A little more than a year ago, Maine’s wildlife biologists were talking about possible statewide conservation measures that might be necessary to protect the whitetail deer herd. All of that talk struck residents of Eastport as a little odd, because on their three-square-mile island, deer were regularly wandering into parking lots and backyards and across the road.
Now state officials have authorized a special deer hunt aimed at bringing the island’s deer population down to a more manageable level.
Maine’s easternmost city is known for having some of the highest tides in the U.S., but lately Eastport has acquired a reputation for hosting another natural phenomenon.
“They’re everywhere, every street you go on — it’s ridiculous,” says Sandra Seeley, a waitress at the Waco Diner. “There’s more deer here almost than there is people.”
Seeley has been calling Eastport home for 55 years. She says she has never seen anything like the explosion in the deer population this year.
“I went to go out to the road the other night and there was a car coming toward me and we literally, both cars had to stop and they didn’t stop, they just kept jumping out of the field and the woods going across the road — and there was 14 of them,” she says.
There may be some relief in sight for Eastport’s 1,300 residents. The Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council has authorized a limited doe-only hunt for two weeks next month with the hope of culling 30 animals from a herd that could be as large as more than 100.
Some members of the council have attributed the explosion to a 2005 decision by the department to redraw the boundaries of Maine’s wildlife management districts. Eastport went to a buck-only hunt as the result of that process, and IF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock says conditions on the island now warrant an additional harvesting season.
“What we’re looking to do is cut down on that 20-30 deer per square mile, down to a reasonable percentage, and we are normally in the 10 range per square mile,” he says. “We’re going to see what happens. They’re going to have 30 licenses, which they’re going to oversee, and I think there are 22 going to residents and eight nonresidents in a lottery down there. Each license will authorize one antlerless deer. So they really have the controls over the specifics of the program.”
“I think that that’s a good idea to start with that,” says Pearl McKnight, another Eastport resident who wants the deer culled. She says a small caravan of deer makes its way through her backyard on an almost nightly basis that begins with the appearance of a single doe and her two fawns.
“Slowly, but surely, the whole of them will follow each other — because they do follow each other, yeah, yeah, so the only problem being is that they’re so used to us they don’t even move when they’re in the middle of the road, they walk right up the middle of the road, they don’t care and they don’t move very good,” she says. “You have to completely stop and wait for them to get by or toot your horn and they’ll go a little bit faster.”
“There’s nothing natural about this, it’s not natural for people to have deer trying to come and stick their heads into windows,” says Eastport City Manager Elaine Abbott.
Abbott says the animals’ complete absence of fear and familiarity with humans has resulted in some harrowing encounters on the road. Abbott says last year, Eastport had 20 motor vehicle accidents involving deer that racked up about $40,000 in property damage.
She says reducing the herd by about 30 animals this year is a good first step. The special season authorized by the town and the state will only allow archers who will confine their hunt to the hundreds of wooded acres in the community.
“We love our deer, we love the deer,” Abbott says. “We just don’t love this many of them.”
Woodcock says the advisory council approved the special hunt for one year only. The panel will review the Eastport deer population next year to determine whether another special season is needed.