March 23, 2018
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UMFK collaring white-tailed deer for study

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
A white-tailed deer is fitted with a global positioning system/satellite collar as part of a University of Maine at Fort Kent and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife study. Photo courtesy of the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

FORT KENT, Maine — The hunting blogosphere is buzzing with talk of Mainers who have spotted white-tailed deer with “radio collars” around their necks. The collars are part of a study being conducted by research biologists at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

The study is led by Dr. Stephen E. Hansen, associate professor of biology & environmental studies at UMFK. Working with Dr. Hansen is Jonathan N. Hayes, a graduate of UMFK’s wildlife program who plans to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife science.

The research is being conducted in cooperation with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s regional wildlife biologists Douglas M. Kane and Scott McLellan.

To date, summer deer sightings offer hope for greater herd abundance than in recent years, but it is the collar sightings that are providing much of the online chatter.

Hunting is a major contributor to Maine’s economy. With over 200,000 people hunting in Maine each year, hunters generate nearly half-a-billion dollars in economic activity. Hunting also supports 6,440 jobs statewide. A significant portion of the economic contribution comes from white-tailed deer hunting. Deer hunting and viewing contributes more than $200 million annually to Maine’s economy. The state registers about 146,000 resident hunters and nearly 30,000 nonresidents. Hunters financially support motels, sporting camps, restaurants, guide services and other businesses.

However, during the last two decades there has been a steep decline in the deer population in northern, eastern, and western Maine. Correspondingly, fall deer harvests have dropped in recent years to some of the lowest levels ever recorded by the state. For example, deer abundance in northern Maine is approximately 1 deer per square mile in the north, as opposed to the relatively abundant population in central and southern Maine with a density of 15 to 25 deer per square mile. The low deer numbers in the north, east, and west are having a negative impact on Maine businesses and its rural economy. Public concern over low and declining deer numbers in these areas has grown.

The UMFK study comes at a pivotal time when the state of Maine has launched its new direction for white-tailed deer management, Maine’s Game Plan for Deer.

The primary objective of the study is to assess the critical wintering habitat of white-tailed deer, while incorporating the other contributing factors suppressing deer numbers in NEWME.

The study, which began last winter, is monitoring the movement of 10 individual female deer over the course of two winters. Five deer were collared in the Beaver Cove deer wintering area near Moosehead Lake; five others were collared near the town of Allagash in northern Maine using global positioning system/satellite collars.

The objectives for GPS/satellite collar deployment on white-tailed deer are as follows:

  • ·       to use real-time tracking data to assess daily, seasonal, and annual movements of deer in relation to various habitat types, environmental factors, and land use practices in NEWME
  • ·       To determine the effects of winter severity on deer activity and habitat use
  • ·       To conserve and manage both existing and potential critical winter habitat for white-tailed deer in NEWME, and,
  • ·       To determine causation of deer mortality (starvation, predation, disease, etc) using real-time tracking data

The collars will provide multiple daily GPS fixes on the does’ exact locations and, thereafter, upload them to a satellite for retrieval. Using real-time coordinates, researchers will immediately be able determine the overall quality of the wintering areas for the forage and shelter needs of the deer.  Additionally, the researchers will be able to discern how far deer travel to and from the DWA, as well as site fidelity.

The collars will continue to report data throughout the two-year study period. On a predetermined date, collars will automatically release from the deer and begin emitting radio telemetry signals for retrieval. The collars also have a mortality sensor.

Additionally, livestock ear-tags with antibacterial studs were applied to the ear of study animals for field recognition and future collar deployments. This will aid in information gathered from hunter returns, in the event the deer is harvested after collar release.

The preliminary results of the research have greatly expanded researchers’ understanding of deer behavior and biology, and, correspondingly, they have identified new factors critical to the survival of the deer population in NEWME. The information will be instrumental in guiding deer management and forestry practices in order to increase the deer population for both hunting/tourism purposes and for economic recovery/development.

In the scholastic front, the project will generate a multitude of academic benefits to students and programs at UMFK. Students will develop an understanding of the guiding principles of the management and sustainability of natural resources in Maine, while receiving an incredible exposure to cutting-edge technology. Using real-time tracking data, students will have a continual, interactive link between the classroom and the natural environment. Students will be able to instantaneously view the seasonal and annual changes of deer location in relation to habitat use.  Using deer-location data, they will be able to draw conclusions regarding the seasonal importance of various habitat types.

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