May 25, 2018

Maine’s Bald Eagles Not “Big Game” So Worthy of Population Counting?

What a mixed bag of contradictory statements that come from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). We heard recently that MDIFW intends to shift its focus from keeping track of population densities of the state’s deer, moose, bear, and turkey and concentrate more on the health of these designated “big game” animals.

Evidently, Maine’s bald eagles are not “big game” nor are the piping plovers, as we discovered here, and so they deserve to be counted and kept track of in order that biologists can…can…can… better manage them? Because they are NOT going to be hunted?

A recent press release from MDIFW tells us that the Department is undertaking a bald eagle “survey” – something they do every 5 years. The release states: “Biologists are looking to determine the current eagle population; determine whether the eagle population has increased, slowed, or stabilized; evaluate changes in breeding abundance and occupancy rates and compare occupancy rates in traditional eagle nesting territories based on habitat protection.”

Sounds pretty smart to me!

Will this effort tell the biologists the overall health of the bald eagle? It would appear so. So why is MDIFW counting eagles and piping plovers and are not going to place as much effort on counting “big game” species? Is it because eventually, the move will be toward deer, bear, moose, and turkeys not being hunted?

If this focus on health is going to be the new scientismic approach to big game management, then, as the spokesman for MDIFW said, it gives the managers “more flexibility” in how they manage big game. We should then focus on the intent and purpose of “flexibility.”

Flexibility in government bureaucratic management historically has meant a chance to do whatever you want to do with less accountability for what it is you are doing. It also affords a chance to more easily cave into the demands of those whose power can make life uncomfortable. Of course, that “flexibility” is never presented in such a fashion. Instead, it is revealed to the public as some modernistic approach to new science that will make things better.

Unfortunately, this is never the case and will not be in this sense. It appears to me that seeking flexibility, or not having to account for numbers in wildlife as a baseline to successful species management, to go hand in hand with the continued migration of the purpose of wildlife management from supporting sustainable game herds to environmentalism’s non-consumptive over protection, is the real goal here…even if managers and biologists haven’t a clue as to what they are doing and for whom they are doing it.

Think indoctrination institutions!

However, the same press release indicates that perhaps MDIFW will decide whether or not they need to keep counting eagles: “The findings of this study will also be used to re-evaluate the future needs for monitoring of Maine’s breeding eagle population or determine whether to modify the 5-year aerial survey census that has been ongoing since 2008.”

If it is determined that there is no need to continue 5-year counting surveys, does that mean a shift toward general health evaluations instead? And if health evaluations are the focus, like with deer, bear, moose, and turkeys, I want to know how then managers will know how many of these creatures need looking out for? When they know numbers are low, counting is vital to the recovery of the animal. Is this then the new tactic – to wait until numbers of deer, moose, bear, and turkey “seem to be” so low protective measures must be implemented along with 5-year counting surveys? Are we not returning to the beginning stages of fish and game management of 150 years ago?

It would seem there is some middle ground here somewhere and perhaps that is what MDIFW is trying to do. But please, for those of us with a brain that works well enough to know the differences, do tell me that shifting management tactics from numbers to health offers more “flexibility.” I just am not going to buy it.

Can we back up and then move on?


Is Maine’s Big Game Management Plan Really Shifting Toward Focus on Animal Health Not Numbers?

If readers will recall, last week I commented on an article published in the Portland Press Herald that quoted a member of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) as saying, “There is no absolute density (number),” Cordes said. “There is more flexibility now in management.”

From this, the article indicated that MDIFW was shifting their focus to game animal health and away from population densities. Is this what’s really going to happen?

This all came about as a lead-in to announce that MDIFW was soon to release their Final Big Game Management Plan for the next 15 years. It should be understood that although these required management plans are written, they seldom are actually followed. I would imagine they go up on a shelf someplace and collect dust, perhaps being pulled down on occasion should the department have a need to placate the public with something like a mid-management plan rewrite to keep the masses of residents who care happy.

Consider what is written in this regard in the Draft plan: “It may not be necessary or feasible to implement all strategies in order to achieve the goals and objectives.”

So, for what it’s worth, I spent some time reading over the Draft Big Game Management Plan for 2017 – 2022 with a specific focus for this report on deer management goals and strategies. MDIFW has listed 3 specific goals of their plan. In addition, they have added “new” efforts to carry out the deer management plans. I’ll give you the 3 goals, in my own words, and list for you each of the “new” strategies to be employed along with MDIFW’s assessment of the level of priority they put with each new strategy followed by my own comments for some of them.

First, the 3 goals.

Goal #1 – Maintain a “healthy” deer herd for hunting and viewing.

Goal #2 – Keep the Public happy about the deer population.

Goal #3 – Increase “Public Understanding” (create new knowledge?) of biology, ecology, and management.

If the focus shift at MDIFW is going to be on deer health rather than population densities, isn’t the chore of keeping the Public happy about deer populations going to become just a bit more difficult?

Because we know that the management plans are written as part of the bureaucratic process and aren’t ironclad instructions on step by step procedures to manage deer, we also don’t know, and I can’t determine from reading the Draft Plan whether it is actually a written proposal to shift focus to animal health or whether the person from MDIFW in the PPH interview letting the Public know that his office intends to focus on animal health rather than population densities regardless of the Plan. This is government business as usual.

So here are some of the “new” additions to the deer management strategy that we are to presume will help to achieve the goal of a “healthy” deer population…along with how MDIFW prioritizes it.

Listed under Goal #1:

4. Explore options to identify habitat degradation due to over-abundance of white-tailed deer (New; Moderate Priority) Even though this is listed as of “Moderate Priority,” how much more difficult or effective will this proposal be with this new approach at deer health? To understand habitat degradation due to “over-abundance” of deer, doesn’t that require counting?

5. Evaluate early fawn mortality factors (New; Moderate Priority) My first question might be, why hasn’t MDIFW been doing this already? In a state where the majority of its land mass is quite significantly below management objectives, deer management 101 teaches us that fawn recruitment and/or fawn mortality is vital to sustaining/growing a deer herd. And, let’s not miss the point the point that it would seem that in order to understand fawn mortality factors, it should require COUNTING.

6. Evaluate the effectiveness of the coyote predation management program and identify options for improvement (New; High Priority) We know the MDIFW has been undertaking some form of predator control to help protect the deer herd particularly in winter. One might quickly think the idea to “evaluate” usually means the plan is to get rid of it. However, this new proposal speaks of discovering ways to improve it. That’s a good thing, and I’m glad it’s listed as a high priority.

Listed under Goal #2:

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of the Expanded Archery Program in managing deer-human conflicts (New; Moderate Priority) Looks to me like more counting. Geez, it’s just hard to get away from having to know how many animals there are. And, I always thought that knowledge of good deer management included the fact that managing deer at the “biological capacity” provided for a healthy herd. But I do understand that all important “flexibility” that gives managers another good excuse…kind of like global warming.

2. Develop a certification program for hunters (e.g. Marsh Island deer hunt) that would authorize participation in special urban deer hunts (New; Moderate Priority) This may prove more beneficial to a lot more people than just hiring sharpshooters.

Listed under Goal #3:

Develop a strategic outreach plan for deer and use the MDIFW Communication Program to disseminate key messages to the public (New; Moderate Priority) I’d like to see this. It wouldn’t take a lot to improve the communication of important information from MDIFW to the Public.

Work with partners to develop a mentoring program that encourages deer hunting. (New; Low Priority) Low Priority? Hmm

Conduct regular public meetings on deer management (New; High Priority) Never happen, and/or won’t last. Even if MDIFW had “regular” public meetings, nobody would show up and it would be a waste of time.

Expected Outcomes:

MDIFW lists what it thinks might happen IF they were to successfully carry out this 15-year management plan for deer. Here’s what they write:

5.6 Expected Outcomes for White-tailed Deer Management

Implementing the deer management strategies in this plan will require adequate staffing, funding, and public support. It may not be necessary or feasible to implement all strategies in order to achieve the goals and objectives. If MDIFW and its partners are successful managing deer over the next 10 years, the following outcomes are anticipated:

• The statewide over-wintering deer population averages 210,000 animals.

• The percentage of the public rating the management of deer as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ increases to 75% by 2022.

• Public support for deer hunting to manage the population remains at or above 90%. • Annual hunter participation of ? 150,000 hunters.

• Statewide hunter satisfaction with Maine’s Deer Management Program increases to >85% by 2022.

• Northeast Maine hunter satisfaction ?80%

• Central Maine hunter satisfaction ?85%

• Southern Maine hunter satisfaction ?90%

• An average annual statewide buck harvest of at least 15,000 animals is maintained

• Seven year running average of the percentage of yearlings in the buck harvest remains below 50%

• Any-deer permits generally available in WMDs 15-17, 20-25, and 29, with permits issued in other WMDs during some years.

All of this sure looks like a lot of counting…that is if there is any serious attempt at implementing and working at this deer management plan. It is impossible to effectively manage any game herd without a minimum of reasonable, scientific methods of devising estimates of population densities – the more accurate that estimation becomes the more precise and effective management strategies become.

To announce a shift from this method of deer management to one of concentrating on the health of the herd, stating that it will give management more “flexibility” is utter environmental nonsense – Romance Biology and Voodoo Science. Like imposing the effects of Climate Change on every failure of wildlife management, as if they needed more “flexibility.” I can see the headlines now: Maine’s deer harvest this year was lower than expected. That’s because we now have a healthy herd despite Climate Change.

However, MDIFW is going to do what MDIFW is going to do and that’s the bottom line. After all, they are a government agency. Need I say more?