Lyme and other diseases caused by deer ticks provoked a lengthy discussion at the last meeting of the Big Game Steering Committee, a group that is working with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to create new 15-year management plans for deer, moose, bear, and turkeys.
Tom Doak, the director of the Maine Woodland Owners group, was the first to raise Lyme as a concern, noting, “We’ll make a mistake if we don’t address this in the plan.”
“This is a serious public health issue,” he said, “I don’t know how you are going to resolve the desire for more deer by hunters and the concerns by the public about Lyme disease.”
Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association jumped in to add concerns about other illnesses caused by deer ticks.
Nate Webb, the DIF&W staffer who is doing a terrific job in staffing this process, reported that they are struggling to determine what level of deer populations are satisfactory. Some have suggested 15 to 18 deer per square mile. Nate noted that in southern Maine they are already managing deer at the 15 to 20 per square mile level.
Connecticut studies have shown that cases of Lyme disease decreased as deer populations declined. And there are also 5 other pathogens that you can get from deer ticks, so it is not all about Lyme.
It was suggested that DIF&W should be aware of hotspots for Lyme and schedule special deer hunts there. The Maine CDC now has data on Lyme by town (and that info is available to the public on their website).
“I’m worried about deer becoming hated by people,” said Kleiner, noting that he wants DIF&W to be on top of this with remedies. Doak chimed in to request a specific plan for dealing with this important issue, including specific goals for the number of deer per square mile. He suggested that DIF&W have a trigger population level that would automatically allow bait to be used when hunting deer.
Barry Burgason, representing the Maine Forest Products Council, suggested that the agency allow baiting and snipers in problem areas. DIF&W has the authority to do both.
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director, reported that despite cases of Lyme disease on Isleboro, residents there have resisted suggestions that the deer herd be reduced. Of course, Monhegan had the highest per capita cases of Lyme in the state, and they killed all the deer on the island and haven’t had any Lyme cases since then.
Judy reported that on Peaks Island in Portland Harbor, a sharpshooter reduced the deer herd, and then two island hunters were allowed to maintain low populations by baiting and killing deer.
As Lyme moves north in our state, I expect concerns over these issues to increase, so let’s hope DIF&W can come up with a plan to deal with those concerns.
This goal, in the draft plan, may be particularly difficult to achieve: “Ensure public satisfaction with the deer population by providing hunting and viewing opportunities while minimizing conflicts between deer and people.”
The second objective established to achieve this goal is: “Maintain efforts to minimize the risk of Lyme disease in Maine.”
Well, Monhegan certainly achieved that goal, but killing all the deer in Maine is probably not going to work!