With deer hunting season winding down, much has been written about the dramatic decline in Maine’s whitetail deer herd. This has serious implications for all of us, not just the sportsmen and women who hunt deer.
A recent BDN article stated that deer hunting attracts more than 150,000 participants and supports a hunting-based economy valued at more than $200 million. It went on to outline some of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s views on why Maine’s deer herd has declined.
Our economy depends on effective management, conservation and promotion of our natural resources and outdoor heritage.
Various theories have been advanced to explain why Maine’s deer herd and the issuance of deer permits have precipitously declined. Predation and habitat loss on the one hand; changing demographics and the poor economy on the other. One fact is irrefutable: there are fewer deer to hunt in northern Maine.
Where I come from, hunters want a predator management program to save deer from coyotes. In 2010, more than 4,000 petition signatures were submitted to then-Gov. Baldacci calling for such a program. The petition called for IFW to institute, without delay, an effective predator management program including, but not limited to, filing an “Incidental Take Permit,” or ITP, in order to reactivate the winter coyote snaring program. The ITP refers to the snaring of lynx, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
When the petition was submitted, an IFW official said the department applied for an ITP from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in August 2008, while it was still fighting lawsuits from animal rights groups seeking to block the permit. It was further claimed that the USFWS had not acted on Maine’s application, but that action was imminent. This appears to be at odds with claims that IFW sought ITPs in 2003.
I am in possession of a letter dated Sept. 9, 2003, from then-Commissioner Roland Martin to the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. It states: “The department is now working with the USFWS on an application for an Incidental Take Permit that would detail the manner in which the state’s snaring program could be carried out while minimizing the potential for the take of lynx and bald eagles.”
It further states that the permit is being sought at the direction of the Attorney General’s Office, and that, in the interim, the department should suspend its coyote-snaring program to avoid legal liability.
What is not clear to me is what actions were taken, or not taken, between the 2003 letter that an ITP application was being worked on and the IFW claim that the ITP application was submitted in 2008. I have received conflicting information regarding what happened or didn’t happen. I have heard that ITPs were pursued. I have heard that they weren’t pursued. I have also heard that federal officials were willing to work with Maine, but that IFW officials buried the issue. I do not know what is true regarding these and other claims that have been relayed to me.
To get answers to these troubling questions, I have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the department to determine what, in fact, happened. I want all relevant facts, including actions taken, or not taken, by the department in the eight years since the 2003 letter.
I hope the current management of the department will vigorously pursue my request, and enlighten me on the facts concerning the issuance or nonissuance of ITPs for lynx associated with both trapping and snaring from January 1, 2003, forward. If applicable, I also hope the new management will resist the natural tendency of a department to reflexively support prior bureaucratic actions.
I am interested in transparency and the different strategies that can be employed to increase Maine’s whitetail deer population. This analysis includes discussion of the relative merits of the various coyote population control methods. I am encouraged by the department’s efforts to implement a deer action plan to restore the deer herd. I want all relevant facts out in the open so we can have a spirited, informed discussion of what can and should be done to bring back Maine’s whitetail deer herd.
Sen. Roger Sherman chairs the 125th Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. He represents District 34, which encompasses southern and central Aroostook County, including Fort Fairfield, Houlton and Presque Isle.