Maine's Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Endangered Species Act, or both. While the federal Endangered Species Act looks at species status from a national or range-wide perspective, Maine's act is concerned only about species disappearing from within Maine. The purpose of Maine's Endangered Species Act is to insure that our native species continue to survive in Maine. (The Maine Endangered Species Act applies only to animals - plants are not included in the legislation. The Maine Natural Areas Program maintains an "unofficial" list of rare and endangered plants in Maine.)

Managing and keeping track of Maine's rare and endangered species of wildlife is a challenging task and involves the cooperation of many private groups, government agencies, colleges and universities, landowners and individuals. Our efforts in Maine are also tied into national and regional networks of similar programs in other states. Two of the primary programs are the Natural Heritage Network and the Northeast Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee. Progress of Maine's Endangered Species Program is reported annually in the Department's annual Wildlife Division Research and Management Report.

The Endangered Species program has never had a stable source of funding. In 1983, the state legislature created the Maine Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund by adding a check-off option to the state income tax form. Maine citizens responded generously, and the Maine Endangered Species Program was established. For a decade, except for limited federal dollars, contributions via the "chickadee check-off" were the only source of funding for endangered species conservation in Maine.

Then, in 1994, the "loon license plate" conservation registration was initiated, from which a portion of the proceeds go directly into the Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund. In its first two years, more than 80,000 loon plates were sold! Both the tax check-off and the loon plate allow people to donate directly to endangered species and other nongame wildlife management programs in Maine.

However, income from the chickadee check-off dropped dramatically (40-50%) in 1998, when the check-off was moved from the primary tax form to a supplemental form. The check-off remained on the supplemental form in 2002, and it looks as though it will now permanently stay there. Income in 2001 remained at a greatly reduced level, when only 0.06% of taxpayers contributed. Participation rates have steadily declined from highs of over 5% in the mid-1980s to 1.5-2.0% just prior to moving the check-off to the supplemental form. However, average donations have increased steadily from $4-$5 in the 1980s to $13.29 in 2001.

The loon license plate has been very successful, but competition with the new general issue chickadee plate, introduced in July, 1999, has significantly reduced this important source of funding. Loon plate sales rose from nearly 60,000 in 1994 to over 110,000 in 1998, providing MDIFW with up to $617,000 annually for nongame and endangered wildlife projects. Residents pay a $15 annual renewal for this conservation plate, of which $5.60 is returned to MDIFW and $8.40 to the Bureau of Parks and Lands. Maine has one of the highest participation rates nationally for conservation license plates with about 13% of eligible vehicles registered as loon plates. The introduction of the chickadee plate in 1999 resulted in about a 20% decline in sales of the loon plate Revenue to MDIFW dropped by another 9% in 2001. In a recent legislative session, many new license plate designs were introduced, including those for the University of Maine, and the lobster industry, all of which could further reduce revenues from the loon plate.

All money donated to the Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund, whether through the tax check-off, car registrations, grants, or direct gifts, is deposited into a special, interest-bearing account, from which money can only be spent on the conservation of Maine's endangered and nongame species. Other sources of state-funding, including General Funds, need to be invested in Maine's wildlife resources. Wildlife belongs to all of the people of the state, and sportsmen's dollars can't be expected to do it all.

Speaking of sportsmen's dollars - some people are unaware of the contribution hunters and trappers make toward the conservation of endangered and rare wildlife. Many of the salaries and most of the administrative costs of the Wildlife Division are funded by hunting and trapping license revenues, which are matched by federal Pittman-Robertson Funds (based on an 11% excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and a 10% excise tax on handguns). Also, you may be surprised to know that many of the financial supporters of the endangered species program are also sportsmen who are committed to the conservation of all Maine's wildlife.

These voluntary means of contributing provide the core funding for Maine's nongame and endangered species programs. Maine can be proud of the accomplishments made for nongame and endangered wildlife in the last 17 years. We thank those of you who buy a Loon Plate, participate in the Chickadee checkoff, or purchase a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund lottery ticket. Your voluntary support and generosity deserves a special "thank you." Our success is also attributed to our many willing partners and cooperating organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Maine Audubon Society, University of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, and the Maine Natural Areas Program. Also, it cannot be overemphasized that the entire Wildlife Division and every bureau of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are deeply committed and involved in nongame and Threatened and Endangered species conservation. We are all working hard to keep Maine a special place.

As you read this, take pride in your accomplishments - and please, as you fill out your tax return next year or register your car, join with us again in conserving Maine's wildlife diversity!

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has made great strides in protecting Maine's endangered species since the act was first passed.

Peregrine Falcon
The peregrine is a species that has benefited greatly from federal/state partnerships in endangered species conservation. Formerly a breeding resident of coastal headlands and cliffs in mountainous regions, the species was extirpated from Maine and the entire eastern U.S. by the early 1960s. Like bald eagles and many other birds of prey, peregrines were the victims of DDE, a persistent by-product of the insecticide DDT. Decreased reproductive rates among peregrines persisted for decades, and worldwide threats of extinction coincided with eggshell thinning caused by this contaminant.

More than 35 nations have since conducted active programs to restore peregrine falcons. A total of 144 young peregrines produced in captive-breeding programs were successfully released at 8 different locations in Maine during 1984-1997. More than 93% of young peregrines released in Maine have successfully made the transition into the wild. The Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Acadia National Park, and MDIFW jointly conducted this venture using methods based upon traditional falconry techniques. Some peregrines reintroduced in Maine were encountered as breeding birds in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York. Others have been documented as migrant visitors to points as far away as Cuba and Venezuela.

Despite these dramatic movements, others have found their way back to Maine. A peregrine from the 1984 release in Baxter State Park found his way back to the same Penobscot County cliff in 1985 and reappeared in 1986 as the first adult peregrine searching for a home in Maine. The first pair of peregrines to reside in Maine for more than 25 years chose Mount Kineo (Piscataquis County) as their new home in 1987. In 1988, a second pair appeared at "The Precipice," the Acadia National Park cliff last inhabited by peregrines before their disappearance in the 1960s. Also that year, an Oxford County cliff became the first site of successful breeding by reestablished peregrines. Small gains occurred during 1989 - 2001, but numbers of nesting peregrines did not change appreciably: 5 - 8 eyries were inhabited each year. Biologists were pleased to again have peregrines among the state's resident wildlife, but they were perplexed by the lack of recovery progress.

Significant improvements finally appeared in 2002. The statewide breeding population doubled in a single year. Peregrines inhabited 15 eyries, and 26 young peregrines fledged from ten of those eyries. Some of the premiere cliff settings have been used each and every year since the return of peregrines to Maine. Others have been occupied intermittently, but virtually all were reoccupied in 2002. Three new eyries were established in southern Oxford County near the state's western border. Numbers of nesting peregrines have apparently leveled off in New Hampshire and Vermont, so our recent gains likely includes some recruitment from those sources. Maine has been on the periphery of the northeastern population centered in the mountains of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, so periodic setbacks were more likely.

Diligence by land managers has been crucial to maintaining eyries favored by peregrines. The White Mountain National Forest, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Seven Islands Land Co., and especially Acadia National Park have championed stewardship of peregrines nesting on their property. Hikers and rock climbers have assisted by reported peregrine sightings during their recreational pursuits. Peregrines have proven quite adaptable, and managers have successfully maintained peregrines in some high profile settings with only modest precautions. Major improvements in their status in the western U.S. are largely responsible for federal delisting of peregrines in 1999.
-Charlie Todd, IFW Wildlife Biologist

Blanding's and Spotted Turtles
Two of Maine's rarest reptiles, the spotted and Blanding's turtles, are semi-aquatic species preferring small, shallow wetlands in southern Maine. Spotted turtles are small (5 to 6 inches long), have yellow spots on the head, tail, and legs and a somewhat flat, yellow-spotted upper shell. Blanding's turtles are medium-sized turtles (7 to 10 inches long) with a yellow throat and light-colored flecking on a domed, helmet-shaped shell. Little was known about either of these species until the Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlasing Project (MARAP) was conducted in the 1980s. With financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, MDIFW has intensified efforts to learn more about the distribution of these rare turtles over the past 13 years. To date, more than 2,600 wetlands have been surveyed yielding over 100 new locations for these rare species.

In the early 1990s, MDIFW worked with University of Maine graduate student Lisa Joyal to complete a study of both species in the Mt. Agamenticus area of southern York County. More than 80 turtles were marked or radio-tagged to gather information on nesting and hibernation sites, movements, and the types of wetlands used. Most significantly, her work demonstrated the importance of small pocket swamps and vernal pools as productive foraging and breeding habitats, with individual turtles often requiring multiple wetlands within a single activity area. Furthermore, the undeveloped upland forests and fields surrounding these wetlands provided habitat for nesting, estivating (a period of summer inactivity), and inter-wetland movements. MDIFW is committed to working with landowners and towns to help conserve remaining large blocks of habitat needed to sustain viable populations of these rare turtles. Southern Maine's landscape is rapidly developing, and one of the best remaining locations to achieve turtle conservation goals is on a 35,000-acre area surrounding Mt. Agamenticus in York County. MDIFW is working closely with the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Coalition - including The Nature Conservancy, local land trusts, water districts, and towns - to initiate conservation planning for turtles and other rare species in this area, one of the largest remaining contiguous coastal forest eco-systems between Acadia National Park and the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

The inherent population constraints faced by Blanding's and spotted turtles - long age to reproductive maturity and high nest mortality - have historically been offset by long adult lifespans. For example, it may require decades for an adult female Blanding's turtle to replace herself with a single offspring surviving to reproductive age. The introduction of artificial sources of adult mortality, such as road kill, short-circuits this evolutionary strategy by reducing the number of years available for adult reproduction below that required to sustainably recruit new turtles into the population. In short, the attrition of just a few breeding adult turtles every year to road kill has no natural precedent, and may rank among the most important factors threatening the extinction of Blanding's and spotted turtles in Maine. Recognizing this, MDIFW, Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) and The Nature Conservancy are cooperating on a program to enlist volunteers to adopt key road segments throughout York County for monitoring road-crossing movements and road kill of rare and common turtles. Combined with survey data on known turtle wetlands in close proximity to roads, the volunteer road-monitoring effort will help MDIFW and MDOT identify specific road segments for turtle movements and mortality.

Measures for mitigating road mortality will then be considered for various hotspot road segments including "turtle crossing" signage, seasonal press releases, barrier fencing, and wildlife overpasses.
-Phillip deMaynadier, IFW Wildlife Biologist

Clayton's Copper Butterfly
The Clayton's copper (Lycaena dorcas claytoni) is a small, orange-brown butterfly that has been found at only twelve sites worldwide - ten in Maine and two just over the border in western New Brunswick. In Maine, most of our occurrences are centered in a ten square mile area around Lee and Springfield in northeastern Penobscot County. Three sites in northern Piscataquis County, and one in southern Aroostook County, have also been documented. Only one site, Dwinal Pond flowage in Lee and Winn, is known to support a relatively large population of Clayton's copper. This butterfly is believed to be an isolated subspecies of the more widely distributed Dorcas copper (Lycaena dorcas), which is found across much of northern and western North America.

Clayton's copper is found only in association with its single larval host plant, the shrubby cinquefoil (Pentaphylloides floribunda). This uncommon shrub requires limestone soils and has a scattered distribution throughout Maine. Although not considered rare, it occurs in relatively few stands large enough to support viable Clayton's copper populations. In Maine, shrubby cinquefoil typically occurs along the edge of calcareous wetlands (i.e. rich in calcium carbonate or limestone), which are also uncommon in Maine. It can also be found in old fields, but these stands are typically short-lived as a result of forest succession. All of the currently known occurrences for Clayton's copper are circumneutral fens and bogs, or streamside shrublands and meadows.

Clayton's copper butterflies take one year to complete their life cycle. In late July and August, when shrubby cinquefoil is blooming, females lay their eggs singly on the underside of cinquefoil leaves. Leaves and eggs drop to the ground in autumn, and the eggs overwinter. The pale green larvae hatch in spring and crawl back up the plant to feed on its leaves. After the larvae molt and pupate in early summer, adult butterflies emerge during July and August to start the cycle over again. Throughout the flight period, Clayton's copper remains local to its cinquefoil stands, where the abundant yellow flowers provide its primary nectar source.

In 1997, Clayton's copper was listed as "Endangered" in Maine because of the extremely limited number, size, and distribution of its populations; the limited availability of its habitat, and its near-endemic status in Maine. Forest succession, impoundments, and dewatering of wetlands for irrigation are currently the most serious threats to the butterfly and its habitat. In 2001, MDIFW completed an assessment of the Clayton's copper's status and conservation needs in Maine, and convened a public working group to establish recovery goals and objectives. In 2002, a management system outlining the Department's strategy for achieving those recovery goals and objectives was also completed. Studies initiated in 2000 at Dwinal Pond Wildlife Management Area - where a proposal to stabilize water levels could potentially affect the largest known occurrence of the butterfly - were continued in 2002. Five survey plots were surveyed throughout the peak of the copper's flight season in order to begin estimating population size and monitoring trends at Dwinal Pond. A habitat characterization system was developed and used to document the butterfly's habitat preferences and distribution within the flowage. What is learned about monitoring Clayton's copper populations and managing habitat at Dwinal Pond will then be applied to benefit other sites and potentially improve the butterfly's status.
-Beth Swartz, IFW Wildlife Biologist

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