In the realm of wildlife management, we have come a long way since the days of Aldo Leopold, the American father of enlightened wildlife stewardship. Leopold, in his writings and teaching, warned about the destructive impact that industrial progress and technology was having on America’s wildlife. In fact, wildlife planning, protection and well-funded conservation efforts have led to an era when we have more big game in this country than ever before. Increasingly in some cases, there is an excess of wild critters.
That this is so is underscored by the recent release of Maine’s 10-year big game management plan produced by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This plan is directed toward bear, deer, moose and wild turkeys. While there is nothing new about MDIF&W assembling a 10-year template for big game management policies and decisions (this has been done for a number of decades), there is a new twist. The game population data, and the 10-year planning strategy, make it clear that, with the exception of our deer numbers in the north, our big game populations in all four species need to be stabilized or reduced.
There is a lot of valuable and insightful data in this 93-page document, which is accessible on the department’s website. And the public is invited to read it and make public comments for the department’s consideration. Of course, the overarching goal is really common sense, and what you would expect: “to maintain a healthy, sustainable population of all four animals.”
How this is done, or more pointedly, how it should be done is, as you might expect, open to varying opinions and interpretations. Here, for what it’s worth, is my distillation of what is newsworthy in Maine’s newly adopted 10-year game management plan.
We have a problem, Houston! Too many bears and no prescription in the plan itself that I can see to deal with this excess of bruins. Although hunters are the only way to stabilize a growing bear herd, fall hunters are not taking the needed 15 percent of bears per year needed to do that. Here is what the plan says: “Failure to substantially increase the bear harvests over the next five to 10 years could result in significant, irreversible consequences to Maine’s people and bears.”
We have an estimated 50,000 wild birds, which is an incredible success story — if you like turkeys. The agricultural community in Maine will tell you unequivocally that there are just too many birds, that the carrying capacity has been exceeded. Bottom line? Look for expanded hunts and bag limits, especially in 11 of the 28 WMDs.
Moose ticks and the impact that these parasites have on adult moose, and especially yearling moose, appear to be driving the moose management strategy for the foreseeable future. Lee Kantar, the moose biologist says that, because of the ticks, we may have to shrink our moose herd to keep it healthy. Kantar says that the winter moose aerial surveys that have been ongoing will help him and his staff make useful moose management decisions. The question of course is: In today’s tick environment, how many moose is too many? Purportedly in 2012 we had an estimated 76,000 moose. Although Kantar is hesitant to nail down current moose numbers despite the aerial surveys, he does say that the state moose population today is somewhere between 51,500 and 77,200. We do know that 20 years ago moose-car crashes numbered 850. In 2016, there were a third as many moose-car crashes, about 300. And we know that the deer-car crash index is used by deer biologists to calculate deer populations. Presumably this would also apply to moose population estimates. So that may indicate that the Kantar estimate is closer to the low number than the high number.
With our deer populations on a seemingly roller coaster ride with the vagaries of winter weather, you wonder just how much of a role deer management policy really plays in this state. Over a 10-year period, from 1999 to 2009, our deer herd plummeted from 331,000 to 140,000!The management plan seems to recognize that with our disparate deer numbers from areas to areas and pockets of population upswings, a more “localized” management strategy will be required.