State Moves to Restrict Deer Feeding

Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing new rules that would severely restrict – and probably eliminate – deer feeding in the state.

The Department’s wildlife staff has opposed deer feeding for a long time, but has never had authority to stop it or regulate it in any way. A lot of people feed deer and some believe their feeding operation helps deer get through the winter.

The legislature gave the department authority to adopt rules to regulate deer feeding earlier this year. Today the department advertised its proposed rules. Astonishingly, for such a hot topic of great interest statewide, the department does not plan to hold a public hearing on the rules. Comments may be submitted on the proposal until October 19.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, told me this morning that SAM will officially request at least one public hearing on the proposed rules.

The department’s position on deer feeding is clearly spelled out in the proposal, in the section stating the principle reason for the rule. “The Department discourages the supplemental feeding of deer and other wildlife because it is not beneficial in most situations.”

Given the department’s position on deer feeding, you can assume the broadly written rules will be used to close down most if not all of the state’s deer feeding stations.

The new law on deer feeding includes this authorization: “The Commissioner may regulate deer feeding in order to minimize potential public safety hazards or detrimental effects on deer, as well as minimize the risk of chronic wasting disease.”

The department proposes to define public safety hazard this way: a) increased incidence of motor vehicle accidents; b) causing a traffic hazard; c) increasing the presence of implicated vectors in the spread of Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases; d) creating a public nuisance. And it does not limit public safety hazards to this list.

But it’s in the list of “Activities detrimental to the deer population” where the department lays down the gauntlet. Here’s the list:

a)      concentrating deer at greater than natural densities;

b)      providing food that is harmful or of low nutritional value;

c)      increasing direct and indirect contact among individual animals;

d)      increasing deer habituation to humans and detracting from wild behavior and survival responses;

e)      increasing vulnerability to predation;

f)        increasing vulnerability to collisions with vehicles or other mortality risks;

g)      increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within and among individual animals and maintaining endemic disease reservoirs;

h)      causing significant habitat damage in and adjacent to feeding sites.

Pretty comprehensive, wouldn’t you say? Particularly given that DIF&W’s wildlife staff has insisted for years that deer feeding results in all of these problems and “is not beneficial in most situations.”

The rule says that, “When a deer feeding activity creates a situation that is determined by the Department to be detrimental to deer and/or a public safety hazard, the Department will provide the responsible party or parties with a written notice of required actions to modify the feeding activity, or require that the feeding activity cease and food items be cleaned up and removed.”

“If the required action(s) are not initiated and completed within 48 hours of receipt of a written warning, a summons may be issued for violation of a Commissioner’s rule.” Violations of the rule will be a Class E crime – rather than a civil violation as are most violations of the department’s rules.

“SAM is concerned that the language is too tough,” Dave Trahan told me. “It seems to assume that every feeding site is bad. And it looks like their position is pre-determined. We’ll be working to improve the language.”

Through its Deer Management Network, SAM has been working with guides, trappers, and fish and game clubs to educate people on the proper ways to feed deer. SAM’s partners in this project include Agway that sells deer feed and Nutrena that makes the feed. Point of sale posters and handouts were available at 19 distributors last winter, and will be substantially increased this year. “Distributors have been very supportive,” said Trahan.

This debate is going to be interesting!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.