October 20, 2019

Bears Return to Waldo County – Deer Going Missing

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I was recently reading an article in the Kennebec Journal about how black bears have returned to Waldo County, in Maine, and the surrounding area. Unity College, located in this same region, has been conducting bear studies in the region.

The article states that because all the trees had been cut down by the late-1800s, there were no bears to be found. In addition, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) claims that in 2004, Maine had 23,000 bears. By 2010, that estimate had grown to 30,000.

As part of the study undertaken by Unity College, it appears that bears have returned substantially into the region of their bear study – enough so that some seem to lament the idea that in one area there have been 18 auto collisions with bears since 1992. That’s 23 years to the mathematically challenged, or less than one bear a year. Regardless, bears are back in this study area making it easier (I think) for researchers to conduct their studies.

But what’s missing from this information?

Thanks to a friend, I took a snapshot of the region – of 27 towns surrounding the bear study area. I also chose to compare the years 2005 (23,000 bears statewide) and 2014 (at least 30,000 bears and the last year of deer harvest statistics available.)

I listed all the towns, along with the harvest report of the number of deer tagged in each town. For those who might not know, by law you are required to report the town in which you harvested your deer.

I totaled the deer harvest for the 27 towns for 2005 = 1852 deer. I then totaled the same 27 towns for 2014 = 1524 deer. That’s a loss of 328 or approximately 20%.

I’ll let readers conclude what they will. This is not a scientific study but it should at least present readers with some questions. We know that bear have a substantial impact on the deer population, especially on spring fawns. It has been surmised that bears might be having a bigger impact on the deer herd in Maine than coyotes, bobcats and Canada lynx.

Do the numbers I present reflect at least some of the impacted loss of deer hunting harvest opportunities for sportsmen? I would say it does but it is difficult to pin down exactly how much. Perhaps the study could be expanded (if they don’t know already) to determine the number of deer fawns that are being killed by the growing population of bears.

Regardless of what I might present for numbers and food for thought, the anti hunting rhetoric will continue, repeating such things as loss of deer habitat, global warming, global cooling, climate change, poaching – anything except predator destruction.

Perhaps I should just take a minute to explain to readers who don’t know how bears can and do impact deer populations. I have heard, often, people ask how can a few fawn deer disrupt a deer herd. Simple, really.

For deer to maintain a certain number of deer, the math is simple. There must be the same amount of fawn deer survive their first year of life, as adult deer are lost in total mortality. If fawn survival, called fawn recruitment, is larger than total adult deer mortality, the herd will grow. Conversely, if too few fawn live, the herd shrinks. If this scenario persists, the herd may reach a point where it cannot regenerate. Some wildlife researchers refer to this as a predator pit.

If a peek at these numbers hold any kind of correlation as to what might be happening statewide, i.e. from 23,000 bears to 30,000 bears, the increase and continued growth of black bears, has to be having some effect on Maine’s deer herd.

I have called for bigger bear harvests, and I know MDIFW continues to state that bear harvest numbers are not reaching management goals. But, MDIFW doesn’t seem to be doing much about it. Many have called for a Spring bear hunt. I’m not sure who is actually wielding the most power – the Maine Guides who don’t want to spoil their cash cow late Summer bear hunts, or the Environmentalists who say Spring hunts endanger cub bears who might lose their mother. MDIFW could also increase the bag limits. Currently hunters can take one bear with a gun and one bear with a trap. Trapping bear is not a popular sport and thus, the increase in bag limits from this amounts to nothing. Perhaps, at least in some regions, managers need to tell the guides that science must prevail, and up the limit to two bears until the population goals are reached and stabilized.

Protecting one species, at the peril of another is irresponsible but we are seeing it more and more. It was told to me, by someone who mostly or partly opposes the Unity College study, that the real purpose of the study is to create new wildlife managers who see protecting large predators as more important than sustaining and perpetuating game hunting and trapping. Sadly, this is at least partly true as new-science Science is taking over the colleges that teach wildlife management.