September 16, 2019

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?

 

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Department Seeks Input On Maine’s Most Popular Wildlife And Fish Species At Public Meetings And Online Town Hall Forum

Press Release from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife:

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife wants to hear your ideas and opinions about Maine’s most popular wildlife and fish species.

Over the next month, the department will hold a series of statewide public meetings that will focus on moose, deer and turkey; bear, and freshwater fisheries. The meetings are designed to gather ideas and information from the public that will help shape management of these species over the next fifteen years.

“We want to hear from the public concerning some of Maine’s most popular species,” said Jim Connolly, IFW Director of Resource Management. “We’ve already conducted extensive public surveys, but this is your chance to provide additional input on the management of these species for years to come.

In addition to public meetings, IFW is creating a dedicated “Town Hall forum”  at www.metownhall.org to provide a further opportunity for residents to voice their opinions on big game issues specifically (the forum will cover deer, moose, turkey, and bear issues).

Starting March 1, residents will be able to access the Town Hall forum website and leave comments and suggestions at www.metownhall.org.  The website will stay live until March 31, at which point comments will be reviewed.  Residents are encouraged to log onto the website during the month of March to submit responses to prepared questions as well as interact with one another in an exchange of opinions and ideas.

Throughout March and April, there will also be a series of public meetings around the state to hear people’s thoughts and ideas regarding species management.

There will be three public meetings that will focus specifically on bear management. The dates, time and location are:

Bear Management Public Meetings

  • Wednesday, March 16 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Embassy Suites, 1050 Westbrook Street,Portland, ME 04102, Katahdin Room
  • Wednesday, March 16 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Northeastland Hotel, 436 Maine Street,Presque Isle, ME 04769, Red Room
  • Wednesday, March 30 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Black Bear Inn, 4 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME04473, Blue Room

There will also be three Moose, Deer and Turkey Management public meetings that will meet on the following dates and these locations:

Moose, Deer and Turkey Management Public Meetings

  • Saturday, March 19 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.; Embassy Suites, 1050 Westbrook Street,Portland, ME 04102, Katahdin Room
  • Saturday, March 19 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.; Northeastland Hotel, 436 Maine Street, Presque Isle, ME 04769, Red Room
  • Saturday, April 2 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.; Black Bear Inn, 4 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME 04473, Blue Room

Maine’s freshwater fisheries will be the focus at these locations on the following dates and times:

Fisheries Management Public Meetings

  • Thursday, March 17 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Embassy Suites, 1050 Westbrook Street,Portland, ME 04102, Katahdin Room
  • Thursday, March 17 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Northeastland Hotel, 436 Maine Street, Presque Isle, ME 04769, Red Room
  • Thursday, March 31 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Black Bear Inn, 4 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME04473, Blue Room
  • Tuesday, April 5 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; University of Farmington, Lincoln Auditorium, 224 Main Street, Farmington, ME 04938

The meetings and online town hall are part of a larger study designed to assess priorities for bear, other big game, and fisheries management, including the issues residents see as important; their attitudes toward the current and desired population levels of various fish and game species; management techniques for these species; and any ideas for potential changes to the current management programs.  Input from the public will help MDIFW to create the best management plans possible.

MDIFW contracted with Responsive Management, an internationally recognized public opinion research firm, to conduct the research for the state.  Responsive Management is handling the facilitation of the public meetings as well as the administration of the Town Hall web forum.  The firm has also conducted focus groups and surveys with Maine residents, hunters, anglers, and landowners as part of the research.

Maine residents may have received a call, email, or letter in recent weeks inviting them to participate in one of the scientific surveys conducted for the project.  The next phase of the project calls for a wider opportunity for residents to submit comments and suggestions in an open-ended manner via the public meetings and web forum.

For more information about Responsive Management, please visit www.ResponsiveManagement.com.

For further information about the research study, please contact Nate Webb, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, at nathan.webb@maine.gov.

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