New deer plan sure to be controversial

november 2005 033Working for 18 years for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I learned how difficult it is to bring us all together and keep  us there. We often have very diverse and different opinions. And when  you mix us in with the public, it gets even more difficult. So it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of support – and participation – DIF&W gets as it creates new big game management plans.

The current draft of the deer plan includes some very interesting – and sure to be controversial – goals, objectives, and strategies. Today we’ll take a look at some of these.

Goal: Maintain the deer population below biological carrying capacity while providing hunting and viewing opportunity.

Right off the bat, in the very first goal, DIF&W is sure to stir up concerns and questions. As SAM’s executive director, Dave Trahan, said at the most recent Big Game Steering Committee meeting, “This is going to be hard to explain to SAM members.” He sure got that right!

But I think the agency may be on the right track, because, due to concerns about Lyme disease, many Mainers are not happy about seeing lots of deer in their yards and communities. This is a growing concern. And the record number of cases of Lyme in 2016 won’t help alleviate that concern.

One of the objectives under this goal is to “investigate novel methods such as drone surveys, spotlight surveys, double count survey, or road kill counts, to assess the relative abundance of deer.”

I did note that Kyle Ravana, DIF&W’s lead deer biologist, reported that he doesn’t expect a significant increase in deer in the Wildlife Management Districts that currently offer no any-deer permits.

Another objective under this goal is to “Utilize hunting as the primary tool to ensure that deer do not negatively impact Maine’s natural ecosystems, particularly in southern and central Maine.”

In 2016 the legislature added a significant passage to DIF&W’s mission statement (the new language is underlined).

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is established to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the State; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; to provide for effective management of these resources; and to use regulated hunting, fishing and trapping as the basis for the management of these resources whenever feasible.

So today the agency is obligated to use hunting as outlined in the objective in the new deer plan.

The Steering Committee had an extensive discussion about the department’s lack of success in convincing towns that are concerned about overpopulations of deer to allow hunting. They have worked with towns – most recently Eastport – to establish very limited hunts – but let the towns determine the rules. Some Steering Committee members think the agency must be more aggressive on this.

The deer plan includes two strategies if hunting is unable to achieve the objective above:

“If unable to successfully manage a deer population under the standard hunting framework, provide opportunities for Maine’s hunting community to harvest additional deer; and

“If targeted hunting opportunities are not effective at reducing deer density to desired levels, employ professional sharpshooting techniques to remediate the deer related issue(s), particularly in the case of public health threats (Lyme disease, etc.).”

The use of sharpshooters is always controversial.

I took particular note of an objective aimed at increasing deer abundance in the northern forest, western mountains, and Downeast. All of the strategies suggested have been tried – and have failed. I’ll write more about this sometime soon.

Near the end of the draft plan is a very interesting “Social Goal” – “Ensure public satisfaction with the deer population by providing hunting and viewing opportunities while minimizing conflicts between deer and people.” One of the objectives in this section is to “Maintain efforts to minimize the risk of Lyme disease in Maine.”

That’s going to be a tall order. And I was disappointed that the Steering Committee did not discuss this objective, or the strategies outlined to achieve it. I’ll have more to say on this at a later date.

There are more goals, and lots more objectives and strategies, in this comprehensive deer management plan. Once the Steering Committee finishes its work on the plan, DIF&W will make it public, so you can read it and offer your comments and suggestions.

I’ll alert you to that opportunity!




George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.