May 28, 2023

Maine: Deer Population Goals and 5-Year Benchmark Report

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The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife presents its Annual Deer Report. You can find a copy of the 8-page report by clicking on this link (PDF).

There’s not a lot of new information contained in this report, however I would like to point out a couple of things of interest, at least from my perspective.

1. The report places a fair amount of emphasis on the fact that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has used appropriated money for predator control to focus on remote areas where the department deems a need for coyote reduction. MDIFW claim in this report that without proper funding it was impossible to get hunters and trappers into remote deer yards. As such, that leaves much of the coyote control in not so remote areas up to volunteers and efforts of coyote contests, along with efforts to increase participation in coyote hunting through marketing and education.

2. It also appears quite clearly that MDIFW needs to act quickly and seriously in dealing with an overblown black bear population. Bear population target goals, it is said in this report, are to be similar to numbers from 1999 (23,000). Current estimates place the population in excess of 30,000. The same report states that deer fawn mortality by black bears can range from 20%-60%. Knowing that the easiest and perhaps fastest way to destroy a deer herd is to eliminate fawn recruitment, it should be a no-brainer that MDIFW needs to figure out ways to cut those numbers down.

One point brought up in the report was the reduction of hunter participation for bears. Does MDIFW have data that might show a reduction in participation coinciding with the increase in bear hunting permit fees?

3. Coyote control, evidently focused on remote areas, over the past three seasons has amounted to the killing of 398 wild dogs, at a cost of $49,765.00 or $125.03 per coyote. We need to assess whether this effort and the cost of killing one coyote is accomplishing what was hoped for. I’m not sure how this can be honestly assessed at this point.

If we take a look at the past three years, we see that for the 2010/2011 season, the cost for killing coyotes ran at $146.27 per animal while harvesting 11. For 2011/2012, that cost dropped to $127.36, while harvesting 119. And for 2012/2013, the cost dropped again slightly to $123.13, while killing 268 coyotes.

What can we conclude from this? Not much. Perhaps it is easy to say that even at $123.00 an animal, that’s a lot of money. But we have no way of knowing if it’s even possible to get that cost any lower. If you examine the information this report gives us, one thing that jumps out should be that in the three years nothing is consistent. It’s pretty difficult to assess effectiveness if there’s no consistency in which to make any kind of comparative assessment.

We can’t control the weather, which determines where both deer and coyotes will be and when and the susceptibility of deer to coyote predation and coyotes to human predation. We can control where we choose to target coyotes and the amount of money to be used to accomplish specific goals.

I guess then the question really becomes two fold. Do we have enough information to form an honest assessment? Has the program been running long enough and if not how many more years before we can make a determination?

This season MDIFW decided to use the majority of the money to focus on killing coyotes in remote deer yards. This is different from last year. Obviously the costs of traveling farther and into more remote areas is higher than it would be targeting nearby areas. If any kind of conclusion could be made, then perhaps with the higher costs and the result being 268 dead coyotes to show for it at a price tag of $123.13 per dog, success rates are going up causing cost per animal to come down. Therefore, perhaps as the program runs long enough to get the bugs out, numbers might look differently.

Will Maine run out of money for this program before it has had time to run long enough to know and understand any effectiveness?

I’d also like to know if MDIFW is considering killing coyotes in targeted deer fawning areas? We know that deer are targets in deep snow years in their deer wintering areas. We also know that fawns are targets in fawning areas. Shouldn’t we be targeting those areas as well?

I’ll leave readers with one more question. At and average so far of $125.03 per dead coyote could an attractive bounty system work the same or better if that money was paid to Maine hunters and trappers? Perhaps the bounty program could be set up in a lottery/permit allocation system in which higher bounties are paid for coyotes taken in high need or difficult to access areas.