Deer feeding, baiting, antler restrictions, and more debated at legislature

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 It was Mike Look Day at the IFW Committee last Thursday. Mike’s a Washington County sportsman activist, known principally for his advocacy of antler restrictions on deer. Mike is President of the Downeast Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association.

 

And even though the committee had already heard one bill on antler restrictions, they hosted a hearing on Mike’s antler restriction bill on Thursday.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Joyce Maker of Washington County at Mike’s request. It would prohibit taking deer that do not have at least 3 tines of one inch or more along the main beam of one antler. The restrictions would only be applied in northern, eastern and western Maine.

Mike distributed a lot of background information on the issue including deer harvest trends in all states and a detailed report on antler restrictions in Pennsylvania. When I get time, I’ll read all of that and tell you about it.

Mike reported that DIF&W’s 2016 survey conducted by Responsive Management found that a majority of hunters in northern, eastern, and western Maine supported an APR law (53 percent in favor and 43% opposed. A QDMA 2015 survey of state agencies found that 23 of 33 states felt protecting yearling bucks provided biological benefits in at least some situations.

In his lengthy testimony, Mike did a good job addressing all of the concerns expressed by opponents of this initiative when it was heard on the other APR bill about a month ago.

Opposition

In addition to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which opposed all of the deer bills heard on Thursday, DIF&W strongly objected. In her own lengthy testimony, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, Judy Camuso, testified, “The Department is opposed to the introduction of a mandatory antler point restriction because it may: 1) significantly decrease hunting opportunity, 2) result in high-grading of our buck population, 3) do little in terms of actually providing a positive impact to population demographics or abundance of Maine’s white-tailed deer, 4) could direct hunting pressure to portions of the state where there are not APRs, and 5) could pose challenges for enforcement.

Judy also said, “We estimate that the annual buck harvest would decline by about 50% if this bill is passed.” She elaborated on most of those points and answered lots of questions from IFW Committee members. In response to concerns and questions about the loss of deer in northern Maine, Judy told Committee members, “The deer are not rebounding the way we think they should despite protection of deer yards.”

Judy also reported that the department is in year one of a five year deer study with large landowner Irving, the University of Maine, and New Brunswick officials.

Other Deer Bills

LD 1041, another of Mike’s bills, would change the current law requiring a hunter to be 10 feet off the road before shooting, to 100 feet, and significantly increase the penalty for violating this law.

Along with others, I testified against this bill, giving the committee some history of this law, which was changed as part of a series of recommendations from SAM’s Pickering Commission’s to clarify and simplify hunting laws and rules when I worked at SAM.

At that time, you couldn’t walk down the road or across the road with a loaded gun. We changed that and established most of the requirements now in the law.

The current law prohibits a hunter from shooting across a road, or towards a house if the bullet could get within 100 yards of the building. It’s very important to always know where your bullet may end up, and I talked about that too.

DIF&W and Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association joined me in opposing this bill.

LD 1038 would allow junior hunters to kill does or bucks in any WMD on youth hunting day. Both DIF&W and Kleiner opposed this bill.

Baiting and Feeding Deer

The committee also heard three bills on deer baiting and feeding, which drew lengthy discussion and lots of questions. I’ll report on those bills tomorrow.

Mike Look's testimony on antler restrictions

My name is Mike Look. I am a retired biology/math teacher and currently President of the Downeast Branch of QDMA.

The Quality Deer Management Association’s (QDMA) Downeast Branch strongly supports LD732, An Act to Protect Young Bucks in Northern, Eastern and Western Maine. Downeast QDMA members are highly supportive of any effort, educational and/or regulatory, to reduce the harvest of yearling bucks in Maine. Support for more intensive management of buck harvests continues to grow among hunters and the hunting industry in Maine and across the country. The yearling buck harvest in the United States has steadily declined in the last 15 years and is now at an all-time low of 33% (QDMA Whitetail Report 2016). Unfortunately, Maine continues to fall behind in this category where the yearling buck harvest percentage consistently ranks among the top 5 in the country. Passing LD732 will undoubtedly reduce the harvest of yearling bucks, improving the quality of deer and deer hunting in Maine.

Downeast QDMA is encouraged that the DIF&W included a question regarding the protection of yearling bucks by Antler Point Restriction (APR) in The Opinions of Maine residents, Landowners, and Hunters Regarding Deer, Moose, Bear, and Turkey survey conducted in 2016 by Responsive Management. The results of the survey indicated a majority of hunters in the Northern/Eastern/Western Maine survey region support an APR law requiring that harvested bucks have at least 3 points on one side (53% support vs. 43% oppose)If you have checked your email this week, these hunters are no longer a silent majority. Hunters from these regions have voiced directly to you their support for LD 732.

In QDMA's 2015 Annual Whitetail Report, state agencies were surveyed and asked whether they believed protecting yearling bucks provided biological benefits and/or social benefits to deer hunters. There were three possible answers: yes, no, and in "some situations". Twenty-three of 33 states (70%, including Maine) felt protecting yearling bucks provided biological benefits in at least some situations. 75% of the Northeastern states felt there were biological benefits in at least some situations. Twenty-seven of 32 states (84%, including Maine) felt protecting yearling bucks provided social benefits to deer hunters in at least "some situations". 91% of Northeastern states felt there were social benefits in at least "some situations". As you can see from the yellow map, (in your packet) twenty-three states have antler point restrictions (APR's), as put forth in LD 732, and they are widely supported by their respective hunting communities.

You have heard testimony that if this law were to pass, there would be ‘a drastic reduction in the success rate of hunters in Maine’. In other words, ‘the sky will fall’ on deer and deer hunting as we know it. By this logic, the 23 other states across the country that have APR's are currently trying to destroy their deer and deer hunting at the request of their hunting communities! I have good news for you: they haven't destroyed their deer hunting. Actually, in most cases, their deer hunting is a whole lot better than Maine's. You can’t get much lower than the 1.27% success rate of harvesting 3 ½ year old or older buck in Maine. That means that the average Joe or Jolene hunter will get a mature buck once every 79 years. You used to have better odds than that getting a draw in the moose lottery!

You have also heard testimony that the DIF&W might have to lower their statewide expansion factor for antlerless deer permits from 1 in 7 to near 1 to 1. The argument being hunters might enjoy a 100 percent success rate on antlerless deer if they think they may not get a buck. That is going to be hard to do since Maine has the lowest documented success rate for antlerless deer in the nation at just two tenths of an antlerless deer harvested per square mile. Nonetheless, this argument is irrelevant related to LD 732 considering antlerless deer permits are extremely limited if not non-existent throughout Northern, Eastern, and Western Maine.

You have heard testimony that Maine’s buck population has a great age structure already. This is apparently proven by the fact that one 18.5 year old buck was discovered in central Maine. Well, the first exhibit in your packets is a color picture of a woman who lives a couple miles from me. She turned 108 years old on March 4. Using APR opponent’s logic, her existence proves that Maine has a healthy age structure among its citizens no matter how many young people move away. Realistically, we all know that Maine has the oldest human population in the country. The 108 year old woman and the 18.5 year old buck are each only one data point among hundreds of thousands of data points. If Maine's deer herd has such a great age structure, why has MASTC's deer registrations dropped by ~75% in the past 25 years? Why is Maine’s harvest of 3 ½ year old bucks consistently ranked among the lowest in the country?  (see your packet)

You have also heard testimony that APRs will lead to high grading/reducing the antler size of the buck population by removing genetically gifted animals from the herd. I used to believe this too. However, after careful consideration of research, study after study has shown that hunters pursuing free-range deer, in the wild, CAN NOT control antler genetics through selective harvest that would produce measurable genetic change. According to research, does contribute to antler genetics just as much, if not more than bucks. Put simply, we can’t knowingly harvest whitetail does in the wild based upon their ability to pass on antler characteristics. This fact, combined with the reality that we can’t control breeding in free-ranging deer, clearly shows we can’t shape genetics.

You have heard testimony that hunting opportunity will decline. Well, for one year, and only one year, we agree that the buck harvest will decline. However, the benefit of having more older age-class bucks on the landscape and in the harvest in each and every year thereafter, will far outweigh any thought of the very short-term loss in the opportunity to harvest a yearling. Further, it has been suggested that buck harvest numbers will not rebound after the implementation year of the APR. This is more than factually incorrect. You may be given a specific example from nearby Vermont where the harvest was ~8,000 bucks prior to the APR. In every year since the implementation year the harvest rebounded, stabilizing to ~8,500 bucks on average and approached 10,000 bucks in some years. After the implementation year, hunting opportunity did not decline as the harvest was similar if not greater than pre-APR levels. Although, not surprisingly, the opportunity to harvest a larger bodied, older age class buck increased!

In closing, we believe we have done a very good job of presenting hard evidence and statistics for why APR's would be a good choice for Maine hunters. Remember, this is not just a biological issue; it’s a social issue for hunters. APR's alone are not going to measurably harm or help the deer herd. Long-term solutions regarding winter habitat protection, predator management, and habitat improvement will be needed to increase the total deer population. LD 732 is a near-term strategy to improve the quality of what we currently have and harvest on the landscape. We have received contact in support of LD 732 from numerous Rod and Gun Clubs, the Maine Antler Skull and Trophy Club (MASTC), the over 800 member strong Maine Deer Hunters for APR’s Facebook group, the new Northern Maine Branch of QDMA, and countless individuals from across the state. There is strong majority support among the hunting community in Northern, Eastern, and Western Maine for this bill. Hunters in these regions are willing to make a short term sacrifice of harvesting fewer bucks for one year to improve the quality of Maine’s deer hunting for the future.

In response to majority hunter support for APR regulations in the Northern, Eastern, and Western Maine regions, Downeast QDMA strongly urges the IF&W Committee to pass LD 732 for Maine's deer and deer hunting community.

On behalf of our members, thank you. Mike Look, President

 
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