Hearings Scheduled on Controversial Deer Feeding Rules

The public will have a chance to weigh in on controversial rules governing deer feeding, now that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has scheduled two public hearings on its proposal. 

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, despite a request from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the proposal remains unchanged. “We have many concerns,” SAM’s executive director Dave Trahan told me today. “We are working hard to change it.”

First reported in this blog on September 19, the rules would severely restrict – and probably eliminate – deer feeding in the state. As I reported earlier, 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.

The legislature gave the department authority to adopt rules to regulate deer feeding earlier this year. Astonishingly, for such a hot topic of great interest statewide, the department did not initially plan to hold a hearing on the rules, and gave the public only a few weeks to comment on the proposal.

When it readvertised the proposal on October 10, the Department announced two public hearings:

October 30, 6:30 pm, Northeastland Hotel, Red Room, 436 Main Street, Presque Isle

November 1, 6:30 pm, Lincoln Plantation Town hall, Route 16, Lincoln Plantation (on the New Hampshire border west of Rangeley).

The comment period has been extended to November 15. Comments may be mailed to Becky Orff, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, #41 State House Station, Augusta, Me 04333, or emailed to becky.orff@maine.gov.

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.

DIF&W’s wildlife staff has insisted for years that deer feeding results in all of these problems and, even in this new rule proposal, notes that it “is not beneficial in most situations.”

When the rule was first issued, Dave Trahan told me, “SAM is concerned that the language is too tough. 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.” SAM also requested that public hearings be scheduled on the proposal.

Dave told me today that he is working with SAM Board member and retired DIF&W deer biologist Gerry Lavigne on testimony for delivery at one of the public hearings.

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.