February 7, 2023

Maine’s “Benchmark Report” for Deer A Bit Anti “Holographic”

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HolographI was first introduced to a “hologram” when I was dragged, unwillingly, into a mall store that sold what was labeled “holographic” posters. This is where you see a bunch of nothing that makes no sense but if you “look through” the surface image you can see a “hidden” image. If that is true then the opposite of that, the “anti holographic,” would be seeing an image that might appear to be of something but the more you stare at it, or “see through” it, the more you realize there isn’t anything there.

And such might be the best description for the March 6, 2014 “Benchmark Report” on deer for the State of Maine. Maine’s Game Plan for Deer, required an annual update on the progress being made to recover and build the Pine Tree State’s abysmal deer herd. This report has updates, so let’s look at some.

First, let’s set the stage for what we should believe in the entire report and whether or not we can trust what we are being told. Part of this report includes an update on the black bear population because black bears are a major contributing factor in total deer mortality throughout the state.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) admits they would like the state’s bear population reduced to 1999 estimate of 23,000. Currently it is estimated at over 30,000. However, in this report MDIFW says that the majority of the bear population is found in the “rural sections of the state” and therefore complaints registered by citizens about bears has remained stable (at an average of 500 complaints per year.)

“Stable = steadfast; not wavering or changeable.” This newest of the “Benchmark Reports” states that nuisance bear complaints have “remained stable” since 1999 and the state averages 500 complaints a year. However, in 2012, in an article in the Kennebec Journal, it is reported that for the first 6 months, beginning in January, bear complaints in Maine had already topped 400.

In a March, 2013 opinion piece in the Morning Sentinel, written by Cathy DeMerchant, a board member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and immediate past chairwoman of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council, stated that bear nuisance complaints, “increased in 2012 from an average of 500 per year to 870.” Save Maine’s Bear Hunt also carries this statistic.

Isn’t such a dramatic increase in nuisance reports worthy of mentioning in this “Benchmark Report?” Even if 2012 was an anomaly and could be explained because of a severe lack of natural food, it’s bound to happen again. How can this, therefore, be described as stable?

This is just about the bears, but my point being if MDIFW isn’t on top of all this stuff, can we expect them to be on top of everything or anything? I dunno. The MDIFW says in the report that they are “carefully considering” increasing hunting opportunity to bring down and stabilize the bear population. How long does it take to “consider carefully?” Or perhaps the MDIFW is under pressure from the Maine guides who want to control all aspects of bear hunting in the state. Or, has MDIFW figured out yet that the Humane Society of the United States is presenting a referendum to end bear hunting and trapping and we shouldn’t have to worry about whether the State of Maine will get sued again?

MDIFW says that caution exists due to a “liberal fall hunting season” and new legislation that allows two bears to be taken; one by hunting and one by trapping. So let’s understand the need for “carefully considering.”

MDIFW wants the bear population to be at 1999 levels or 23,000 bears. Currently that number exceeds 30,000. At a minimum it wants a net of 7,000 bears taken, now. To achieve a reduction in bear numbers would require a substantial increase in annual bear harvest. Do the math.

We are still waiting on the 2013 bear harvest data but in 2012, 3,207 bears were taken. That’s perhaps 10%. Of those 3,207 bears, 66 were taken by trapping. If those 66 people who trapped a bear could also shoot a bear, 66 more bears might die. 66! And that would be a 100% success rate. Some might argue that if you can get two bears more would trap and/or hunt. Okay! How many more? 100? 200? 300? How about 3,000 more bear hunters and trappers? If the bear trapping success rate was 30% (equal to all methods of bear hunting), and there were 3,000 more trappers/hunters, 900 more bear would be killed. I ask what is the need for “careful consideration?” Certainly there is little danger from trapping and hunting to extirpate the black bear population in Maine…..is there?

I don’t get it. But, enough about bears. Let’s get back to deer.

There’s really very little of excitement or interest to report that is found in the “Benchmark Report.” As a matter of fact, I know of one person, after reading the report, stated that if he was on the legislative committee that reviewed this report, he would send it back with orders to present something worthwhile in two weeks or have your position eliminated from the budget.

Accomplishments and effort amounted to very little. Some signs were put up, the department is working on the new 15-year deer management plan due in 2015, and a few coyotes are getting whacked at a cost of about $200 a varmint; in line with previous years. What is not available is an assessment of some kind as to whether the targeted effort at remote deer yards is having any effect. Which brings me to my next point.

What is NOT being done is a good job of informing the public and sportsmen about the ongoing effort in carrying out the Maine’s Game Plan for Deer. That plan called for creating a position, Information and Education, to better communicate with the public and sportsmen. For me personally, I have watched the information trickle, about the execution and results of Maine’s Game Plan for Deer, dry up and disappear; much like the deer herd (lack of good management?). Unless you are somebody on the inside with connections and don’t speak badly, ever, of MDIFW, you get the information you want. I don’t and that’s no surprise.

MDIFW is working on their new 15-year plan. The current plan calls for a state-wide deer population of 300,000. How did that work out? And by the way, what is the current deer population? It seems to remain a secret. Why is that? What was the result of the 2013 deer season? Why are we still waiting for data? All of this secrecy, at least that is what it appears to be, leaves many to wonder what’s to hide. So, what is to hide? And why, in the last 15 years, or perhaps 30 years, did projections put the deer herd at 300,000 and the end result being a concern that the deer population in northern, western and eastern Maine may never recover? Should the next 15-year plan call for 150,000 deer because intermittent climate change can give us that many?

It’s easy to blame weather, cold air, warm air, deep snow, no snow, habitat, lack of habitat, encroachment, more global warming – blame, blame, blame and blame. All the blame being placed on things none of us have any control over. Those things that we can control, evidently we are still in the “careful consideration” stages of wishing and hoping.

Are we carefully considering:

1. Whether of not the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will ever get around to issuing an Incidental Take Permit? What’s the status on that? Why don’t we know? The last official word I had on that, direct from the Commissioner, was that we needed to shut up and not say or write anything because it might jeopardize efforts to get the permit. How’s that secrecy working out? Love that freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

2. Enhancing bear harvests, not only to meet bear management goals but to reduce bear predation on deer fawns?

3. Monitoring the bobcat populations, especially in areas where the deer herd is struggling?

4. Monitoring the lynx populations for the same reasons?

5. Killing more coyotes/wolves?

6. What the Maine Indians are doing to manage their deer herds to see if we can implement their successes and learn from their failures?

7. The expanded effects on the moose and deer populations from Hydatid disease recently discovered by scientists’ studies?

If the attitude at MDIFW is that there is nothing they can actually do to save the deer herd, as the excuses always seem to be directed at all things we can’t control, then why are we paying for deer biologists? Why are we counting deer in the field? Why are we doing fly-overs of deer yards during winter months? All of this is great as far as monitoring goes, but if there is no action to actively manage, then why spend the money? It makes little sense. If the majority of Maine’s wildlife biologists and administration personnel have been overcome with the “balance of nature” myth, and they honestly believe that, what then is the purpose of their jobs? Why then should my license dollars continue to pay their salaries when their objectives are to eliminate consumptive game management practices? It’s time for answers!

Maine sportsmen would really like to know what hope there is for the future of whitetail deer hunting in Maine. How are any of us supposed to know when we are told nothing? When we are told nothing, we are left only to speculate and that usually involves distrust, disbelief and the impression that there must be something to hide.

I think MDIFW was riding a wave of hopefulness after a couple years of their hoped-for global warming and some mild winters help kick the recovery of the deer herd and rebuild their cash cow. What’s in store for this winter? What was in store last deer hunting season? How many more months do we wait for the deer harvest report? And where’s the bear harvest data? In keeping with the updates in the Benchmark Report, the answer to all these questions is “Ongoing.”