There is very good news for Maine’s whitetail deer. LD 404, an Act to Preserve Deer Habitat, a deer-yard protection measure, is a done deal! Not in all my years in reporting on the Maine outdoors can I recall a single legislative initiative with such potential to salvage Maine’s declining Big Woods deer numbers. This is truly landmark legislation that may well shift the deer-survival paradigm in Maine over the long haul.
In a deep-winter state like Maine, deer wintering areas, or yards, are a critical component of deer survival. In fact, according to recent legislative testimony from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), our deer yards have declined from 12 percent of the forest to just 3 percent. We have not done a very good job of identifying major deer-wintering areas and protecting them from the logger’s ax.
SAM, and its deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, told legislators recently that lack of deer wintering areas is the main cause in the decline of whitetail deer, particularly in western, eastern and northern Maine. Predation on deer by coyotes and bears is the number two cause of dwindling deer numbers.
State regulations, along with cooperative management agreements with some big landowners, were supposed to have protected these critical deer wintering areas. But they just have not done the job.
SAM’s bill, LD 404, an Act to Preserve Deer Habitat, is ostensibly a deer-yard protection measure. Sponsored by state Rep. Chris Johansen (R-Monticello) and spearheaded by SAM, this legislation directs the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) to identify priority deer yards in specific regions of the state and, based on the department’s priorities, identify these yards for purchase and management as department-owned deer-wintering areas.
The key to success of this deer-yard initiative is simply this: IF&W will now receive funds to actually purchase these significant deer wintering areas and protect them in perpetuity. The purchased yards will become part of IF&W’s land management portfolio. IF&W currently owns and manages 100,000 acres, but only a small percentage of this land contains deer-wintering areas.
This legislation also directs the Fish and Wildlife Department not only to identify major deer yards, but to explore additional methods of generating revenues to be earmarked for deer yard purchases.
According to SAM’s executive director, David Trahan, effective immediately IF&W will have access this year to millions of dollars (state LMF funds and federal matching money) to purchase critical deer yards for protection and management. State wildlife biologists will be responsible for identifying these critical deer wintering areas for purchase by the state. Some major yards are already earmarked for purchase.
Trahan, who skillfully stewarded this bill through the lawmaking process along with Johansen, and others who supported this bill deserve the appreciation of all sportsmen and non-hunting citizens as well.