Goals of Maine Game Plan for Deer remain elusive and expensive

While Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife does a good job of researching and managing deer, the state’s Game Plan for Deer appears to be achieving little and costing a lot. A March 6 “Benchmark Report” on the plan, presented to the legislature’s IFW Committee on March 6, is not very encouraging.

My 2013 buck

My 2013 buck

I have posed a series of questions to the professionals at DIF&W, based on what I read in the report, and hope to have the answers for you in the next column on deer. This is my third in a series on deer management and issues. Here are a few highlights in the report that jumped out at me.

Dead coyotes are costing DIF&W $200 each this winter, in line with the high cost of the “predator control” project in previous winters. And this year, DIF&W includes the project volunteers in their report – probably to try to reduce the cost/coyote. I’ve asked for clarification on this point. As of February 24, 2014, in 52 priority DWAs, DIF&W paid 25 trappers and 42 hunters and houndsmen, and utilized 20 volunteers, who harvested 175 coyotes for $34,696.

The department has fallen short of its goal to “obtain assurances from cooperating landowners that 100% of the acreage currently supporting wintering deer in northern, eastern, and western Maine is being cooperatively managed with the Department… by December 31, 2013.” The report doesn’t tell us how far short they fell. It just notes that the effort is “in progress.” I’ve asked for the specifics.

Aerial surveys by helicopter are an important component of deer population management and assessment. But no flights were conducted for 2012-13 “due to lack of snow at first, and then too much snow which moved deer to coniferous cover… Currently the Department is reviewing the program to determine its effectiveness and the ability of the Department to continue data collection.”

There is no indication of what they would do to replace these surveys, but the report did note, in previous years, “The flights demonstrated that in some WMDs deer were at lower densities than what was previously believed.”

DIF&W conducted a “Hunter Effort Survey” in 2012 and 2013. The results for 2012 have been entered in the data base but the report gives no information about the findings. I’ve asked for them. The report does acknowledge, “It was hoped that the information from 2012 would be analyzed during the past year,” but gives no reason why it wasn’t.

Some of the agency’s deer research is fascinating. In the last 3 years they’ve collected 1,832 and 2,231 and approximately 4,000 deer teeth respectively, and had them aged by a Montana lab. For the past two years biologists and volunteers have been collecting information on deer reproduction by examining female deer killed in vehicle collisions.

And speaking of collisions, the report indicates that between 2,500 and 4,000 deer statewide during the past 10 years have been killed in motor vehicle collisions. But the report also notes that many of these collisions are not reported. One goal of the Deer Plan was to “continue collaborative efforts with Maine’s Department of Transportation to develop and install signage at high deer collision area by December 31, 2013. “

That project was completed and included three mobile, vehicle-activated, flashing signs to use in high priority areas. Ed Picard and Lenny Cabral could have used those signs at their half-mile stretch of road on Route 139 in Unity. In February, 14 deer were killed on that stretch, so Ed and Lenny put up some home-made “Deer Crossing” signs. Lenny told Jesse Scardina, a Kennebec Journal reporter, “You can tell the people who’ve hit a deer before because those are the ones that slow right down.”

There’s a lot more in this Benchmark Report, and I’ll write more about it, and hopefully have the answers to the questions I’ve posed to DIF&W, sometime soon.

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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.