May 25, 2019

Quality Deer Management? Maine Needs QUANTITY Deer Management

It has taken awhile for me to finally get around to responding to George Smith’s article that appeared on GeorgeSmithMaine.com on 12/11/2012 about some sportsmen in Northern Maine looking to implement Quality Deer Management for Aroostook County. It appears they would like the help and approval of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) but are running into strong opposition. I think those same sportsmen are going to run into mostly opposition from me on this one. (Smiling)It pains me greatly to agree with MDIFW for the most part on this issue.

In reading the article, one might get the impression that Quality Deer Management is about antler restrictions. This is only one aspect of a complete program that is designed around doing what the name of the program suggests; creating a “quality” deer herd.

Not to take me wrong, as I admire the passion to make hunting better, but I did guffaw a time or two in reading that some Northern Maine deer hunters want to create a quality deer herd. The reason for my snickering is that I was talking with a former Olympic ski coach once about problems I was having sustaining a “quality” ski team, year in and year out. His response to me, again not intended to offend simply to state the obvious, “Tom, you can’t make a good tossed salad if all you have to work with is a head of lettuce!”

Before I take the time below to post information and links (I’ve done this several years in a row) let me say that I am not necessarily opposed to Quality Deer Management, although I certainly believe it has its problems. However, I’m not sure that Northern Maine even has anything that resembles a head of lettuce. I just don’t see how “quality deer management” can rebuild a deer herd.

In Smith’s article, he quotes Gerry Lavigne, former MDIFW deer biologist and now works for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, as saying:

“I am still opposed to antler point restrictions, especially in northern Maine. Selectively removing bucks will not lead to deer recovery. Improving doe and fawn survival will.”

“Increase the deer population from 2 to 10/sq. mi. and we’ll have an abundance of mature bucks again,” said the always-outspoken Lavigne. “Any other strategy is just a smokescreen. Hunters deserve better than that.”

Doe and fawn survival is key. Deer herd management is complex and I don’t pretend to be an expert on it, but during my years of writing I have attempted numerous times to seriously explain to hunters that doe to buck ratios cannot be 100 does to 1 buck. Failing to grasp this concept makes it that much harder to educate hunters on how Quality Deer Management works and what the results will be and the purpose for seeking to implement it.

As I said, not everyone is a fan of QDM. Petersen’s Hunting magazine ran an article over a year ago asking, “Is Quality Deer Management Ruining Hunting?” Check it out.

And there’s always the debate that not only can be heard in coffee shops in deer country, but get published in national magazines, that trophy hunting ruins the gene pool. Nearly 4 years ago, Newsweek Magazine ran an article, “Survival of the Weak and Scrawny.” The tragedy of this publication was the authors, not only had no idea what they were talking about, they never sought out the hoard of scientists who refuted the claims of this study. It just made for good sales and a bit of controversy.

Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, The University of Calgary, Canada, provided me with the information to better explain what transpired during that study. If you are serious about understanding deer herd management, and as it might pertain to how selective breeding for “quality” deer might work, I strongly urge readers to follow all of these links and do a bit of studying. It’s fascinating stuff.

I also took the time to post another piece to explain about “trophy” (by definition) hunting and the results of that. In this article is a grocery list of information that I was able to compile from a host of qualified scientists who speak freely about trophy hunting, genes and breeding; all related information.

I have yet to find a wildlife scientist, even a new-science scientist, who would agree that implementing Quality Deer Management would aid in rebuilding a deer herd. I don’t think Maine is ready for “quality” deer management. What is really needed is “quantity” deer management. Let’s put our efforts and resources together to figure out how to increase the deer fawn recruitment and THEN work on quality.

Note: Pro Quality Deer Management sportsmen, even then, may run into opposition from wildlife managers.

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Yes! MDIFW King Doesn’t Want Subjects Playing With His Wildlife

According to comments submitted to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) by Gerry Lavigne representing the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), concerning the department’s proposal to “restrict” winter deer feeding, my earlier statement about the proposal rings true.

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.

Lavigne writes: “Of particular concern is the list of activities that the Department considers detrimental to the deer population (Sec D. 3. a. to h.), which are considered a rule violation and a Class E crime.”

Seriously? Lavigne is spot on in that nothing MDIFW proposes is deliniative. All listings of events that are subject to criminal charges are “vague and entirely subjective”; a typical governmental tactic to leave space for arbitrary law enforcement.

You can go to the SAM Website and read all of Lavigne’s comments here.

It appears that my original hunch is accurate. In the grand scheme of things, i.e. the metamorphosis of state fish and game agencies from a sportsman’s focus to one of government expansion and control while kowtowing to the environmentalists, Commissioner Woodcock has legitimized my theory that fish and game departments have little or no interest in what the people who pay their salaries want. It’s all about dictatorial control over something they don’t even own; a real display of self-importance.

If Commissioner Woodcock would like to prove me wrong, then I suggest that while this proposal is not only extremely unpopular with the people of Maine, it has no solid basis for implementation and should be scuttled.

It just looks like what has become the norm these days; more of the king being a turd and wanting his way because he is king.

Kill the proposal and focus on something important.

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Dave Miller on Predator Workshop: “First Real Positive Efforts”

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Gerry LaVigne, sponsor and put on Maine’s first Predator Control Workshop. Below is a summation of that workshop by David Miller, who attended the workshop and was a presenter for the function.

PREDATOR CONTROL WORKSHOP

On Saturday, September 29th, The Sportsman Alliance of Maine sponsored the first workshop addressing the need for and the methods required to control predators, which is one of several key factors causing the decline of the deer herds in the Western Mountains, Aroostook County, and Down East portions of Maine. The loss of these deer herds has resulted in a tremendous impact on the state’s rural economies. Deer hunting has for generations brought in millions of dollars annually to the state’s economy and been a welcomed addition of healthy meat to the family dinner table.

This work shop is one of the first real positive efforts to reverse the situation. The Maine sportsmen have not had much in the way of constructive support in stopping the downward spiral of the deer within the state. This workshop was the first big step in a statewide effort.

This day long work shop was the result of efforts by Dave Trahan of the SAM, Gerry Lavigne and the dedication and professionalism of the guest speakers and demonstrators from a cross section of well known “working outdoorsmen”, not the normal outdoor writers and politicians seen at many events like this. These keynote speakers were the hands on experts in their respective fields which included two MIF&W [Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife] personnel who addressed land owner relations and ethics, a firearms specialist who addressed firearms and ballistics commonly used in predator control work, and experts in their respective fields of predator calling, coyote hounding, coyote baiting/shooting shacks/and night hunting, and coyote trapping.

The SAM facility was packed with over one hundred concerned outdoorsmen who are fully supportive of efforts to reduce the predation of deer to a level where the herds will be able to recover. With the excellent results of this first step it is hopeful that this effort will continue at larger facilities across the state to stimulate the public in participating in these efforts.

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David Trahan and Gerry Lavigne On a $5 Million Bond to Protect Winter Deer Yards

The Bangor Daily News carries an opinion piece coauthored by David Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine(SAM), and Gerry Lavigne, former deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) and member of SAM. The piece is a call to the governor, the Legislature and voters of Maine to pass LD852, a $5 million bond to fund Land for Maine’s Future.

For readers to better understand exactly what this means as it pertains to protecting deer wintering areas, first please consider the Summary as provided in LD852:

The funds provided in this bond issue are to recapitalize the Land for Maine’s Future program with $36,000,000 to continue Maine’s land conservation efforts, leveraging a minimum of $36,000,000 in required matching funds. It provides $12,000,000 for natural resource industry based infrastructure improvements and enhancement related to natural resource industry and to provide capital for state park maintenance and improvements. It also gives land conservation projects that protect and enhance deer wintering habitat preference and directs the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Conservation to pursue projects that protect and conserve deer wintering habitat(emboldening added).

I would strongly suggest that all voters thorough read and understand LD852 before voting on it. Below is part of LD852 which speaks of disbursement of funds if the bond is passed. I’ve highlighted some key points as it relates to protection of deer yards.

Sec. 5. Disbursement of bond proceeds. The proceeds of the bonds must be expended as set out in this Act under the direction and supervision of the Executive Department, State Planning Office; the Department of Conservation; the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources; and the Department of Marine Resources.

1. The proceeds of the bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future Board as set out in section 6 must be expended by the Executive Department, State Planning Office for acquisition of land and interest in land for conservation, water access, outdoor recreation, wildlife and fish habitat, farmland preservation in accordance with the provisions for such acquisitions under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 5, chapter 353 and working waterfront preservation in accordance with the terms of this Act, including all costs associated with such acquisitions, except that use of the proceeds of these bonds is subject to the following conditions and requirements.

A. Hunting, fishing, trapping and public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds, except to the extent of applicable state, local or federal laws, rules and regulations and except for working waterfront projects and farmland protection projects.

B. Payment from bond proceeds for acquisitions of local or regional significance, as determined by the Land for Maine’s Future Board, may be made directly to cooperating entities as defined in Title 5, section 6201, subsection 2 for acquisition of land and interest in land by cooperating entities, subject to terms and conditions enforceable by the State to ensure its use for the purposes of this Act. In addition to the considerations required under Title 5, chapter 353, the board shall give a preference to acquisitions under this paragraph that achieve benefits for multiple towns and that address regional conservation needs including public recreational access, wildlife, open space and farmland.

C. The bond funds expended for conservation, recreation, farmland and water access must be matched with at least $36,000,000 in public and private contributions. Seventy percent of that amount must be in the form of cash or other tangible assets, including the value of land and real property interest acquired by or contributed to cooperating entities, as defined in Title 5, section 6201, subsection 2, when property interests have a direct relationship to the property proposed for protection, as determined by the Land for Maine’s Future Board. The remaining 30% may be matching contributions and may include the value of project-related, in-kind contributions of goods and services to and by cooperating entities.

D. Of the bond proceeds allocated to the Land for Maine’s Future Board, $4,000,000 must be made available to protect farmland in accordance with Title 5, section 6207.

E. Of the bond proceeds allocated to the Land for Maine’s Future Board, $4,000,000 must be made available to protect working waterfront properties in accordance with Public Law 2005, chapter 462, Part B, section 6.

F. Because portions of the State have deer populations that are struggling and deer wintering habitat protection is vital to the survival and enhancement of these populations, projects that conserve and protect deer wintering areas are considered to have special value and must receive preferential consideration during scoring of new applications for support under Title 5, section 6200, et seq.

2. The proceeds of the bonds for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources must be expended on agricultural infrastructure improvements.

3. The Department of Conservation and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall take a proactive approach to pursuing land conservation projects that include significant wildlife habitat conservation, including conservation of deer wintering areas. The departments shall include in conservation negotiations under this section provisions for the appropriate management of deer wintering areas. The proceeds of the bonds for the Department of Conservation must be expended as follows.

A. Two million dollars allocated to the Maine Forest Service must be used for forestry infrastructure improvements.

B. Two million dollars allocated to the Bureau of Parks and Lands must be used for public recreation infrastructure improvements.

C. Four million dollars allocated to the Bureau of Parks and Lands must be used to preserve state parks and lands managed by the Department of Conservation.

4. The proceeds of the bonds for the Department of Marine Resources must be expended on commercial fishing infrastructure improvements.

5. To the extent the purposes are consistent with the disbursement provisions in this Act, 100% of the bond proceeds may be considered as state match for any federal funding to be made available to the State.

Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on this subject.

Tom Remington

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Maine Announces “New Deer Initiative” in an Odd Way

Below is a copy of a letter I received on Saturday that announces an “outdoor partnership” that will address Maine’s non existent deer herd and create what they are calling a “network” to accomplish three major tasks: Habitat Management, Predation Management, and Hunting.

What’s odd about the announcement and creation of this “network” is that on Saturday evening, this conglomeration of hand-picked “outdoor partners” met for a fundraiser/game supper ($25.00 per plate) at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) headquarters in a bit of a secret fashion.

I learned of this event on the morning of the day the event was scheduled and it appears I certainly am not in a minority of those uninformed. I was told by one interested party that the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) is going to be the “facilitator/coordinator” for the “network” and all work will take place at the club level.

I was also told that an announcement of this fundraiser was sent to the “outdoor partners” and because of space restrictions a broader announcement couldn’t be made. However, some of those emailing me in disgust are members of those lowly “clubs” that will be called upon to do the grunt work and, no doubt, contribute money.

I will reserve comment on the plan of action and the three major components of that plan for a later date but I just don’t understand this action. To date, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has failed miserably in management of the state’s deer herd. It would appear to me that any actions undertaken by private interests should remain a completely separate function of MDIFW; not in isolation but certainly not as partners. Until MDIFW can prove itself seriously dedicated to the restoration of the deer herd, considering them an “outdoor partner” is a bit premature.

Regardless of my opinions, here’s the letter that accompanied the announcement of the fundraiser:

OUTDOOR PARTNERS TO LAUNCH A MAJOR NEW DEER INITIATIVE
Gerry Lavigne
Retired deer biologist

It’s no secret that the white-tailed deer population is in tough shape in Maine.  Severe winters, wintering habitat loss and excessive predation have taken their toll over the years.  Waning deer populations have diminished hunting and wildlife watching opportunity, and Maine’s rural economy has taken a severe hit as a result.  It is widely agreed that white-tailed deer populations need to be recovered.  The question is how do we go about it?

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is in the early stages of implementing a plan to increase deer populations, focusing heavily on the northern half of the state (see “Maine’s Game Plan for Deer” on the Dept.’s website: www.mefishwildlife.com).  MDIFW’s deer plan anticipates extensive collaboration with its outdoor partners.  And they are right to reach out for help in restoring the deer herd.  With a Warden Service second to none, and a well-trained and dedicated biological staff, the Dept. is well-positioned to implement many of the remedies needed to restore Maine’s deer herd.  Yet, the Dept. cannot do this alone.  With 94% of the state in private ownership, and a land area nearly equal to the rest of New England, the logistics of improving habitat, reducing predation losses, and enforcing the game laws would be impossible without a lot of help from Maine hunters and landowners.

We sense a great willingness among Mainers to do something for our deer resource.  Hunters are beginning to realize they need to be stewards of the deer resource and not just consumers of it.  And landowners, large and small, are awakening to the reality that what they do with their land can have a profound impact on wildlife populations, including deer.  Although willing to help, many hunters and landowners lack the knowledge, or skills, or even the encouragement to get involved in deer restoration and management efforts.  What is needed is some way for all of MDIFW’s outdoor partners to network to exchange ideas, increase management skills, and monitor progress in restoring Maine deer.
 
Sportsmen, SAM, the Maine Professional Guides Association, fish and game clubs are stepping up to fulfill that need by creating the MAINE DEER MANAGEMENT NETWORK.  We will provide links to our outdoor partners, so that users can readily access information available on their websites.  As funding becomes available, we will host meetings, conferences, and training seminars dealing with habitat management, trapping and predator hunting, and a variety of other topics related to deer restoration and management.  We will produce DVDs and other educational materials.  And we will provide a place where hunters and landowners can share tips, tactics and ideas that may help others succeed at protecting and managing deer.

We will also support the Maine Deer Management Network at the Legislature and in other political venues.  We will provide outreach by attending meetings at Fish and Game clubs, Wildlife Conservation associations, Landowner associations and others, when possible, to provide input to their deer management efforts.  We will provide information in the print media by providing feature articles on deer management and outdoor recreation topics for the daily newspapers, and sporting magazines in Maine.  Finally, we will coordinate closely with MDIFW to assure mutual progress in restoring and then maintaining healthy deer populations again.

As presently envisioned, the Maine Deer Management Network will focus on three major topics:  Habitat Management, Predation Management, and Hunting.  Successful restoration of Maine’s deer herd depends on how well we manage deer productivity and losses.

Habitat management involves both summer and winter range.  The amount and quality of wintering habitat greatly affects deer survival.  Both malnutrition and predation losses are minimized in high quality wintering habitat.  Maine has lost a great deal of its deer wintering areas over the past 40 years, particularly in the northern half of the state.  MDIFW has made deer yard protection and enhancement a priority.  We agree, and we want to help the Dept. succeed by helping them network with large and small landowners who own deer wintering areas.

The quality of summer range affects deer nutrition, productivity, and pre-winter condition.  Many individual landowners are interested in improving their acreage for deer.  Too often, they lack the information needed to get started.  There are several landowner organizations and land trusts already involved in providing information to landowners.  We hope to partner with groups like the Small Woodlot Owners of Maine (SWOAM), the Maine Farm Bureau, the Maine Tree Farmers Association, the Quality Deer Management Association, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust and others to share information and to increase awareness of these organizations and what they have to offer.

Predation management is essential to restoring deer populations in the northern, western and eastern parts of Maine.  Deer inhabiting poor quality wintering habitat are highly susceptible to predation by coyotes and to a lesser degree, bobcats.  Even in good habitat, losses to predators occur in excess of malnutrition losses during severe winters.  Low deer populations can be held at low densities by abundant predator populations.  Adult deer are not the only targets of predators.  Predation on newborn deer fawns can, and in many places is excessive as coyotes, bears, bobcats, fishers, foxes, and domestic dogs all exploit this food source during June and July.  Excessive predation on neonate deer can prevent populations from increasing, even when adult deer losses are held to a minimum.

While no one is advocating elimination of mammalian predators of deer in Maine, many of us have come to realize that predator populations should be held at levels that allow depleted deer herds to rebound.  This is no small task, considering the abundance of coyotes and black bears in Maine.  MDIFW has recently revamped its animal damage control program to better manage predation effects on deer by reducing coyote densities near major deer wintering areas prior to the onset of severe wintering conditions.  This is a good approach and we are eager to support Dept. efforts to reduce predation losses near deer wintering areas.  But the Dept. cannot afford to target all wintering areas, given its current funding and personnel resources.  This is where individual hunters can really have an impact!

We believe that one path toward annually reducing coyote densities is to develop coyote hunting into the next big hunting activity in Maine.  Specifically, we’d like to transition the coyote from varmint status, to the valuable, huntable furbearer resource that it can be. As with trapping of coyotes, hunting these large, wary canids is challenging and exciting.  If just a few thousand of Maine’s 150,000 deer hunters also become coyote hunters, we may just have the right pressure to annually reduce the negative impacts of these predators on deer.  To that end, a goodly portion of the Maine Deer Management Network will be devoted to promoting coyote hunting.  We will dovetail with the Department’s, coyote management efforts.  We envision a volunteer “Adopt a Deer Yard” program targeting coyote hunting near deer wintering areas by individual hunters, or clubs.  We will link with organizations involved with coyote hunting.  We intend to be a resource that individuals can turn to for information on coyote biology, hunting tactics, available equipment, bait sources, etc.  We can be a source of input and news on coyote hunting, club activities, hunting contests and the like.  Generally we want to establish that sound predator management is an important component of successful deer management in Maine.

The third major element of the Maine Deer Management Network is the human side of the equation, both hunting and non-hunting.  No hunter lives and hunts in a vacuum.  Most of us hunt on someone else’s land, and the continuation of that privilege depends on how landowners and non-hunters perceive our activities.  As part of this network, we will find opportunities to strengthen the connection between hunters and the non-hunting public.  We will inform all Maine people about the impacts of hunting and outdoor recreation on Maine’s economy.  We intend to be a resource where hunters can find information on the latest hunting regulations, including legislative changes as they occur.  We will stress the importance of ethical hunting behavior, encourage active participation in game law compliance, and help define the importance of hunting and trapping as a means of keeping wildlife populations at compatible levels.

As a concept, the Maine Deer Management Network has been percolating for quite a while.  It is still a work in progress, but we are excited about its potential.  Over the next couple of months, will be putting this network online with the help of retired deer biologist, Gerry Lavigne.  Let us know what you think of the Maine Deer Management Network, and contact us with your ideas at any time.        
          

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