April 2, 2023

Maine: LD1248: An Act To Establish Trail Standards In Deer Wintering Areas

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This bill directs the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in consultation with the Maine Land Use Planning Commission and the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, to adopt rules that establish standards for the construction of trails in deer wintering areas. This bill also directs the Maine Land Use Planning Commission to incorporate these standards for the construction of trails in deer wintering areas in the State’s land use standards.

An Act to Establish Trail Standards in Deer Wintering Areas
This bill is to establish Standards for the Construction of Trails within Deer Wintering Areas (Designated P-FW sub districts) on private and public lands within the State of Maine to enhance the survival rate of the state’s overall deer herd.

The regulation/restriction of human intrusion by the incorporation of these Standards within the deer wintering areas is to prevent additional yet avoidable stresses to the states depleted deer herds, which have been and remain an important value to the State of Maine, both economically and to the heritage of its citizens. The current declined condition of the deer herd is the result of several factors including damaged wintering areas due to timber harvesting, predation by large populations of predators, loss of mast crops due to market development of mast crop wood, and the loss of habitat by land development. All of these contribute to the current deer population problem.

Another major stress to wintering deer herds is that of human impact which is the result of the rapidly developing recreational trails within Maine. Specifically, trails can negatively impact deer wintering areas in several ways, first by the users traveling through the deer yard areas, which can spook the deer causing them to expend valuable energy during a critical period of reduced metabolic rate. Humans appear to deer as a predator; as such the deer will expend critically needed energy to escape them. Second, these trails compress the snow pack which promotes the passage of predators into the deer yard. The volume of and impacts from humans entering the deer wintering areas during these critical winter months should be stopped.

The Standards were originally drafted by staff members of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game, The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (now the Land Use Planning Commission) and myself to become a Draft Rule Amendment to Protect Deer in Deer Wintering Area (P-FW) sub districts from disturbance in Chapter 10 (Land Use Districts and Standards) of the then Maine Land Use Regulation Commission. As areas designated as Deer Wintering Areas are found both within and outside of LUPC’s jurisdiction these Standards should be enacted state wide to best protect the states deer herd.

As more people other than sportsmen within the state are becoming aware of the true economical value that a viable deer herd has state wide, more private land owners and community owned parcels are seeking the help of IF&W staff in designating and enhancing deer wintering areas on both private and public lands. Others, who are developing various types of trails for recreational/commercial use, see the deer wintering areas as a “tourist attraction”. The influxes of those individuals into the deer wintering areas are a detriment to the deer herd and in time may lead to actual extinction of those using the area.

It is my intent that the existing trails of all types’ currently penetrating deer wintering areas would be grandfathered by this act, but no additional ones would be allowed that do not conform to these standards.

David L. Miller

Standards for Trails within Deer Wintering Areas

Intended purpose of the Construction Standards are to:

*Increase protection of zoned deer wintering areas and Maine’s deer population by minimizing or otherwise eliminating new herd disturbances by recreational uses during winter months and minimizing transportation corridors for predators into those zoned deer wintering areas.
Deer go into a reduced metabolic rate (to slow down) so they don’t burn up calories during a critical 100 day period
*Increase opportunities for consultation with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) to avoid and minimize impacts on wildlife and their habitats.
With permits required in a P-WF (fish & wildlife protection sub-district), it would cause the two parties to come together to eliminate or minimize any impact to the deer herd
*Increase protections within the P-FW subdistrict by restricting the types of trails that are allowed within a P-FW subdistrict

*Regulations are rare in regards to the protection of wildlife

*IF&W has never dealt with anything on this scale, standards would ensure consistency state wide
More Specific Info:
Trails constructed today include a much wider range of types and uses than those constructed in the past. The proposed designation and division of trails better aligns the Land Use Planning Commission definitions with current land uses and more appropriately match land use controls to the intensity of the specific use.
There currently are no specific designations of trail types in Maine, or the regulation or permitting of any that could impact protected sub-districts (sensitive areas of concern).

The need for Standards, for the Construction of Trails in areas of concern / critical habitat has been brought about by the fact that some organizations are currently targeting specific areas Zoned as Deer Wintering Areas (a subdistrict P-FW) to allow customers/users to see deer. A human (particularly on foot) is seen as a predator by the deer causing the animal(s) to flee resulting in excessive stress, thus affecting its ability to survive.
The purpose of establishing Standards for Trails is to regulate activities within an area of concern in a manner that produces no undue adverse impact upon the resources and users in that area.
This proposed change requires a permit for all trails within the P-FW subdistrict in order to provide LUPC & MDIFW oversight and opportunity to avoid or mitigate impacts upon these resources.

Prior to construction of a trail, MDIFW and the MNAP shall be consulted with if a Level B and/or Level C would be located within a Fish and Wildlife Protection (P-FW) Subdistrict

There are four categories of trails to be established.
These are:
Trail, Level A:
A route or a path, other than a Level B or C Trail, roadway, or water trail with a travel surface width of less than 4 feet. Level A trails are developed and maintained with hand tools, and designed to facilitate human foot, ski, snowshoe, or non-motorized bicycle traffic only.
(Examples include – hiking & nature trails, mountain biking trails, portage trails, residential paths to waterbodies, etc.)
Trail, Level B:
A route, other than a Level A or C Trail, roadway, or water trail with a travel surface width of less than 6 feet, used for travel on foot, ski, snowshoe, motorized and non-motorized bicycle, equestrian, musher, snowmobile or ATV.
(Examples include – hiking & nature trails, mountain biking trails, portage trails, residential paths to waterbodies, ATV trails, snowmobile trails, and any use other than 4×4 jeep trail that meets specified dimensional criteria)

Trail, Level C:
A route, other than a Level A or B Trail, roadway, or water trail with a travel surface width less than 10 feet designed for one or two lane passage, used for travel on foot, ski, snowshoe, motorized or non-motorized bicycle, equestrian, musher, snowmobile, ATV, 4×4 vehicles, or other mechanized equipment. Level C trails may include travel surfaces wider than 10 feet provided the travel surface is not compacted or otherwise hardened, such as snowmobile trails.
(Examples include – hiking & nature trails, mountain biking trails, portage trails, ATV trails, snowmobile trails, and jeep/4×4 trails, and any other trails that meet the specified dimensional criteria)

Trail, Water:
An aquatic route, such as streams, rivers, bogs, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water, by which various forms of watercraft may travel. Watercraft may include, but are not limited to rafts, canoes, kayaks, motorized or non-motorized boats, or barges. Water trail does not include any associated trails on land as defined herein as any other type of “Trail”.
(Examples include – the water potion of the Arnold Trail, The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, whitewater rafting routes, etc. Water trails do not include any associated trails on land, such as but not limited to portage trails.)