May 21, 2018
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Landowners deserve aid for saving deer habitat

By D. Gordon Mott, Special to the BDN

What can be done to restore whitetail deer in Northern Maine?

No question, the main factors are richness of deer habitat including winter shelter and nutritional value that affect survival and reproduction rates, the number of deer taken in hunting, the extent of predation by natural bear, coyote and other predators, and winter severity. The main opportunities lie in managing any of these fac-tors.

I believe it’s time to do some thinking outside the ordinary box.

We can’t manage winter severity. Global warming is out of our hands.

Regardless of abundant strong opinions about predation, there’s no evidence that any effort that has been directed at predator control has ever been successful anywhere in managing deer. And, if predator control is to be considered, there are some very valid opinions among wildlife biologists that bear predation is as serious as anything, especially in spring fawning season.

It’s not likely that reducing bear predation through spring hunts and other methods will be encouraged in the politics and economics of the Maine situation for many reasons. Effort will continue to be focused on half the problem, on well-proven futile attempts to manage coyote predation.

In my opinion, we won’t get any further down this path than wildlife managers have after 150 years and much money and effort throughout the continent. Let me acknowledge a bias in that I think highly of coyotes as natural creatures. And let me also state that I seriously support efforts to restore deer. It is just simply true that we are not going to be able to manage predation — never could, never will. (But, let’s keep a bit of an open mind here. I know, because I was tricked into sampling one, that a deer management consultant we all know and love is working hard to turn coyote into an edible game animal by producing Maine coyote sausage. We should remember what happened when the urchin became a food item. You never really know.)

Seriously, we can certainly choose to manage how many deer are legally harvested in hunting. New Brunswick closed regions for some years to partially restore deer numbers after deer populations crashed following the same kind of intensive forest harvesting there that Maine experienced here in the last 25 years. After hunting was closed for many years, seasons have been restored at least in part in northern New Brunswick.

I write now because I believe the most productive overlooked thing we could and should do to restore whitetail deer is to harness the ability, interest and resources of the people who own and manage the habitat on the land. And now’s the time to get serious about it.

As a forester managing and advising owners on a modest amount of forest land, I know there is a serious omission: Landowners are essentially left out of the wildlife economic equation.

They are the very foundation of the entire natural resource economy. But revenues flow only to outfitters, guides, lodges, etc. No revenue or incentive payments flow to the landowners who manage to preserve deer yards at their own expense in the value of wood not sold in the market, who produce browse in woodlands and fields, who seed roads, landings and even food plots.

And these landowners, small and large, provide at no cost the very access and permission to hunt on private property without which there could be no hunting.

These landowners are the producers of the animals and provide the places that are the fundamental pillars of the wildlife economy.

Wildlife conservation easements could and should be purchased from dedicated bond campaigns. Farm bill incentive payments could be granted for establishing feed plots and retaining softwood cover. Landowners are expected to act voluntarily in the interest of guides, outfitters, lodges and hunters. And, instead of being given encouragement and incentives, except for bear baiting, landowners are absolutely prevented by Maine statutes from gaining any revenue in return for their expense producing wildlife and access for the benefit of others. This should be reviewed.

Landowners should be given fair incentives to act positively to manage for wildlife productivity in the general public interest on their private properties. There is every reason to expect this would produce very positive results in these seriously affected regions.

If we wish to increase deer numbers, the landowners are the engines and they should be fueled and started. Incentive funds are already in hand and more could be coming soon if the legislature is supported to act positively on pending bond issues.

D. Gordon Mott is a forester from Lakeville.

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