This morning Senator David Trahan and I presented a report to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee focused on the recommendations in the deer plan that we created with the help of participants in a December deer workshop that are not in DIF&W’s Maine Game Plan for Deer. Here’s the report we presented and discussed.
DIF&W’s Maine Game Plan for Deer is a work in progress. Some of the recommendations below will certainly be added to DIF&W’s plan as time goes on. It is our hope that the recommendations listed below, in our plan but not in DIF&W’s plan, will be inserted into Senator Kevin Raye’s resolve to add further substance and direction to DIF&W’s plan, with the support of Commissioner Woodcock.
Our recommendations were prepared with the help of 36 outdoor leaders who gathered in mid-December at our deer workshop. The names of workshop participants are listed at the end of this briefing paper.
Establish annual population benchmarks by WMD and report annually on progress toward the established annual and long-term population goals. (IFW’s plan does not call for annual population benchmarks).
The existing budget and staff of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife must focus much more intensely on deer management. This requires a shifting of staff and other resources from other programs and projects to deer management. (IFW’s plan makes only a slight shift of staff and other resources to deer management. The plan acknowledges this, noting, “a significant reallocation of existing staff and financial resources is not feasible, as it would prevent achieving management goals and objectives for other species”).
Recognize that the short-term greatest gains in deer population can be obtained in central Maine (below Route 16) and that higher populations are necessary in central and southern Maine to satisfy hunter demand. (IFW’s plan currently focuses only on northern, eastern and western WMDs.)
DIF&W should increase the number of staff members working on cooperative habitat management agreements with large landowners. (IFW’s plan does not do this).
DIF&W must create a strong on-going relationship with the state’s deer hunters, using modern techniques including surveys, emailed newsletters, and its website, to communicate regularly, gather ideas and feedback, keep hunters up-to-date on the elements of this action plan, and educate and involve hunters in all aspects of this plan. (IFW’s plan includes recommendations similar to these but does not commit the staff or other resources necessary to do this).
Protection of deer wintering areas and habitat and intensive predator controls to reduce deer predation must be high priorities on all lands owned by the state. These goals should also be pursued on land on which the state holds conservation easements, if the easements authorize and allow these opportunities. (IFW’s plan references habitat management on public lands but not easement lands, and includes nothing about predation controls on public lands or easement lands).
Availability and quality of deer wintering area and habitat should be a key criterion for all state programs that purchase land (including Land for Maine’s Future). LMF should be refunded as soon as possible so that the program will be in position to purchase and protect key deer wintering area where it is needed. Federal monies that go to DIF&W that give the agency an option to purchase or enhance good hunting land and habitat should be utilized more than they are today in Maine. (None of this is in IFW’s plan).
State funds remaining from the Katahdin Lake deal should be spent to protect critical deeryards in the respective counties. DIF&W should aggressively seek projects in those counties where Katahdin Lake funds have not yet been spent, particularly Aroostook County where we believe $2 million is available. (This is not in IFW’s plan).
DIF&W should establish an aggressive coyote control program in all areas of the state where coyote predation is keeping deer populations below our goals. The department should use both paid Animal Damage Control Agents and unpaid trappers and hunters to implement the program that will include both trapping and hunting. A voluntary contribution to a DIF&W Predator Control Fund should be considered to augment funds allocated by DIF&W to this program.
DIF&W should organize an advisory group of trappers and guides, with participants selected by the Maine Trappers Association and Maine Professional Guides Association, to help implement and direct this program. (IFW’s predator control plan uses only hunters and not trappers, would not start until new funds are appropriated, would not offer a way for sportsmen to contribute funds voluntarily, would not create an advisory group, and does not extend to central and southern Maine).
DIF&W should continue to offer educational material explaining how to feed deer correctly, to avoid problems such as deer killed crossing the road to get to the feed. (IFW’s plan focuses on discouraging deer feeding).
Incentives must be created that encourage landowners to manage their property to increase deer numbers. A variety of ideas were explored at this workshop, including allowing landowners to capture some of the value of deer on their property. For example, we could change the depredation permit system that allows farmers to kill deer to protect crops, into a hunter-opportunity system that allows farmers to sell deer hunting opportunity on lands where deer are harming crops. (IFW’s plan doesn’t deal with the depredation system or recommend any new landowner incentives other than drawing attention to current use taxation opportunities).
DIF&W’s Information and Education Division should refocus its work to achieve the goals of this plan. (IFW’s plan doesn’t commit the staff or resources to accomplish this).
Landowners must also be educated about how to live with higher numbers of deer on their land, including information about deer-proofing yards and gardens. (This is not in IFW’s plan, probably because their entire focus is on eastern, northern, and western Maine).
Other Elements of the Trahan/Smith Plan
Not Specific to DIF&W and Not in IFW’s plan
The Small Woodland Owners Association, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Outdoor Federation, and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, should lead an effort to educate landowners and sportsmen about how to improve deer habitat on private land. Fish and game clubs should be encouraged to participate.
A substantial and sustained educational effort, by these and other organizations, that offers hands-on training and sends sportsmen out to work with private landowners on deer habitat improvement, should be a key element of this program. We want to create an army of individual sportsmen who have the knowledge and interest to work with neighboring landowners on deer habitat improvement. We will link this goal to a new comprehensive landowner relations program that is being developed by groups representing sportsmen and landowners.
Current food plot programs in the Rangeley Region and Aroostook County should be used as examples to educate and encourage clubs and sportsmen in all areas of the state to get involved with private landowners and plant food plots on woods roads and other areas where deer can benefit. Leaders of Maine’s Quality Deer Management program should be active participants in both the training and implementation of this program.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s rules governing wood ash need to be revised to make it easier to obtain and use wood ash for deer food plots.
SAM, the Maine Outdoor Federation, or some other organization should establish and manage a Coyote Hunting Network, proposed by DIF&W’s former Deer Biologist Gerry Lavigne. The program should include educational materials demonstrating the best techniques for hunting coyotes, and should work with clubs throughout the state to turn coyote hunting into a popular recreational hunting activity.
Laws and rules that discourage or make implementation of this plan difficult must be identified and modified or repealed. SAM recently received a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to organize its Pickering Commission in 2011 to review Maine’s hunting laws and rules and make recommendations to reduce and clarify those laws and rules. The Pickering Commission should be asked to add to its agenda the goals outlined above.
A cooperative effort by organizations representing sportsmen and landowners and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is essential to the success of every element of this plan. We propose that an advisory group from DIF&W, the Maine Forest Products Council, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Outdoor Federation, Maine Professional Guides Association, and several of the state’s most active sportsmen’s clubs, be organized to lead, manage, monitor, and regularly report on this effort. The group should immediately establish a single place where all of us can access every aspect of this program including all educational material. It is very likely that these organizations will need to hire a coordinator for this project.
Senators David Trahan and Tom Saviello
George Smith, Mount Vernon writer
DIF&W’s John Boland, Resource Management Director, Mark Stadler, Wildlife Division Director, John Pratte, Wildlife Management Supervisor, and Sandy Ritchie, Habitat Conservation and Special Projects, Lee Kantar, DIF&W Deer and Moose Biologist
Gerry Lavigne, former DIF&W Deer Biologist and current SAM Deer Consultant
Matt Libby, Libby’s Camps
Mike Look, Washington County Conservation Association
Paul Wade, Augusta, former sporting camp owner
Jeff Nicholas, Palmyra, Quality Deer Management Association
Marcia Baker, Rangeley Guides and Sportsman’s Association
Gerry White, Rangeley Guides and Sportsman’s Association, Fly Shop Owner
Bob Humphrey, Pownal, national outdoor writer
Tom Doak, Executive Director, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine
Tim Bell, Executive Director, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine
Dale, Bert, and Hank Goodman, North County Lodge, Patton
Jerry McLaughlin, Aroostook County guide and club leader
Dwight Junkins, Ashland
Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy
Carroll Ware, Fins and Furs Adventures, Skowhegan
Jenn Gray, Maine Audubon
Don Kleiner, Maine Professional Guides Association
Tim Glidden, Director, State Planning Office
Ed and Cate Pineau, Pineau Policy Associates, Manchester
James Cote, Communications Director, Maine Forest Products Council
Matt Dunlap, Secretary of State and SAM Board Member
Jerome Richard, President, Maine Bowhunters Association
The Deer Plan created with the help of these people can be found at www.georgesmithmaine.com.
PHOTO: Governor Paul LePage announced the Maine Game Plan for Deer with Commissioner Chandler Woodcock (left) and Senators Kevin Raye and David Trahan (right).