June 6, 2023

Predator Management Works

Earlier today, I posted a link to an article about how in The Forks, Maine local efforts of predator management, deer feeding programs and some changes in timber harvesting appears to be resulting in an increase in a local deer population. That increase seems to be producing the expected big, mature bucks of which Northern Maine has a reputation.

Below are two photos. The first one was sent to me by a friend and Maine resident who “happened upon” the 15-Mile Stream Lodge and Outfitters, catching site of their coyote game pole. The second photo is from the 15-Mile Stream Lodge and Outfitters website.





Minnesota’s Deer Harvest Down 12%

*Editor’s Note* – The following are comments/questions compiled by Jim Beers, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, in response to an article found in the Star Tribune. Mr. Beers took certain excerpts from the article (numbered below) and responds to them.

By James Beers

(I.)Excluding the late season, hunters killed about 144,000 deer during the main season, down 6 percent from 153,000 in 2012. Overall, Minnesota’s firearms, muzzleloader and archery hunters have registered 164,500 deer as of last Wednesday. Before the season, the DNR had expected hunter success would be similar to 2012, when they killed about 185,000 deer.

Question – How many deer did Minnesota hunters kill in 2012? Was it 153,000 or 185,000? If it is 185,000 and if the most recent count of deer taken is 164,500, the kill is down 12% and not 6%. Since the “general public” doesn’t catch this stuff, the radicals are happy hunting is “on the way out” and the hunters shrug that maybe it really was only bad weather responsible for the decrease. Like moose hunters, deer hunters are headed to the museum thinking it is a field trip and not their final resting place.

(II.)Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife population and regulations manager, said a lower deer population is likely the main reason hunters haven’t fared so well, though the weather was a factor, too.

The season opener was windy, while it was rainy and windy the next weekend. Bad weather can limit deer movement, as well as discourage hunters from spending as much time in their stands. And the deer population was already down because of the harsh winter of 2012-13, which led the agency to reduce the number of does hunters could kill in northern Minnesota.

Question – The DNR “expert” tells us only “a lower deer population is likely the main reason hunters haven’t fared so well”. Not a peep about predation. How does he “know” it wasn’t increasing predation since the DNR “had expected hunter success would be similar to 2012, when they killed about 185,000 deer”? If it was only the tired and worn excuses (minus global warming and ticks) spewed out by the DNR as moose disappeared, ask yourself why the DNR expected “hunter success similar to 2012” even after reducing “the number of does hunters could kill in northern Minnesota.”? This smoke and mirrors gives White House “transparency” a run for its money.

(III,)Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, concurred that the lower deer population is the main factor in the lower harvest. He said success also had a lot to do with the particular area of the state. There have been fewer signs of deer in areas where harvest limits had been set high to bring local populations down, he said. And he said he believes the wolf population is also a factor in northeastern Minnesota.

NOTE: This is an example of a hunter organization (there are many, many more such examples every year) running interference for DNR buddies. Notice that the DNR never mentions wolf predation but this “executive director” does so hunters relax, they have been heard. The DNR stays solid with the radicals and the “director” is buddies with both his deer hunters and his DNR pals. But what does it mean to say he believes “the wolf population is also a factor in northeastern Minnesota.”? What must be done? Who will do it? What does this mean for deer?

(IV.)Johnson said he’s hearing from hunters that they want the state to produce more deer. He said the DNR is likely to respond to that by reducing the antlerless harvest.

NOTE: Wow, his hunters want “more deer” and “the DNR is likely to respond to that by reducing the antlerless harvest”. Why didn’t they try that with moose? I think I will write a thank you letter to Governor Dayton for such responsive government. Future deer success can be expected to mirror recent moose success if wolves are not figured into the equation and dealt with forthrightly – if we are to really have “more deer”.

(V.)This is Minnesota’s second wolf season since the animals came off the endangered list. The DNR lowered the overall target to 220 wolves this time for the two-part season. Hunters killed 88 in the early season. Last year’s overall target was 400, and the final count of wolves killed was 413.

NOTE: Minnesota’s most recent wolf count is 2, 211 (I just love those odd numbers as if the all-but-impossible-to-count wolves were sandhill cranes roosting as a flock on a Platte River sandbar when an aerial photograph is taken and some apprentice biologist sat down with a pin and counted every last one of them in the photo right down to the 211th one!)

For a long list of political reasons, MN, WI, MI, MT, ID, OR, WA et al undercount wolves. This has been true ever since they got into the sack with federal bureaucrats as allies in the wolf wars.

Truth be told, Minnesota has at least 3,000 or more wolves. Last year, Minnesota killed 413 or 13% of their wolves. This year they will kill only 220 or 7 % of their wolves. You can kill 20- 25% of your furbearers, small game or big game every year (as many states do) and you merely stimulate the population by guaranteeing more survive the winter and more reproduction takes place because of less competition and more available food. If you wanted to have “more” deer or moose and you admitted the obvious impact of wolves on deer and moose; you would kill 50-75% of your wolves for 4-6 years and then maintain a harvest of 35-45% of your wolves annually ever after – or you would exterminate the wolves as was done throughout history in Europe and North America.

That is the real reason deer hunting success is down but nobody is going to look into it, much less try to do anything about it. Why don’t we try a government hunter-recruitment program in addition to “reducing the antlerless harvest”? Maybe the reason there isn’t any moose hunting anymore is that the government didn’t recruit moose hunters. I think I’ll put that suggestion in my thank-you letter to the Governor. It is as sensible as the rest of this stuff.

Jim Beers
11 December 2013

If you found this worthwhile, please share it with others. Thanks.

Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.

Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting. You can receive future articles by sending a request with your e-mail address to: jimbeers7@comcast.net


Maine: Deer Population Goals and 5-Year Benchmark Report

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife presents its Annual Deer Report. You can find a copy of the 8-page report by clicking on this link (PDF).

There’s not a lot of new information contained in this report, however I would like to point out a couple of things of interest, at least from my perspective.

1. The report places a fair amount of emphasis on the fact that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has used appropriated money for predator control to focus on remote areas where the department deems a need for coyote reduction. MDIFW claim in this report that without proper funding it was impossible to get hunters and trappers into remote deer yards. As such, that leaves much of the coyote control in not so remote areas up to volunteers and efforts of coyote contests, along with efforts to increase participation in coyote hunting through marketing and education.

2. It also appears quite clearly that MDIFW needs to act quickly and seriously in dealing with an overblown black bear population. Bear population target goals, it is said in this report, are to be similar to numbers from 1999 (23,000). Current estimates place the population in excess of 30,000. The same report states that deer fawn mortality by black bears can range from 20%-60%. Knowing that the easiest and perhaps fastest way to destroy a deer herd is to eliminate fawn recruitment, it should be a no-brainer that MDIFW needs to figure out ways to cut those numbers down.

One point brought up in the report was the reduction of hunter participation for bears. Does MDIFW have data that might show a reduction in participation coinciding with the increase in bear hunting permit fees?

3. Coyote control, evidently focused on remote areas, over the past three seasons has amounted to the killing of 398 wild dogs, at a cost of $49,765.00 or $125.03 per coyote. We need to assess whether this effort and the cost of killing one coyote is accomplishing what was hoped for. I’m not sure how this can be honestly assessed at this point.

If we take a look at the past three years, we see that for the 2010/2011 season, the cost for killing coyotes ran at $146.27 per animal while harvesting 11. For 2011/2012, that cost dropped to $127.36, while harvesting 119. And for 2012/2013, the cost dropped again slightly to $123.13, while killing 268 coyotes.

What can we conclude from this? Not much. Perhaps it is easy to say that even at $123.00 an animal, that’s a lot of money. But we have no way of knowing if it’s even possible to get that cost any lower. If you examine the information this report gives us, one thing that jumps out should be that in the three years nothing is consistent. It’s pretty difficult to assess effectiveness if there’s no consistency in which to make any kind of comparative assessment.

We can’t control the weather, which determines where both deer and coyotes will be and when and the susceptibility of deer to coyote predation and coyotes to human predation. We can control where we choose to target coyotes and the amount of money to be used to accomplish specific goals.

I guess then the question really becomes two fold. Do we have enough information to form an honest assessment? Has the program been running long enough and if not how many more years before we can make a determination?

This season MDIFW decided to use the majority of the money to focus on killing coyotes in remote deer yards. This is different from last year. Obviously the costs of traveling farther and into more remote areas is higher than it would be targeting nearby areas. If any kind of conclusion could be made, then perhaps with the higher costs and the result being 268 dead coyotes to show for it at a price tag of $123.13 per dog, success rates are going up causing cost per animal to come down. Therefore, perhaps as the program runs long enough to get the bugs out, numbers might look differently.

Will Maine run out of money for this program before it has had time to run long enough to know and understand any effectiveness?

I’d also like to know if MDIFW is considering killing coyotes in targeted deer fawning areas? We know that deer are targets in deep snow years in their deer wintering areas. We also know that fawns are targets in fawning areas. Shouldn’t we be targeting those areas as well?

I’ll leave readers with one more question. At and average so far of $125.03 per dead coyote could an attractive bounty system work the same or better if that money was paid to Maine hunters and trappers? Perhaps the bounty program could be set up in a lottery/permit allocation system in which higher bounties are paid for coyotes taken in high need or difficult to access areas.


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:

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.