Controversy Brewing About Youth Deer Hunt Proposal

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In a shocking development, the Fish and Wildlife Department is advertising a rule change to allow Youth Day hunters to shoot does in Wildlife Management Districts that have no any-deer permits.

This has been a constant and controversial issue for years. Leo Kieffer of Caribou quit his position on the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council in 2010 when he became irate that DIF&W abandoned it’s support for a proposal to allow Youth Day hunters to shoot does in WMD’s without any-deer permits.

At that time I wrote a SAM News article announcing Kieffer’s resignation and exploring his complaint, and even my article turned out to be controversial!

Former long-time DIF&W deer biologist Gerry Lavigne always strongly opposed this, contending that every doe is important in those WMDs with a depleted deer herd. That could be even more valid today, when the deer herd has virtually disappeared in some areas.

The proposal also appears to conflict with DIF&W’s Maine Game Plan for Deer, created to rebuild the deer herd. “Deer population management is all about doe population management,” reports the plan, “and MDIF&W manages the doe population by regulated hunting with any-deer permits.”

“Since 1983, the Department has used any-deer permits to regulate the doe harvest in Maine,” noted the Game Plan, “in many years with limited or no hunting allowed for antlerless deer in northern, eastern, and western Maine.”

“In 2009 the Department’s Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council approved a rule in which any wildlife management district designated bucks-only during the regular firearms deer season would also be bucks-only for all deer hunting seasons, including archery and youth. The Northern and Eastern Deer Task Force recommended this rule,” reported the Game Plan.

In 2010, DIF&W itself actually proposed to give Youth Day hunters an opportunity to shoot does in WMD’s without any-deer permits, but eventually reversed course, issuing this statement: “Based on input received from staff, the Advisory Council, and members of the public, the rule was amended to, once again this year, prohibit youth hunters from taking does on the Youth Deer Hunting Day in Wildlife Management Districts that had no antlerless deer permits allocated.”

Here is the 2012 rule proposal:

In accordance with Title 12, MRSA, Section 11402, Subsection 4, the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to amend the regulations regarding youth deer hunting day to allow youth in Wildlife Management Districts where no permits are issued to take an antlerless deer on that day. Under current law, the parent, guardian, or qualified adult shall not possess a firearm while accompanying a youth hunter. The restriction on archery hunting in those districts will remain in place.

That last sentence refers to the current rule that forbids bowhunters from shooting does in WMD’s that have no any-deer permits.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has taken a strong stance against the proposal. “We’ve taken a thoughtful, research-based approach,” SAM’s Executive Director Dave Trahan told me, “an approach that is best for the resource.

“Conservation sometimes means sacrificing opportunity to sustain the resource,” said Dave. “We do appreciate those who want young hunters to have the opportunity to harvest a deer, but we also want future generations of hunters to have that opportunity.”

Today I questioned John Boland about the rule proposal. John is the top professional in the agency, overseeing both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions. He told me that “some” people had asked the Commissioner to give this proposal another chance, feeling they didn’t get fair consideration in the past.

John said, “Nothing has changed since last year,” and the department is not supporting the proposal. They’ve only advertised it to satisfy those who feel they didn’t get a fair shake last year.

Last year, the Advisory Council rejected the proposal after an interesting discussion. You can read the minutes of that meeting here and decide if proponents got a fair shake or not.

If you want to join this important debate this year, comments may be emailed to Becky.Orff@maine.gov until May 18. No public hearing has been scheduled on the proposal that will require the affirmative vote of The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council.

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