This is the time of year when Maine’s state regional wildlife biologists examine their deer data in each of their wildlife management districts (WMDs) and make recommendations for the issuance of any-deer or doe permits in their respective districts.
Last year a record 84,745 any-deer permits were issued. That was 20 percent higher than any previous year. Last fall, the annual total deer harvest exceeded even the statewide harvest predictions made by state deer research biologist Nathan Bieber. More than 30,000 deer were tagged last fall.
This season, biologists are scaling back their recommended doe permits for next fall by nearly 20 percent. Bieber told Bangor Daily News outdoor writer John Holyoke that “most of the permit reductions will take place in northern Maine, where a severe winter likely killed more deer.”
In the scheme of things, this cutback in doe permits is not as bad as it might look at first glance, nor is it reason to panic about the health of Maine’s whitetail population. If the Wildlife Advisory Council gives a green light to the biologists’ doe permit recommendations, which it generally does, there will be more than 68,000 permits issued this fall. This is still the second-highest number of doe permits issued in the last 15 years!
The concern remains, not the deer numbers in coastal or southern Maine, but, as always, in the North Woods. The demographics of Maine’s diverse deer population have long been a dichotomy: Too many deer in southern and coastal Maine and not enough up north. The big woods winters, as well as deer-yard predation by coyotes, and spring fawn predation by coyotes and bears, calls the shots. Just when we make some progress in big woods’ deer numbers, Mother Nature challenges North Woods deer survival with deep snows and prolonged cold.
Bieber told Holyoke that “In three WMDs — 7, 12 and 13 — biologists are proposing a total reduction, from 400, 400 and 475, respectively, to zero for 2019.” So here we go again: two steps forward and one step back.
Like anything involving wildlife mortality estimates, there is some educated guesswork involved. Was there really a significant loss of wintering deer in Aroostook County and other northern townships this winter? Common sense would suggest this to be the case, but we won’t know for sure until we have been through a fall deer season. Deer biologists must err on the side of caution when allocating any-deer permits.
All of this suggests to me that the commendable efforts of the Aroostook County Conservation Association to control coyote numbers up north become all that more significant. Fawn predation by black bears? Well, that’s another issue that has been ignored, seemingly by wildlife policymakers and sportsmen as well.
The doe permit allocations will not be final until a vote is taken in July. The Fish and Wildlife Department will soon be accepting any-deer permit applications online. The drawing for the estimated 68,000 permits will take place in early September.