A new landowner relations project has finally been launched after its scope was reduced because Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife could not raise the required matching funds.
The Maine Deer Habitat Partnership is a partnership between DIF&W and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NRCS offered Maine a grant of $120,000 for the project, with DIF&W required to raise $30,000 in matching funds.
The project was supposed to begin in September of 2011 and be completed by December of 2012. But John Pratte, DIF&W’s Wildlife Management Section Supervisor, was not able to begin soliciting groups representing landowners and sportsmen for the matching funds until January of 2012.
“After several months,” Pratte wrote me on June 25 in response to my inquiry, “it was apparent the economy affected many and this level of match would not be found. The Department restructured the project to begin in March of 2012 and run through December 2012 at a reduced cost of $80,000.”
Pratte told me he’d raised just $4,000 in matching donations: $2500 from LL Bean, $500 from the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club, $500 from the Rangeley Region Professional Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, and $500 from the Forest Society of Maine. The latter gift was unconfirmed at the time I got the list from Pratte.
Representatives of the landowner groups I talked with wondered why they were expected to provide the matching funds for a project focused on increasing Maine’s deer herd for hunters. It is certainly disappointing that for all the effort and focus on rebuilding our deer herd, sportsmen are unable or unwilling to put up the money necessary to get the job done.
DIF&W also coughed up matching funds of $16,000 from its own budget, or the project would have died. As it is, the agency has forfeited $30,000 in NRCS grant money and been forced to reduce the scope of the project by one third. Pratte still expects to complete the project by the end of December of this year.
Pratte described the project as a partnership “with local landowners to enhance white-tailed deer wintering habitat in northern Maine, which covers all of Aroostook County, and northern Somerset, Penobscot, and Washington Counties.”
It’s possible that participating landowners could qualify for NRCS “Environmental Quality Incentive” grants, although all of that money currently goes to farmers. Other federal planning assistance might also be redirected from forestry and silvicultural issues to improving wildlife habitat.
Forester Dave Irving of Lincoln and wildlife biologist Steve Young of Frenchville have been hired to conduct the project. According to Pratte, they will “conduct outreach, develop habitat management plans, assist with plan implementation, and conduct educational workshops. Educational materials on deer habitat management will also be produced and distributed free to the public,” he said.
Young told reporter Don Eno of the St.John Valley Times that, “the work is very important to me personally. I have been very concerned with the decline of mature forests in Maine, and passionately believe that partnerships like this are essential for sustainable management of our natural resources.”
Young pointed out that demand for saw logs and wood for fuels has taken priority, and the wood harvesting rotations for these uses is too short to provide adequate winter habitat for deer in the northern parts of Maine.
“There is nothing in place to account for the value of long-term rotations,” Young told Eno, meaning that landowners have no financial incentive to manage their lands for deer wintering area or other wildlife habitat.
Pratte told me that since beginning in March, Young and Irving “have worked diligently to develop outreach materials, spread the word and set the frame work for the program. Hundreds of brochures and posters have been printed and distributed with some on display at several businesses in the project area. They have made several appearances to promote the program and written articles for several news outlets.”
When I checked on July 12 with the two organizations that represent forest landowners in Maine, the Maine Forest Products Council and the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, neither had heard anything from Young or Irving about the project.
Pratte reported that the two began “by using MDIFW deer wintering area data to prioritize landowner outreach efforts. Many small landowners have been contacted with follow up field visits occurring to discuss the landowner objectives, possible opportunities to manage deer habitat and see if they qualify for financial assistance through the USDA NRCS. They are currently working with some landowners to develop deer wintering area management plans.
“In addition,” said Pratte, “they have worked with two landowners to underplant white cedar in and near deer wintering habitat to test the effectiveness.”
In addition to working with specific landowners, Pratte said, “Another important goal of this project is to make these opportunities for improving deer habitat and financial assistance better known among landowners, foresters and service providers.”
I will follow up by asking Pratte to provide real numbers as the project progresses including the number and names of landowners participating, the number of acres covered, and the specific projects launched, if for no other reasons than to understand what we might have accomplished if the matching money had been raised, and to prove Pratte’s comment in the next paragraph to be accurate.
When he provided this information to me, he also encouraged me to write something positive about the program, saying “the biggest help might to be help provide recognition that when tools and/or funding is provided for the deer effort, good things do happen.”
Consider that message delivered, John.
But I am also reminded of Representative Jane Eberle’s remarks seven months ago, after Pratte presented a report to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee on his agency’s Maine Game Plan for Deer.
“The financial resources are not adequate,” she said, “and never will be. I feel like the mother Robin in a nest with all those mouths demanding food,” she said. Reflecting on her eight years at the legislature, and this issue in particular, Jane told me, “It’s not the headaches, it’s the heartaches I have to deal with.”