Lots of deer issues from ticks to antler restrictions

DIFW’s new big game management plan tackles lots of deer issues. In southern Maine, there’s a focus on habitat damage, high densities, and tick-borne diseases. This is my 6th column on the new big game management plans.

Concerning high populations of deer, DIFW reports, “We’ll need to think outside the box to identify new, effective, and employable methods of managing local populations of deer.” I was interested to learn that “limited research has expressed that maintaining deer at, or below, 11 deer/mile may lower tick abundance and subsequently decrease risk of tick-borne pathogens.”

Back in the late 1990s, residents on Monhegan Island suffered the highest per capita cases of Lyme disease in Maine. I helped them get permits to kill all the deer on the island and that eliminated Lyme disease. The first year they actually killed all but 12 deer, and they still had cases of Lyme so the next year they killed the rest of the deer and that ended their problem. Without doubt if you have any deer you will have cases of Lyme disease.

DIFW says the state needs about 8% of the land base within each WMD to be available as deer wintering area to sustain 10 deer/mile. And they also report that they are doing new research on deer survival which may give them a better idea of the impact of predators on Maine’s deer herd.

The plan spends very little time addressing calls for antler point restrictions, although their polling of hunters found that almost half favor those restrictions. “APR’s were not designed to grow trophy deer, or increase deer abundance, but rather to increase recruitment of young bucks into the older age classes to offset high levels of adult buck mortality; as often occurs in heavily hunted populations of animals. With that in mind, an APR would likely not provide enough of a benefit to remaining deer populations to offset the loss of opportunity for hunters.”

You probably know that the department opposes and discourages deer feeding although it is legal at certain times of the year. The legislature recently decreased the time period in which deer can be fed. “Feeding can lead to several unintended consequences for deer,” notes the plan, “including increases in vehicle collisions and predation, disruptions to normal movements and behavior, degradation of winter habitat, and increased susceptibility to disease.” They did acknowledge that, “It is possible that when done properly, feeding may lead to improved survival for some deer during severe winters.”

And here’s some really bad news for many hunters, guides, sporting camps, and rural Maine towns. “The efforts of MDIFW and landowners to increase deer densities in much of northern, western, and downeast Maine have not been successful, and deer remain under objective.” The department is going to reevaluate the limiting factors for deer in those parts of the state, and they’re also concerned that another spruce budworm outbreak could further reduce the quantity and quality of winter deer shelter across northern Maine.

“Research on the factors impacting deer survival, including winter shelter, predation, winter severity, and feeding, is required to determine whether substantially increasing deer in this part of the state is a practical option,” says DIFW.

A couple of research projects really interest me. One would evaluate early fawn mortality factors. The other would evaluate the effectiveness of the coyote predation management program and identify options for improvement. That is sure to be controversial.
In terms of solutions to problems, one proposal for areas where deer exceed social or ecological carrying capacity, will be to allow the harvest of additional deer by increasing bag limits, implementing special seasons, or using other management tools.

I’m sure you all be interested in the proposals to increase efforts to conserve deer wintering areas, which is a high priority in northern, western and eastern Maine. They propose to continue to use LUPC zoning to protect DWA’s, establish or reestablish cooperative agreements with Maine’s large landowners to help manage and conserve DWA’s, continue to use the Land for Maine’s Future program and other funding sources to acquire conservation easements to conserve important deer wintering habitat. They also plan to increase their dialogue with landowners and land trusts, to facilitate conservation of DWA’s, and in the event of a spruce budworm outbreak, collaborate with landowners to identify alternative DWA management strategies in heavily impacted areas.

The department recognizes that in southern and central Maine “maintaining public satisfaction with deer management hinges on limiting levels of human – deer conflicts, minimizing the risk of Lyme disease, and facilitating hunting opportunities on private land. In areas where traditional hunting seasons are not resulting in harvests high enough to achieve management objectives, special hunting opportunities will be required. Improving public satisfaction with deer management will be more challenging in northern, western, and eastern portions of the state.”

The plan calls for developing a certification program for hunters that would authorize participation in special urban deer hunts and use the department’s animal damage and depredation control program to manage deer – human conflicts. I’ll be interested to see how that works.
They also hope to recruit, retain, and reactivate deer hunters to help support their deer management goals throughout the state.

Finally here are the expected outcomes for the new deer management plan, which they know will require adequate staffing, funding, and public support. They also note that it may not be necessary or feasible to implement all the strategies in order to achieve the goals and objectives. If the agency is successful in managing deer over the next 10 years these are the outcomes they anticipate:

1) statewide over – wintering deer population averages 210,000 animals
2) the percentage of the public rating the management of deer as excellent or good increases to 75% by 2022
3) public support for deer hunting to manage the population remains at or above 90%
4) annual participation of 150,000 hunters
5) statewide hunter satisfaction with Maine’s deer management program increases to 85% by 2022, 80% in northern Maine, 85% in central Maine, and 90% in southern Maine
6) an average annual statewide buck harvest of at least 15,000 animals is maintained
7) seven year running average of the percentage of yearlings in the buck harvest remains below 50%
8) any deer permits generally available in WMDs 15 – 17, 20 – 25, and 29, with permits issued in other WMDs during some years.

In my next report on the big game management plan we’ll talk about moose.

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.