OLD TOWN, Maine — A proposed two-week bowhunt on two parcels of city-owned land on Marsh Island has won the unanimous approval of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council. The department announced Thursday that the controlled hunt will take place during the first two weeks of December.
Cast as a limited season to reduce the size of the island’s abundant herd, the deer harvest will be carried out by approximately 20 experienced hunters selected through the Bowhunter Landowners Information Program. They will harvest deer on a 210-acre parcel that wraps around the Old Town municipal airport and a 155-acre parcel on Penny Road, across U.S. Route 2 from the former Georgia-Pacific paper mill.
The entirety of Marsh Island, which encompasses much of the populated portions of Orono and Old Town as well as the flagship campus of the University of Maine, has been a designated game preserve since 1965. Confronted with an ever-expanding and increasingly bold population of white-tailed deer, residents have been stalemated for years over the idea of a hunt.
Proponents argue that the herd is too large for the 10-square-mile island to sustain, and point to frequent car-deer accidents and damage to gardens and landscaping as proof that the deer pose a nuisance and a threat to public safety. Opponents have defended the herd’s protected status and argued that a hunt could threaten the safety of humans and domestic animals.
Earlier this month, the Old Town City Council voted to support a limited hunt if state approval were granted. But at the time IF&W Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin said it was unlikely the emergency rulemaking process could be worked through in time to garner state approval this year.
On Thursday, Martin said in a prepared statement that he was pleased to be able to move ahead with the controlled harvest, which will be managed jointly by IF&W, the city of Old Town and the Maine Bowhunters Association.
“The long-standing belief of all of us was that we needed to come up with a solution that focused on public safety. We have achieved that result,” Martin said.
A spokeswoman for the department said Thursday that the commissioner had received “a considerable amount of public feedback” after the City Council vote, prompting the expedited rulemaking process.
Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle emphasized the limited and experimental nature of this year’s hunt.
“This is just the first year, and it’s a pilot hunt,” she said. At the end of the season, she said, the results will be reviewed by the city and the state to determine whether to repeat the bowhunt next year.