August 24, 2019

Maine’s “Game Plan for Deer” Getting Nowhere Fast

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Growing up, my father was forever angering me with his platitudes in hopes of proving his point or putting you into a context of uselessness. Growing up poor we spent many hours of many days doing physical work around home, such as firewood, weeding gardens, mowing lawns, etc. I recall sometimes being told to do things I didn’t think possible and my first and repeated reply was, “I can’t”. His scripted retort was always, “Can’t never did anything!”

Is it me and my expectations of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) are too high or has the passage and implementation of the Maine Game Plan for Deer, become a useless instrument supported by “I can’t”?

Some say I’m not fair in my criticism of MDIFW but frankly what criticism is ever considered fair when you are the target of the criticism? Criticism should always be followed by suggested remedies, which I usually try to do.

Maine sportsmen held out hope going into the last election of governor, thinking that an administration change at both the Blaine House and regime change at MDIFW, that resources and attention would shift back toward actual game management, particularly deer, addressing a decades-long downward spiral in the state’s deer population.

When all the changes took place, personnel went to work to draft an official plan to rebuild the deer herd. George Smith, former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and now writer and outdoor/environmental pundit, attended a long meeting with members of the MDIFW to update the progress of the Game Plan for Deer. George files an initial report on the meeting.

I did not attend the meeting so I can only comment on Smith’s perspective of what he took away from the event. In essence, Smith relates that there was little optimism for the future and little had been accomplished and little projected to take place. Perhaps he puts it best when he wrote:

expectations are now high and his [MDIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock] ability to deliver is low

In reference to the content of the meeting, Smith says: “A lot of time was consumed with a discussion of deer feeding problems, predator controls, and deer/vehicle collisions.”

I’m not sure that I agree, as Smith writes that the number one issue facing a depleted deer herd is habitat, it appears nothing is even being done to address that problem.

But very little time was devoted to habitat protection and enhancement – the key problem and the major reason for the state’s diminished deer population according to the agency’s wildlife staff. Surprisingly little is actually being done on this.

I guess the catch phrase here might as well be, “I can’t!” After reading this assessment, once again my blood pressure spiked and I began breaking pencils and tossing them across my office. One stuck into the screen to the side door. What I sputtered about for the next 20 minutes sort of came out something like this:

It’s all about habitat! I’m so sick and tired about hearing how everything must be blamed on habitat. Well, you know, habitat is important but nobody has ever answered my question about why if there just isn’t any deer wintering areas left there are many acres of deer wintering areas where there are no deer. I could better understand this excuse if the deer herd was near the state’s carrying capacity, but it’s not. And yet, according to George Smith nothing is planned to deal with that so………

We can’t do anything about the weather and MDIFW is not going to do anything about habitat, so………

Then logic would force a sane individual to ask, what CAN we do? Let’s take what we CAN do and prioritize it into what has the biggest negative impact on down to the least and begin there.

So once MDIFW gets done forming more task forces, putting up more signs of deer crossings, paying to fly around and count deer, reduce Any-Deer Permits, shorten the deer season, close it in some areas, raise the license fees, pray for more global warming, take the dog for a walk, go out to lunch, form another task force, walk the dog again, investigate how many deer are being killed by farmers, then perhaps they could get down to predator control or does that have any negative effect at all? Maybe they see coyotes and other predators as positive effects on the deer. I mean take the wolf. They are like the wonder drug, geritol, spandex and lycra, WD-40. I think the presence of wolves cures cancer. Can coyotes be that much different?

And I still haven’t calmed down yet!

I can’t! MDIFW doesn’t have the resources. I can’t! The demands are too high. I can’t! I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!

CAN’T NEVER DID ANYTHING!

Where’s the effort here? Who’s on board with this effort to rebuild Maine’s deer herd? Has the state really made a commitment to rebuild the deer herd? Does Maine honestly see and understand the economic as well as cultural impact the loss of a deer herd and ultimately a hunting season would have on the state?

I have to seriously question that commitment.

Recently I received an email from a gentleman who is head of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in Utah. I shared that email with a few select recipients on my email list, including the MDIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock.

The email was a call to arms for Utah and other sportsmen from the Western regions of the United States, to come together in a united effort to rebuild a depleted mule deer herd. The email begins by clarifying what efforts had been done to date to fix the problem.

While more than 750,000 acres of habitat has been restored, cougar populations have been reduced, and $650,000 a year in coyote control is spent, $50 Million has been invested to fence highways with underpass crossings, still not enough has been done. It is the feeling that 80% of Utah’s deer herds are still in decline, and only 20% or so are doing well.

How many acres of this much needed habitat restoration has been done in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. What concerted efforts are underway in Maine to reduce predators, including black bears, bobcats and coyotes, even if only temporarily until the herd rebuilds? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How much money has been put toward coyote control in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How much has been invested in other projects around the state to protect and build the deer herd? Oh, that’s right. I can’t.

WE already know Senator Hatch has helped get tens of millions in habitat restoration money, personally toured Habitat restoration areas, won the wolf war for sportsmen etc.

In Maine, it appears the Governor has promised to do everything he can do, but when was the last time Sen. Snowe, Sen. Collins, Rep. Michaud, Rep. Pingree attended one of any meetings on the issue of rebuilding Maine’s deer herd? Or toured any deer yard? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How about the last time one of these elected officials sent a key staff member to assist? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. When was the last United States senator or representative who “helped gets tens of millions” to help do anything with wildlife management in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t.

As was written about in this email, there is an election coming up again next November. Maine sportsmen should be looking at every candidate and demanding that they have an agenda to actually do everything they can to save Maine’s deer herd or they won’t get your vote.

The overall effort here is just coming across as pathetic. Certainly there are pockets of positive accomplishes and isolated individuals doing what they can, but Maine’s overall effort is poor. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, once the backbone of lobbying for the sportsmen is in disarray with a sinking membership and disunity among those members still hanging on. Perhaps David Trahan can right the ship. It is imperative for Maine’s future for sportsmen. The governor makes promises to “do what he can” but is he? Isn’t it time to rattle the cages of the 4 Congressional delegates and tell them it’s time for them to get involved. If Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah can “find” millions of dollars to help with restoring habitat and mule deer there, isn’t it reasonable to expect the same might be available somewhere for Maine?

Can’t never did anything. As long as the current administration in Augusta insists that there’s nothing they can do or they are doing all they can, what hope is there? To exclaim that “expectations are now high and his ability to deliver is low” is a loser attitude. There is no room for this when a state is faced with such a serious problem. But, then again, maybe the real problem is that those in high places don’t really view a lost Maine deer herd as a serious problem or even a small problem.

The Maine Game Plan for Deer is a worthless document until a strong and united effort is undertaken. It has to be more than task force creations, meetings, talk and rhetoric, while fractured small groups or individuals practice futility. It appears Maine has to learn how to build a coalition that brings everybody onto the same page. Until that happens the only rebuilding of any deer herds will be happenstance.

Maybe David Trahan, if he were to successfully pull all this together in a united and powerful force to reckon with, this would, at the same time, resolve the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s membership problems. Just a thought! Let me know when you are ready to fight.

Tom Remington

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