BAR HARBOR, Maine — It is common knowledge that Mount Desert Island gets plenty of tourists during the summer.
What is only slightly less well known is that MDI also has plenty of deer, due in large part to the ban on hunting on the island, where Acadia National Park has a large presence that overlaps with all of the island’s towns and many of its villages. The ban has been in place since the 1930s, according to state officials.
Every few years, the issue of hunting comes up at meetings on MDI where people talk of deer raiding their gardens or of neighbors who have contracted Lyme disease. A limited hunt should be allowed, some argue, in order to reduce the island’s deer population to a more manageable level.
This past week, the Bar Harbor Town Council met with officials from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to discuss the issue. Councilors said they have received complaints from local residents and asked DIF&W officials Phil Richter and Tom Schaeffer about what options they may have.
“People in all walks of life have been affected by this,” council member Paul Paradis told the two men on Oct. 16. “My daughter’s had Lyme disease. My neighbor has had Lyme disease.”
But Paradis acknowledged that any action that might be taken to thin the deer herd on MDI probably is a ways off.
“I don’t think we’re at forming an islandwide deer committee yet,” he said.
Schaeffer, a DIF&W biologist based in Jonesboro, told the council that the department does not have an estimate for how many deer might be on MDI, nor is there a formula for determining what the ideal number for MDI might be. Commissioner Chandler Woodcock does have the power to authorize a depredation hunt to thin the island’s deer population, Schaeffer said, but would only do so if there was widespread local support for one.
“A [single] town’s effort will not resolve the island’s problem,” Schaeffer said, adding that it is up to MDI residents to determine if they have a problem or not. “Once you implement a program, it requires constant maintenance [or else the deer numbers will rebound again].”
Schaeffer urged Bar Harbor officials to consult with other coastal communities that have had depredation hunts, such as Castine, the Cranberry Isles or Swans Island, to find out what those communities did and what aspects of those hunts may have worked better than others.
Councilors discussed how they would determine whether there was ample support for a deer management plan they might develop. Some said the town could hold a referendum vote but that public hearings on the issue and informal feedback from the public might suffice. Schaeffer said the department does not require referendum votes for proposed depredation hunts.
The council voted 7-0 at their meeting to form a committee to work with DIF&W officials on further exploring options for a possible depredation hunt.
The state of the island’s deer herd was aired in neighboring Mount Desert in 2006, when the town took a nonbinding straw poll of its residents on the issue. Of the 950 Mount Desert residents who weighed in, 535 thought something should be done but nearly 700 opposed allowing a recreational hunt within the town’s borders.
Durlin Lunt, town manager of Mount Desert, said Friday that a local committee that had been established to look into the issue was disbanded by selectmen in 2007 without the town having taken any further action.
“It hasn’t resurfaced,” Lunt said about local interest in the issue.
This past June, the island’s deer population came up at a meeting of the Acadia National Park Citizen Advisory Commission. After the commission heard a presentation from experts about the spread of Lyme disease in Maine, commission member Matt Horton of Bar Harbor told Acadia officials that he hoped they could work with MDI towns and the state to determine whether a deer hunt on MDI outside park boundaries might be feasible and sensible.
Other municipal officials on MDI contacted this week said there have not been recent inquiries about deer depredation hunts in their towns but that they may be willing to look into it further.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.