December 12, 2019

Maine Proposes to “Restrict” Deer Feeding – But For What Reasons?

According to an article written for the Bangor Daily News by George Smith, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is proposing a ban or some level of restricting the supplemental winter feeding of deer by citizens. Smith gives the reasons why MDIFW wants to stop deer feeding:

a) concentrating deer at greater than natural densities;
b) providing food that is harmful or of low nutritional value;
c) increasing direct and indirect contact among individual animals;
d) increasing deer habituation to humans and detracting from wild behavior and survival responses;
e) increasing vulnerability to predation;
f) increasing vulnerability to collisions with vehicles or other mortality risks;
g) increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within and among individual animals and maintaining endemic disease reservoirs;
h) causing significant habitat damage in and adjacent to feeding sites.

Are there legitimate reasons to stop people from feeding deer? Of course there are. Can some or all of those reasons be handled in a better way than banning the activity? I think so. Is feeding deer actually not a benefit to the deer?

According to Smith’s article, the major reason given in the proposal to restrict deer feeding is: “The Department discourages the supplemental feeding of deer and other wildlife because it is not beneficial in most situations.” Two quick issues here. One, why is this proposal mentioning “other wildlife”? Is this proposal about feeding deer or all wildlife in general. Lumping it all together gives one the feeling that the “king” is being a turd and doesn’t want the subjects playing with his wildlife. Two, I don’t have a copy of the proposal and I can’t seem to locate it on the MDIFW website nor directions on how to leave comments and information about supplemental deer feeding.

The MDIFW states that supplemental feeding of deer is not beneficial but it doesn’t say it’s harmful, at least not directly. Let’s consider first the grocery list above. MDIFW doesn’t want us feeding deer because:

1.) “concentrating deer at greater than natural densities” Um, ok. Perhaps this needs a bit more explanation. The overwhelming majority of feeding that occurs is in winter. In winter deer “yard up” in far greater numbers than is found the remainder of the year. To what degree of numbers of deer congregating at a feeding spot is considered above “natural densities”?

Deer come to feeding locations in the state – by the way in the grand scheme of things a tiny percentage – from their normal winter locations. Let’s look at this realistically for a moment. Deer sometimes travel several miles to their favorite yarding location. Most people who do feed, do so because they know that deer are yarding up not too far away from them. In addition, although I doubt anyone at MDIFW will admit it, deer are choosing to spend winters in smaller yards, in smaller numbers outside of “traditional” deer wintering areas. I’ve witnessed this often. Circumstances have forced this.

Unless MDIFW can show that deer coming to a feeding location are being bussed in, isn’t it reasonable to conclude there will be no more unnatural densities than normally occur in their winter yards?

2.) “providing food that is harmful or of low nutritional value” – A legitimate concern and one that can be easily handled through education and ensuring that all establishments selling supplemental feed for deer are selling only the kinds approved by the MDIFW.

3.) “increasing direct and indirect contact among individual animals” – Another legitimate consideration. I am assuming the thought process here has to be concerning spreading of disease. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is of foremost concern and in those states where CWD is prevalent, efforts are in place and underway to do all that can be done about spreading the disease further. The following map shows where CWD can be found in North America.

As you can see from the map, the nearest location where any CWD has been detected is in Oneida County in central New York. That’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to limit the chances of spreading disease. Maine, with their current restrictions, have done a good job keeping ahead of the spread of CWD.

With a bit more education, those choosing to feed can utilize methods and equipment that can help in reducing the risk of spreading disease.

4.) “increasing deer habituation to humans and detracting from wild behavior and survival responses” – I believe this to be a subject that is too subjective of which neither side can offer much scientific evidence to support. This kind of talk reminds me too much of the I-hate-man, animals-were-here-first mantra we hear constantly from animal rights people.

I think the bottom line here is that there has always been a certain degree of deer feeding that has occurred for years, mostly out of care and concern. In recent years feeding has increased more as people learn that the deer are suffering and what results from severe winters. It was told to me one time by a MDIFW biologist that what little feeding is going on in the grand scheme of things, is miniscule and leads to much ado about nothing.

5.) “increasing vulnerability to predation” – Seriously? First of all, deer have learned to get the hell out of deer yards in winter because they are a target. Moving into somebody’s backyard, which may provide more protection for them from predators is a result of circumstances. I have read arguments that deer can more easily be attacked and killed by domestic dogs this way. If this is actually true, let’s all take a look at the data that supports that claim.

6.) “increasing vulnerability to collisions with vehicles or other mortality risks” – Another legitimate concern. People should not be setting up feed stations where deer have to cross a very busy highway to get to it. That’s stupid and represents selfish greed on the part of the people. In cases such as this, MDIFW should set specific guidelines and be able to prohibit feeding locations that fall within those guidelines.

7.) “increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within and among individual animals and maintaining endemic disease reservoirs” – I’ve mostly covered this. MDIFW should assess each disease with supplemental feeding and be able to make adjustments accordingly.

8.) “causing significant habitat damage in and adjacent to feeding sites” – Again I think this needs to be on a case by case basis. How many deer are going to cause how much damage?

The reasons given above, the majority can be handled without all out bans on feeding. Reasonable restrictions are necessary in cases where disease is present and public safety is a concern.

I would like to take a moment and address the comment that supplemental feeding of deer is “not beneficial in most situations.” In addition to the list of concerns addressed above, there certainly exists evidence that might disprove that supplemental feeding of deer is not beneficial.

Most studies that I have found, read and researched concerning supplemental feeding of deer in the winter time, addresses mostly the issues of the spreading of diseases, or in some cases with carefully orchestrated emergency supplemental feeding programs. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a study was done on the effects of supplemental feeding of deer within a 252-hectare enclosure (about 625 acres) for five years. The results of that study might be interesting to some.

During the length of the study, the whitetail deer population rose from 23 to 159. Scientists had to compensate for differences in reproduction, growth, nutrition, etc. changes due to the increase in deer densities. Most of the negative changes for the deer, came as the result of increased numbers, i.e. competition for food and habitat, ability to reproduce, etc.

Interesting enough with the consistent supplemental feeding, “better nutrition accelerated deer body growth and shortened the time to physical maturity. Except for yearling bucks, antler development improved and casting dates were delayed. In utero productivity of yearling does doubled with supplemental feeding and increased by 50% among 2.5-year-olds and 21% for older does.”

As the herd grew, reproduction rates dropped and “A marked improvement in physiological parameters after the herd was drastically reduced suggested that the aberrations observed under peak populations were density dependent.”

MDIFW could conceive a legitimate reason to restrict or ban supplemental deer feeding in areas where Maine has too dense a deer population. And that is in the town of……..?

But the interesting conclusion to this study is here.

We conclude that when properly conducted, supplemental feeding provides a feasible method of maintaining a reasonably large deer herd in good physical condition with minimal damage to the range. (emphasis added)

I believe I have presented evidence and made suggestions that should help some people better understand the ups and downs of winter time supplemental deer feeding. However there is one very important issue here that I think perhaps the MDIFW and the Maine Legislature are overlooking.

There is nothing any more important than for Maine residents to believe they have ownership in the care of our deer herd and wildlife in general. In my years of doing this work, nationwide the number one complaint I get from sportsmen is that they feel shut out of participating in fish and game issues and management. As government agencies grew, along with that growth was a movement away from working with the people and more of an oligarchical, near dictatorial approach to protecting the wildlife and the people’s access to it for the “king”.

I think I have presented enough evidence to question whether winter time feeding of deer is a bad thing and perhaps have suggested that in fact, if done the right way, could be helpful to the deer. MDIFW stated that in most cases feeding deer wasn’t beneficial but I think haven’t presented a good enough case to convince the Maine people that feed them it’s all that bad either.

I suggest that MDIFW continue it’s education process and follow some or all of the suggestions I have given and let the people remain involved. They feel good about it and believe they are doing their part to help. Short of hard scientific evidence, where I think in Maine’s case doesn’t exist, let the feeding continue.

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My Letter to Governor LePage – Re: LD372 and Bond Issues

Governor Paul Lepage – Thank you for signing LD372 and other bills to appropriate money and further your commitment to control predators that are seriously harming the state’s deer herd and other species. I hope you will also join other sportsmen in keeping a watchful eye on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to ensure that they will use the funds as mandated by the Legislature and use it effectively.

I hope that you will consider not signing the Bond issues for mostly economic reasons. You’re doing a great job working to get Maine out of debt, we don’t need millions in bond debt piled on now. In particular the bond that would provide money to Land for Maine’s Future, is a proposal that comes premature. It is one thing to seek funding for this program, some of which through wording of the bond proposal, would earmark money to be spent on saving deer wintering areas. This effort may sound good and is certainly well intentioned but, it is quite another to appropriate this money without a real plan. Millions of dollars should not be appropriated to a program that has no viable plan on how it is going to use that money.

Some in Maine, have said that this money to save deer yards is critical and yet they also state that no landowner is going to sell the state a stand-alone deer yard. Where is the plan? Until Maine produces a workable plan that is agreeable to landowners, appropriating money, particularly through a bond is irresponsible…at best.

Thank you again for your efforts and considerations on the upcoming bond issues.

Tom Remington

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Perhaps Maine Approaches Game Management as a Hobby

There’s an old expression that I learned perhaps 55 years ago about doing something in a pot or getting off it. I’m beginning to wonder if the State of Maine, specifically the office of governor and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) approaches the entire functional aspect of fish and wildlife management as nothing more than a hobby. The present governor promised to rebuild the deer herd. The present commissioner at MDIFW promised to rebuild the deer herd. Maine government devised a plan to rebuild the deer herd and nothing has been done to rebuild the deer herd. I think it’s time to do something in that pot or get off it and put the pot away.

We are in tough times. There’s no doubt about it. Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, is doing what he thinks is best to reduce wasteful spending, something that must be done, and so it’s a big pill to swallow in any attempts to convince the taxpayers that borrowing and spending more money is in the best interest of all. So, the question for deer hunters becomes: Is spending money now or in the immediate future a good investment for all of Maine?

George Smith, a journalist, blogger and former executive director for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, beats a steady drum. Agree with him or not, when he latches onto an issue he remains persistent until the issue is dead……and then some more. His latest attack has to do with funding Land for Maine’s Future(LMF), a governmental program that, “seeks to conserve lands that have exceptional recreational or ecological value along with working lands for farms, forests, tourism, and working waterfronts.”

Smith says the Land for Maine’s Future program is broke and he has a problem with the governor’s dislike of spending money by saying, “Governor Paul LePage’s antipathy to bonding is well known”. Smith sees this as a problem because he wants money to fund LMF in order to buy up and protect deer wintering forest areas.

In Maine’s Game Plan for Deer, one of the many things identified that contributed to the demise of the whitetail deer herd, is the loss of habitat, specifically deer wintering areas (DWA). Smith wants the $5 million bond issue to pass to fund LMF in order to buy up DWAs to protect deer.

This is probably a good idea but I am not aware of anyone, at least with any position of legislative authority or otherwise, who has come up with a plan of just how we are going to convince private land owners to sell off a deer yard that happens to sit in the middle of their property? Smith even says, “No landowner is going to sell the state a stand-alone deeryard.” Not to be accused of taking Smith out of context, he also stated that the habitat surrounding a deer yard is important as well, implying all of the land, inside and out, of the deer yard areas need protecting.

With a deer management plan, that contains no specific information about how it is going to protect deer habitat, is it then prudent to bond out $5 million to LMF, with the target goal for that expenditure deer yards in Maine?

Personally, I would like to see two things happen. One, I want to see a viable plan worked out between the State of Maine and private landowners about how a program could function that would, hopefully, provide for the needs of both parties. Once a workable plan is in place, that is one that isn’t Marxist by nature, strong-arming landowners to give up land or else, then let’s proceed with the funding. The only way money should be appropriated for this action is only AFTER a majority of private landowners, i.e. those who own the deer yards needing protection, have agreed to such a plan.

Secondly, I think there are things that can be done right now that will have an immediate effect on the deer herd, if and when the governor’s office and MDFIW makes a real commitment to it. So far, the people, even though they were promised during those dreadful campaign days, have seen nothing. Should I put that in all capitals? NOTHING!

Here’s the deal, in case you really haven’t caught on yet. Campaign rhetoric is cheap. Anyone can spew it and all do. Why we insist in getting caught up in it is a lesson that might never be learned. The only thing any of us can ever get out of it is to throw it back in the politician’s face that he or she lied. Big deal! They all do it because we let them. These days the end always justifies the means.

So the governor, in this case Mr. LePage, gets elected and as is the usual case, promises are forgotten and he hires an expert to make excuses for his lack of action. But this case puzzles me a bit. Governor LePage pushed for this Game Plan for Maine’s Deer. Why? Is this a double entendre? Perhaps political naivete to offer twice a broken promise? A lack of a commitment brought on by the absence of understanding money would be needed? Or perhaps the governor and his cohorts didn’t fully examine the deer hunting industry and whether it was an investment worth the money and the commitment? Or, maybe something else.

I’ve written a few times about this lack of engagement at all levels of the State of Maine; HERE, HERE, HERE. I am assuming, which might be a mistake, that before the Governor and MDIFW made a public announcement of their commitment to rebuild Maine’s deer herd, they crunched some numbers and explored all aspects of the hunting industry in order to decide whether or not declaring “all in” was an investment that was responsible and in the best interest of the people of Maine. Why would you do it anyway?

If it has been determined, again I’m assuming here, that it was a worthy investment and the Governor made a public announcement, twice actually, of his “commitment” to rebuild the deer herd, then where is this commitment? It’s not like the economic difficulties that Maine and the rest of the nation experience crept up on us overnight.

If there is no concentration of effort, including funding, then either the Governor and MDIFW knowingly misled the voters and hunters because they knew, specifically the Governor, that he would not fund any effort to save the deer herd. In other words, he was placating the voters and again the sportsmen with his hollow promises.

Therefore, without any further explanation available that I am aware of from MDIFW or the Governor’s office, I am left believing that the MDIFW is an expensive hobby and is promoted as such from the Governor’s office. The only commitment that I see is to keep enough funding going to pay a lot of salaries, the most of which have nothing to do with management of game species. This is an expensive hobby. I have contributed a lot of money over the years, as have hundreds of thousands of others, to support this hobby.

It is time to get off the pot because obviously nothing is being put into the pot. If the Governor and MDIFW cannot see the deer hunting industry as viable enough to warrant investment, surely my money should not fund a department in which I no longer have a vested interest. The governor and MDIFW can go play with their wildlife on their own time and money.

Tom Remington

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