October 27, 2021

Does Maine Need To Make Changes To Its Deer Management Strategies?

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Now that the deer season is fresh in everyone’s mind, the question can be asked once again if Maine needs to make any changes to its deer management program and in particular modification of any rules that govern deer hunting. It’s easy for those who didn’t bag a deer this year to think of things that are wrong and ways they think changes could help them get a deer next season but we all know the reality is that’s not going to happen. Afterall, we all can’t get a deer!

In case any of you don’t know about or have forgotten, I am going to post up the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Board of Directors final recommendations of deer management changes from last July. Read through their recommendations and see if any suggestions would fit. Contact your representative to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and let them know too.

Hunting Access

Problem Statement

Inability to access deer leads to: 1. failure to control deer populations; 2. it exacerbates negative interactions between deer and landowners; and 3. it causes crowding and intensified conflicts between landowners and hunters on lands still open to hunting. Access restrictions may occur at all land scales, ranging from individual residential properties, to municipalities, and large corporately or privately owned tracts of timberland. Motivations for restricting hunter access may include safety concerns, anti-hunting sentiments, prior land abuse by non-hunters, and desire to create exclusive hunting areas. Little is known regarding the extent, distribution and temporal trends in land posting in its various forms around the state. However, the prevailing belief is that hunters are currently being shut out of huntable land at an alarming rate.

Strategies

1. DIFW should fund a full-time Landowner Relations Coordinator position within the Information and Education (I & E) Division.

2. SAM should establish and fund a landowner relations program in partnership with other sportsmen’s groups to directly mitigate landowner/ land user problems as they arise.

3. Media outreach under the SAM/ DIF&W Hunting Heritage Program should be continued and strengthened.

4. Trends in land posting should be scientifically quantified and evaluated in order to properly focus remedial efforts.

5. Encourage DIF&W to use its existing authority to create special hunts that utilize all weapons including firearms, bow, and crossbows.

6. Revise antlerless deer permit drawings to increase allocations to qualifying landowners who provide deer hunting access to others. Currently, 20% of permits go to landowners. Change this to allocate available permits to all qualifying landowner applicants. Any remaining permits should be randomly allocated to nonlandowners. Limit the number of landowners who can apply for each qualifying parcel of huntable land.

7. If DIFW adopts the antlerless permit concept (see next section), the fee for the antlerless permit should be waived for qualified landowner permittees.

DEER HARVEST REGULATIONS

Problem Statement

Since it was implemented in 1986, the Any-Deer Permit System has been an effective tool to reduce the harvest of does and fawns when deer populations needed protection. However, this harvest system (which adheres to a one-deer limit in most cases) has proven inadequate in generating higher doe harvests when and where deer populations needed to be reduced. For example, while the Dept was limiting doe harvests between 1988 and 1997, the Any-Deer Permit system was effective in keeping doe harvests within an average of 2% of desired doe quotas. However, when the Dept. desired higher doe harvests between 1998 and 2005 (in the southern 1/2 of the state), doe harvests consistently fell an average of 12% below desired quotas despite higher allocations of Any-Deer permits. If the Dept chronically fails to achieve desired doe harvests, they will fail to control deer populations, and hunting will be seen as a less credible deer population management technique by the non-hunting public.

In areas with abundant deer and liberal Any-Deer permit allocations, the one-deer limit is probably the major cause of the Dept’s failure to meet its own pre-set doe quotas. Hunters do not want to kill an antlerless deer and risk not getting a crack at a buck. This problem transcends hunting seasons, since tagging out during the statewide archery season or youth day means sitting out the firearms and black powder seasons.

During the past decade, hunting weather during the firearms season has often been warm and sometimes rainy. Warm weather and attendant lack of tracking snow discourages hunter participation and diminishes success and satisfaction. Poor hunting conditions have likely contributed to DIFW’s recent failures to meet doe quotas.

Strategies

1. To increase the odds of hunting in cooler weather with a better chance of hunting on tracking snow, open the regular firearms season one week later than currently.

2. Re-vamp the Any-Deer permit system into an Antlerless Deer Permit System. All deer hunting license buyers would be allowed to take one antlered deer. Those

who successfully apply for an antlerless deer permit (ADP) may take one doe or fawn as a second deer during the statewide archery or firearms or muzzleloader seasons.

3. Successful applicants for ADP’s will pay a $10 fee which will go into a dedicated account within DIFW to cover the costs of landowner relations programs both inside and outside the agency.

4. Archery harvests statewide should be regulated under the new antlerless deer permit system. The later opening of the firearms season will enable DIFW to extend the statewide archery season by one week and give bird hunters an additional week of opportunity before deer hunters enter the woods with firearms.

5. To improve youth participation in deer hunting activities throughout the fall, youth day will still allow deer of either sex to be taken. However any deer legally taken on youth day will not count against any other limit on deer.

6. Current limits on deer during the expanded season should remain unchanged, recognizing that this season is all about deer management. This season should be expanded, possibly to the end of January.

Predation
Problem Statement

Predation on adult deer by coyotes and black bears when added to other losses (hunting, poaching, road kill, and disease) may limit deer populations at levels below what the habitat may support. High losses of fawns to coyotes and bears may reduce recruitment to such low levels that deer populations cannot sustain even minor losses among adult deer. Deer populations in eastern and northern Maine have remained below Dept objectives for more than 25 years, despite low deer hunting pressure. Deer losses to non-hunting causes exceed recruitment in the northern half of Maine during most years. In addition, despite excellent nutrition and primary production, early mortality of fawns exceeds 50% of the fawn crop most years. Research in Maine, and in surrounding states and provinces, implicates bears and coyotes as the primary source of early fawn mortality.

With losses to predation of this magnitude, the Dept’s approach focusing solely on deer harvest management has failed to allow deer populations to increase in downeast and northern Maine. During the past 25 years, the Dept has chosen not to implement adequate measures to control coyote or bear density in these areas. Nor has the Dept conducted the scientific research needed to support or refute the efficacy of predator control in managing deer populations in Maine. Federal listing of the Canada lynx as threatened on the endangered species list has enabled anti-hunting and anti- trapping factions to intimidate the Dept into curtailing Maine’s legislatively mandated coyote control program. It has now been 3 years since the Dept has implemented an already over-regulated and limited coyote snaring program in eastern and northern Maine.

Strategies

1. SAM should open a discussion with the Maine Professional Guides Association about DIF&W adopting as policy the concept that coyote and black bear population density needs to be regulated in order to support management of highly valued species such as deer and moose in Maine. With the support of the MPGA, SAM should pursue adoption of this policy by DIF&W.

2. The Department, given adoption of recommendation 1 in this section, needs to support efforts to increase coyote harvests where deer are being adversely impacted by predation losses. This support includes education on safe, effective coyote hunting and trapping techniques; providing information regarding location of deer wintering areas; sanctioning of privately-conducted coyote control efforts (e.g., contests); and encouraging growth of coyote hunting among Maine’s professional guiding and outfitting industry.

3. The Dept or the Legislature needs to resolve the political conflict between the federal lynx listing and the coyote control program ASAP. The state should petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow lynx to be managed by the state. If this petition fails, then the state should follow up with a lawsuit to remove the lynx from the federal listing. This is very important.

4. With or without resumption of the coyote snaring season, DIF&W’s animal damage control (ADC) program should be re-activated, as mandated by state law. Certified ADC agents should be trained in the selective use of trapping with foothold traps in snow, and in den hunting techniques. ADC agents, including houndsmen, need to be actively deployed in eastern and northern Maine annually between January and July.

5. Coyote control using ADC agents needs to be intensified from December through March in the vicinity of deer wintering areas in eastern and northern WMDs (new districts 1 – 14, 18, 19, 27 and 28), and in other areas with volunteers.

6. Coyote harvests should be intensified during March to July to reduce coyote predation pressure on young fawns and does during the coyote denning period, in some districts using ADC agents.

7. The coyote night-hunting season should be open all year, just as the daylight season for coyote hunting is currently.

8. Implement a cooperative study, with DIF&W and sportsmen’s groups, of the effects of intensified coyote and/ or bear removals on several large areas in eastern and northern Maine.

9. Sportsmen and the general public should be informed of the benefits and limitations of predator control in Maine. Hunters and non-hunters should be made aware of the distinction between predator eradication vs. predator density control as a wildlife management technique.

Tom Remington

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