The Deer Action Plan: Will It Work?
By V. Paul Reynolds

Back in December, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) called together sportsman groups from all over Maine to see what can be done about Maine's deer problem. According to SAM's former director, George Smith, the idea was the brainstorm of State Senator David Trahan. Smith ran the meeting.

The outcome of this workshop was a document called the Deer Action Plan. It is a good piece of work. Not only does it quantify the problem -- the cause of our decline in whitetail deer numbers ---- the plan proposes solutions that are, for the most part, both practical and possible.

By now most concerned sportsmen are aware that tough winters, lack of good deer yards, and predation by coyotes and bears are the key culprits in reducing Maine's deer numbers, especially in eastern and northern Maine. The question has always been the same: what do we do?

Overall, the plan asserts that this state's deer management goal must be 10 deer per square mile in eastern and northern Maine and 20 deer per square mile in southern and coastal Maine.

Here are the elements of the deer plan that seem to me to make the most sense:

1. A policy shift by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) that redirects staff and resources to concentrate on deer recovery. This means, of course, that because MDIF&W is hardpressed financially "some things the Department is doing will have to end." This is easier said than done. It will require courage and determination by our newly appointed IF&W commissioner Chandler Woodcock. As the plan says, "Deer must come first."

2. A much more intense effort by the Department to create cooperative deer yard protection agreements with timberland owners. This should include provisions for deer- yard protection in all future conservation easements between the state and private landowners

3. Use of state funds from the Katahdin Lake land deal to underwrite the cost of deer -yard protection deals at the county level.

4. Implementation of an aggressive coyote control program. ( Of course, this is not a novel idea. We had a coyote snaring program, but the late commissioner suspended it more than 7 years ago).

Missing from the Deer Action plan is an acknowledgement that, until Maine's deer herd has recovered, sportsmen need to refrain from the popular tendency to seek more and more diverse hunt opportunities. For example, in this legislative sessions there are a number of legislative bills that would award doe permits to certain age groups. Sportsmen can't have it both ways. Also missing from the plan is a recommendation that consideration be given to a spring bear hunt.

In my view, based on good iformation from experts, no predator control program to protect deer should overlook the fact that Maine's robust black bear population contributes as much to fawn mortality as coyotes.

Finally, the Deer Action Plan correctly observes that "it is essential that Maine receive an incidental take permit from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for trapping (coyotes) within the critical habitat designated for Canadian lynx." This is not a new observation. IF&W has had an application for in incidental take permit in the USFWS pipeline for so long that the ink is fading. Truth be known, there are players at USFWS, and within the halls of MDIF&W, who are philosophically opposed to coyote snaring as a predation control tool. Bureaucratic foot dragging will in time make most unwanted issues just disappear from the radar screen.

A cynic can argue that, while the Deer Action Plan is a thorough and thoughtful summary of the problem, that there is still no mechanism in the deer plan to compell action. The abiding hope is simply this: new leadership at all levels in state government will listen to sportsmen and at long last take action.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.


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