Tess Ftorek of Eastport posted a video to her Facebook account last Tuesday that she thought would surely shock many of her Maine friends.
In it, a herd of deer — perhaps 10 or 12 — meandered around on a lawn as Ftorek and her husband, Steve, sat in their car, waiting for the animals to move along.
The caption accompanying the post reads, “Traffic jam in Bingville!” referring to a part of the tiny coastal city that’s right next door to the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
The deer were unconcerned and took their sweet time before dispersing.
For most, a scene like this is striking and out of the ordinary. But for those in Eastport, lawns full of deer and the problems an oversized herd can cause are just part of everyday life.
Ftorek has allowed the BDN to share her video, and referred us to Chris Bartlett, a member of the Eastport Deer Committee, for an update on the town’s reaction to the ongoing problem.
Bartlett explained a few factors have led to a deer population that is out of control and said it’s common for Eastport residents to encounter more deer than the Ftoreks did Tuesday.
“The population of deer increased likely because Eastport hasn’t been able to have [female deer] hunted since 2005 and because we’re archery-only [during hunting seasons] due to safety concerns about firearms in the municipality. There’s a town ordinance of no discharge of firearms,” Bartlett said.
“So, as a combination of the two, does have been able to have lots of fawns, and bowhunting, as you likely know, is a bit less efficient than firearms hunting,” he said. “And also, we’ve had milder winters, except for that 2014-15 winter, so the [deer] population has also benefited from that.”
Eastport is an island, and the city covers just over 3 square miles. Bartlett said an official population density study hasn’t been done, but the frequency of deer complaints led officials to recognize they had a problem. Enter the Eastport Deer Committee, which was formed to serve as a liaison between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Eastport City Council.
How bad can the deer situation get? Pretty bad, according to Bartlett.
“The deer population in the congested residential area, many of those deer act quite tame,” he said. “You can stop, get out of your car and whistle, and they’ll walk toward you. It’s not the way it should be, frankly.”
As a result, starting in 2016 and continuing this year, Eastport has staged a special two-week recreational hunt for 30 hunters in order to reduce the herd.
In addition, the DIF&W approved the allotment of any-deer permits in Wildlife Management District 27, which includes Eastport, which also meant bowhunters during the archery season were allowed to target does.
In 2016, 11 does were taken by the 30 approved special season hunters. This year Bartlett said the total was at 22 does with two days left in the two-week season.
“This is likely our last year of the special hunt, because now that they’re allowing does to be taken during the regular hunting seasons, I think the next step IF&W would want us to try is an expanded archery season as opposed to requesting a special hunt,” he said.
And the deer have only been a part of the problem, Bartlett points out. Deer hunters — including some who’ve been limited to using bows and arrows because they’re convicted felons and not allowed to possess firearms — have begun focusing their attention on Eastport during the regular “firearms” season on deer, even though firearms can’t be used there.
“Because we have a high concentration of deer in an area that has a relatively low abundance of deer — Washington County — it attracts a number of hunters here,” he said.
And Bartlett made it clear the committee wasn’t a deer hunting group but rather a deer deterrent group.
“We’ve been trying to find all kinds of non-lethal ways to deter deer from doing property damage, whether it’s electric fences or chemical odor deterrents, or there’s now motion-sensitive sprinklers,” he said. “[Just] coming up with a list of non-lethal deterrents for people to try.”
On the bright side, Bartlett said each of the deer that has been taken during the special hunt has been checked for ticks, with Lyme disease being a concern. Over the past two seasons, none of the deer have had ticks.
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