Not so long ago, deer numbers in northern Maine were at a crisis point. It was said, not jokingly, that in some Aroostook County townships the lynx, a federally listed endangered species, was more prevalent than deer!
The deer situation has improved some in the County, but tough winters and continued predation holds back the recovery of deer numbers.
This spring a deer survival forum was held at the University of Maine in Presque Isle. The idea was to answer the question: Are we doing enough? County sportsmen, policymakers from MDIF&W and representatives of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) were on hand to give comment and take part in a give-and-take conversation on the deer question. Panelists dealt with these topics: current status of deer in northern Maine, deer wintering area protection, predation management and improving nutritional conditions of deer.
Maine’s former state deer-research biologist, Gerry Lavigne, who is currently a wildlife consultant to SAM, gave some introductory remarks at the forum. Gerry was also a guest recently on my radio program “Maine Outdoors.”
Gerry underscored the point that during the past 10 years, the Aroostook County Conservation Association (ACCA), as well as the Presque Isle Fish & Game Club, has rolled up its collective sleeves and undertaken a privately funded and voluntary effort to enhance deer survival in the north country. The ACCA, under the capable leadership of its president, Jerry McLaughlin, has conducted a very successful coyote hunting contest, wintertime feeding of deer in wintering areas and various forms of habitat improvement, including the planting of cedar trees.
Coyote population management has been the touchstone for this effort to help winter deer survival. In fact, during the past decade, the combined coyote-control efforts of the ACCA, the Penobscot County Wildlife Conservation Association, MDIF&W and a group in the Milo area, 4,305 coyotes have been harvested!
As Lavigne points out, although coyote packs take down deer year-round, it’s the deer in wintering areas that are the most vulnerable to coyote predation. Coyote control efforts won’t guarantee that a wintering deer will make it to the spring greenup, but at least the deer has a fighting chance.
Lavigne also acknowledges that coyote management only works if it is consistently applied over the long haul year after year. All of the aforementioned groups are to be commended for their hard work and dedication to an important cause: deer recovery in the North Woods.
Although MDIF&W was reluctant 10 years ago to launch a coyote-control program using contract trappers, and was mandated to do so by the state Legislature, its coyote-control program apparently has been well managed: it has gotten the job done. During the 10-year coyote control program, the department has taken over 2,000 critters before they could bring down wintering deer in the yards.
Given the popularity of deer hunting in Maine (84 percent of licensed hunters hunt deer) and its important economic role, sportsmen should applaud these groups and encourage them to keep up the good work with donations and words of acknowledgment.