Ask The Biologist

The Maine Issue

The Maine Issue

By Bob Humphrey

Rumor says deer numbers in Maine are shockingly low. Is that true?

QUESTION: An outfitter in Maine recently reported that the deer herd numbers were so low they were not booking any deer hunts and they were not sure when they might be doing so in the future. Does that sound correct to you that Maine herd numbers are low? If so, what would it take for the herd to recover. — Mark M.

ANSWER: It is often said that Maine is really two states and here’s a prime example of why. In parts (northern and Downeast) of Maine, deer numbers are low enough that some outfitters have considered halting deer hunts, and apparently some are not booking any. Meanwhile, Maine is giving out a significantly higher number of any-deer permits in southern and central Maine this year to try to reduce the herd.

The following three elements would go a long way toward helping deer recover in areas where numbers are low.

1) Greater protection of winter habitat. Efforts thus far have largely been scattered, and in locations where they have the ability rather than where they are needed. Even then efforts fall far short. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is responsible for management and maintenance of more than 100,000 acres throughout the State (aggregated into 62 Wildlife Management Areas). Of that, 92,000 acres currently not managed for deer wintering areas. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands coordinates wildlife habitat management on another 600,000 acres of state lands. Of that, 571,000 acres is currently not managed for deer wintering areas. It could take years or even decades, but much of that land could provide winter habitat for deer. Meanwhile, the State must also look for ways to better manage private lands, which make up roughly 97 percent of Maine’s forests.

2) Predator control. Research in other parts of the country, where severe winter is not an issue and coyotes are relatively new, has shown they are having a significant impact on deer populations. One can logically conclude that in Maine, where they have been well established for decades and severe winter conditions make killing deer much easier, they are having a much greater impact. Research from other states has also shown that black bears are significant deer predators. Meanwhile, Maine is now looking for ways to curb its rapidly expanding bear population.

3) Better management. I have the utmost respect for the biologists and managers with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. They do their jobs to the best of their abilities, especially with the financial and political constraints that bind them. Unfortunately, one of those constraints is a management plan wherein objective deer populations are based not on what the habitat can comfortably support, but what humans will comfortably tolerate. The deer herd in central and southern Maine could easily be doubled with no impact on the habitat or the deer.

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