December 2, 2022

Scientific Research With an Axe

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Once again readers of the Bangor Daily News, from out of Bangor, Maine, got to read about one retired Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) biologist who has the answer about why Maine’s deer herd has disappeared. Ready? Habitat. Yup, once again them damned landowners, and this time with government accomplices, cut down all the trees and thus the deer have all starved to death.

Unlike the author of this piece, I will concede that loss of habitat plays a role in the demise of the deer herd. Habitat is an important factor in deer management, along with many other issues. However, I am also willing to consider other contributing factors that it appears this author is not.

There’s two things in this opinion piece that need to be noted. The first is the author’s story telling of making a scientific determination in late March of 1989, by using an axe and chopping up deer bones, determining two things; the deer starved to death and the deer were not killed by coyotes, even though he admits the deer had been eaten by coyotes.

Amazing isn’t it that conclusions about animal health and death can be determined with an axe. People who are specialists at trying to ascertain whether livestock have been killed by predators or died first and then eaten by predators, struggle to make a determination, with even more tools than an axe, and often are left without a firm result, of which the benefit of the doubt goes to the predator being innocent. Are we to believe that this retired MDIFW biologist, 24 years ago, carried out a necropsy with an axe and made a determination that the deer he found dead in a deer yard starved to death? And that he remembers the details so well 24 years later?

I also wonder if this author understands that predator presence, also known as harassment, is a major contributing factor in accelerating the declining health of deer in wintering yards, and throughout the entire year for that matter? In a recent article written by Dr. Charles Kay, Wildlife Ecologist-Range Management Specialist, Utah State University, and published in Muley Crazy Magazine, he states the following:

In addition, under certain environmental conditions, such as deep, crusted snow, even relatively small-sized predators, like coyotes, can kill large-size prey, such as mule deer, at will and without regard to sex, age, or physical condition of the prey. Then too, there is the question of whether the prey animals are naturally substandard, or are they substandard because they are constantly being chased and harassed by wolves and other predators?

One need ask if this retired biologist, on his one trip into a deer yard in 1989, where 10 deer laid dead, was able to scientifically ascertain (with and axe) that these deer were substandard in health because they starved or had been harassed by predators, or both? Also, can he remember all the environmental conditions that year? That would help.

The second issue deals with the timing of the release of these stories and what appears to be the admission of complacency, or perhaps even neglect, on the part of the biologist back 24 years ago. The author accuses foresters of cutting down trees in deer yards or clear cutting around them, as well as intimating that some cover-ups were also taking place. These kinds of accusations, along with other information given in this Bangor Daily News opinion piece, for the purpose of pitting readers against landowners and promoting predator protection, leads me to ask: In 1989 what did this biologist (not retired) do about what he claims to have witnessed? Who did he speak to once he was told or supposedly witnessed what had happened? Did he go to his boss at the MDIFW to see what could be done? Who did he talk to, if anybody? Was it the MDIFW policy to overlook these actions and not bring it to anyone’s attention? If he got no cooperation from his hierarchy, did he take his concerns to perhaps the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine or to media outlets to let all Mainer’s know of the malpractice of foresters and what it was doing to our deer herd? And finally, the author makes no suggestions as to what he would do now if this same thing was brought to his attention, other than, in this opinion piece, suggest more government control and buying up land that he claims will protect the deer yards. If he was MDIFW boss, what would he tell his subordinates to do in such cases?

The timing of these stories are quite convenient and suspect, coming at a time when there exists efforts, including legislation, to do something about predator control. Because this author, obviously a predator protector, will never admit that predators play a significant role in deer depredation, his aim here is only geared toward protection of his beloved dog; a shame actually.

Efforts are underway to attempt to do something about protecting deer wintering areas. It’s not an easy task to accomplish. Deer management is a bigger task than hugging a tree. Saving a tree will NOT necessarily restore Maine’s deer. Studies exist that suggest that all attempts at habitat restoration has no effect on ungulate rebuilding without predator control.

Predator control is a task that can be undertaken much easier than finding ways to ask or force landowners to not cut their forests. Because predator control in an integral part of deer management, it should be undertaken while efforts continue to come up with better ways to protect the habitat needed to help the deer survive the winters. Making deer management one dimensional is not only ignorant but is irresponsible and suggesting habitat is the only problem wreaks of special interest.