Do Fish & Wildlife Managers Need a Better Urban Mgmt Plan?
By Stu Bristol

By taking the easy way out on Peaks, the Department set a dangerous precedent that supercedes sound wildlife management practices. By yielding to local residents, that precedent has been further entrenched, making it more difficult to regain control of stewardship.

Not so long ago, when the Game Wardens telephone rang, the caller would complain about a raccoon in their garbage or a skunk wandering around with it's head stuck in a bottle. Today, the more common complaint is that there's a bear in my birdfeeder, a pack of coyotes just ate my cat, or "your" deer have just ruined my landscape shrubbery. Urban wildlife problems have escalated to the level that has required town meetings and some of the debates have caused tempers to flare.

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"Do fish and wildlife managers need to formulate a better plan for future management of species in urban areas?" Hunters trappers and anglers in southern Maine fear that if the Department doesn't take the lead, local planning boards will decide how fish and wildlife will be managed, on a local level and that's usually not good for fish and wildlife and has proven to be disastrous for us hunters and anglers.

This time it's not hunters trappers and anglers against landowners. At the center of the problem is "Urban Sprawl," the rapid expansion of development into what was previously wilderness. Animals are not invading the cities and towns, the townspeople are invading the domain of the wild animals.

Being at the top of the food chain, humans have the right of way, so to speak, and the wildlife must yield. On Peaks Island, in Portland Harbor, the deer population increased to the level that a hired gun was brought in to exterminate most or all of the animals to make way for humans.

Some island residents believed the deer should have been simply trapped and transferred to larger living space. Given the fact that no viable hunting season could be established on this tiny island, I agreed with the trap and transfer instead of extermination. I also continue my belief it should be the island residents or it's legal municipality, the City of Portland that should foot the bill. Estimates for trap and transfer range in the $1,000 per animal range and roughly $400 per animal using a sharpshooter.

Never, in the history of wildlife management, has their been such concern by managers over public relations as exists today. In the past, it was the undisputed domain of the Game Warden to make instant decisions concerning the welfare of fish and wildlife and to take appropriate action. If an animal could be quickly and safely trapped and moved, the Warden would do so. Left with no alternatives, or if the general public would be endangered, such as a moose wandering the interstate highway, the animal could, and usually would be destroyed.

On Peaks Island, sound game management was sheepishly set aside to allow island residents to be given a free hand to decide the fate of the deer. Choosing public relations over proven game management once again turned out bad for the species in the center of the controversy. Allowing this action at the local level has, in my mind, compromised the Department's ability to take charge in future overcrowding problems. The precident has now been set and will be difficult to overcome the next time around. From this point forward, unless fast action is promoted to formulate a viable urban fish and wildlife plan the Department and it's supporters (hunters, anglers and trappers) will lose out to Town and city planning boards.

No one disputes that Peaks Island was overrun with deer. Where 25 deer could live with adequate food and shelter more than 150 existed. Regardless of how the herd was reduced the population is sure to again flourish and several years down the road the problem will reoccur.

My solution to island deer management problems would have been to trap the deer and transfer them to open space, at the expense of the City of Portland, or other municipality governing coastal islands. Being the redneck I am, and a fierce defender of the principle that what is good for fish and wildlife is also good for humans, I would prosecute the city and the island residents for animal cruelty.

In human comparison, if a farmer kept 150 cows or sheep on an island with inadequate food, the animals would quickly be impounded by the city or state and the owner would be fined and publicly criticized.

All fish and wildlife species within the borders of Maine belong collectively to the people. The lion's share of funding for the Department comes from licensed hunters, trappers and anglers. On our behalf, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is charged with stewardship of those species. It should not be up to the island residents or any other local Planning Board to determine the fate of the deer herd or skunks or any other species.

Maine sportsmen and women fear an alarming shift in attitude has begun by our Department, from being the experts (scientists) leaders to a body that yields to political pressures at the slightest hint of a conflict. First the island deer eradication, then the department backed down on the coyote snaring debocle and we all wonder how much pressure will cause the Department to cave on the upcoming bear referendum?

IF&W allowed the residents of Peaks Island to hire a shooter instead of standing fast to their legislative mandate to assume stewardship on behalf of the people of Maine (the rightful owners of fish and wildlife). By taking the easy way out on Peaks, the Department set a dangerous precedent that supercedes sound wildlife management practices. By yielding to local residents, that precedent has been further entrenched, making it more difficult to regain control of stewardship.

Other than posing a possible threat by carrying deer ticks, which have been known to spread Lyme Disease, the deer face a death sentence merely for eating the grass or shrubs off the island residents' lawns. Then, how will the Department handle other areas affected by urban sprawl? What will be the decision on too many deer in North Saco, the Kennebunks, Falmouth Foreside and Cape Elizabeth? And these are only southern Maine problems. What about sprawl in Bangor and Milinockett?

Unless a firm stand is taken, fish and wildlife species throughout southern Maine, where urban sprawl has already become a problem, will be in further jeopardy. An urban wildlife management plan should be implemented right away, that addresses problems associated with urban sprawl in townships. You and I, through out representative at the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife should play a key role in deciding what happens to Peaks Island deer, not simply the residents of the island.

Stu Bristol is a freelance outdoor writer living in Lyman. His features have been published nationwide for more than 35 years.

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