November 29, 2023

Don’t Cry For Me Maine Deer Hunters

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When I opened George Smith’s article today in the Bangor Daily News, I thought that all of Maine’s northern forests had been wiped out and it was time for all Maine sportsmen, managers and biologists at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to search for the “tanto” for performing an act of “Seppuku.” But let’s not disembowel anybody just yet. And, I am exaggerating just a bit.

The good news is, that it appears as though at least one other outdoor writer has enough passion to put passion into his writing when it comes to what is being done about the Maine whitetail deer herd. And for that I would never suggest he keep quiet.

Mr. Smith makes reference to a recent study from the University of Maine, author Daniel Harrison, about the effectiveness of protecting habitat and specifically deer wintering habitat in the northern climes of Maine.

“I was, frankly, stunned by some of the findings…”

“When I read that, I thought: so it’s not all about predation by bears and coyotes! Perhaps the focus of the Maine Game Plan for Deer needs to be broadened from its almost sole focus on killing coyotes.”

Stunned? Surely, not. That is if you understand what has been going on in the woods, the actual non effort of those fingered to do something constructive about this problem and what’s really behind a study and an examination into what it really says.

I’m also a bit puzzled by Smith’s comment that the Maine Game Plan for Deer is, “almost sole focus on killing coyotes.” I didn’t think the Plan was all that much about killing coyotes, and predators in general, but contained a whole lot of unattainable things…..even some of those George writes of in his article. More on the predator issue in a bit.

The study in reference, has to be taken for what it is, who did it and why. The study needs to be studied and while doing that look for the little things that shed more light on what’s really going on and for whom it benefits, etc.

I’m not going to dissect the entire study but let’s take a couple examples. The study says:

Given that zoning of a small part of the landscape was ineffective for meeting population-level habitat objectives for deer in Maine, other collaborative landscape conservation
approaches will likely be needed to couple forestry and wildlife habitat objectives on managed forests in the region.

How can this one study make that conclusion? What this is saying is that zoning of the landscape didn’t work because the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is not achieving population goals for deer in those same areas.

An examination of the 14-page report speaks of nothing except habitat. Is the reason MDIFW has or isn’t achieving deer population goals strictly due to habitat? I know MDIFW loves to make that the focus of their excuses du jour, but at least some are willing to admit that weather, climate, predators, disease, etc. also play an integral role.

When the same report also makes statements like: “The extent to which past zoning has been successful in protecting habitat within deer wintering areas is unknown.”, and, “Further, the extent that landscape changes adjacent to DWA’s have affected the ability of DWAs to serve as viable
deer wintering habitats is uncertain(emphasis added),” are we then to assume that any and all efforts to rebuild a deer herd be abandoned? And/or that any effort to protect habitat is “ineffective?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not relegating the University of Maine’s report as useless nor am I standing up blindly to the MDIFW’s deer management efforts. As the study suggests, “alterations in deer
management objectives, as well as new approaches to forest landscape and biodiversity conservation are needed.” And perhaps MDIFW should look toward making some changes and using this study as only one part of the plan and not all of the plan.

What I took away from the study was not a sense of fear, dredge and an urge for self-flogging over the future, but a question as to how the administrators of this study can reach a statement that says protecting land areas used for wintering deer is ineffective simply because deer population goals are not being reached. There exists a myriad of other circumstances that readily effect deer population. Habitat and it’s complexities make up only a part of that. I honestly don’t think this report makes any effort in explaining that at all and they should have. It is completely focus on only habitat.

Which brings me back to the point Smith made about Maine’s Game Plan for Deer is all focused on killing coyotes. As I stated, the Plan is not all focused on killing coyotes and neither are the majority of sportsmen in the state of Maine. They mostly understand that predators, those large enough to impact the deer herd, i.e. coyotes/wolves, bear, bobcat, lynx, etc. need controlling just like all the other game species MDIFW is given management responsibilities over.

One needs a deep enough understanding about interactions between predators and deer before suggesting to give up on predator control and management. Abandoning a predator control program at this time in the state’s effort to help a shrinking herd would be catastrophic.

MIDFW and others, and now found in this report, have stated that deer population goals are not being met. Even if we buy into the study that habitat is being destroyed and that it is that which is preventing a rebound in deer populations, then it is even more pressing that we not only maintain a predator reduction program but perhaps increase it.

What makes for a predator pit, that is a situation where there are too many predators that will never allow for the rebuilding of a prey species, such as deer, is when there are so few deer and too many predators. Even if habitat is diminishing, while we work on finding ways to deal with that, we can’t just give up a coyote killing program simply because a forestry group says not cutting down certain zoned forests to protect deer isn’t effective. All efforts should be made to attempt to bring a deer herd to goal levels and/or carrying capacities and neither of those are happening.

In conclusion, we must also consider the authors of the study. Studies are what they are (to use an already overused expression) and one has to consider the source, whose paying for the study and why, etc. I would have expected nothing different to come from this study because it was done by and about the Maine Forest Industry. I would be looking to protect my property and my rights to harvest my timber as well.

It is up to MDIFW and others to look to see what changes might be needed, short of all out abandoning ship.

My fear is that MDIFW will use this study to throw up their hands and exclaim that they’ve tried and there is nothing they can do to save the habitat, suggesting giving up. It’s not ALL about habitat.

It ain’t pretty but it’s far from over…..if you care enough.


And piping plovers I would surmise!