MDI towns looking into polling residents about hunt to deal with deer problem

Posted Nov. 29, 2012, at 1:30 p.m.
A doe stops for a peek at the University Forest in Orono.
Dave Small
A doe stops for a peek at the University Forest in Orono.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The most populous town on Mount Desert Island soon might have some company in its exploration of whether something should be done about the island’s deer population.

Many MDI residents believe that the island’s deer-hunting ban, which has been in place since the 1930s, has caused a deer overcrowding problem that has manifested in deer grazing in yards and gardens, increased cases of Lyme disease, and a high number of car-deer accidents.

In October, the Bar Harbor Town Council decided to establish a committee that will further examine the issue with input from Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Officials with other MDI towns said at the time that there were no similar initiatives in their towns to explore the issue. Area officials have acknowledged, however, that having a hunt on MDI might not have the desired thinning effect unless all four towns on MDI participate.

On Tuesday during an MDI League of Towns meeting at the town office in Bar Harbor, Tremont Town Manager Millard Billings suggested to other league members that each town on MDI send out a questionnaire to its residents to ask if they would support some sort of depredation hunt on the island to reduce the deer population. The towns that comprise MDI are Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont.

The other four member towns of the league — Cranberry Isles, Swan’s Island, Trenton and Lamoine — either have addressed their own deer overcrowding issues in recent years or, in the case of the mainland towns of Lamoine and Trenton, do not have deer-hunting bans in place and so do not have overcrowding issues.

Billings said that some people believe the growing presence of coyotes in Acadia is what causes deer to congregate closer to roads and villages, which coyotes are more eager to avoid.

“I’m pretty sure Tremont’s board [of selectmen] is interested in looking into it,” Billings said.

Don Lagrange, Southwest Harbor’s town manager, and Durlin Lunt, town manager of Mount Desert, each indicated Tuesday that they would be willing to approach their selectmen about taking polls in their towns. Mount Desert looked into the issue in 2006 but, after forming its own committee to explore it, disbanded the committee a year later without taking any additional action.

Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent of Acadia and the park’s liaison to the league, said Tuesday that because the park takes up tens of thousands of acres on MDI, and because individual property owners can determine whether to allow hunting on their land (if there’s not a state-imposed ban), MDI residents should be asked not just if they support a hunt, but also if they would allow hunting on their property. If residents in each town say a hunt should be allowed, but if few people would allow hunters on their land, having a hunt might not be practical, he said.

“You might find there’s very little open space available to hunting,” Bobinchock said.

Stu Marckoon, a town official of many titles in Lamoine, asked Bobinchock what it would take to get the federal government to allow a hunt in the park, but was told such a scenario is not likely.

“Congress,” the deputy superintendent said. “You’d have to introduce special legislation.”

And, Bobinchock added, any such proposal likely would draw the attention of animal rights advocates from across the country.

“You’ll have a nationwide protest on your hands,” he said.

League officials are expected to discuss feedback they get about a possible special hunt at their next meeting in January.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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