Outdoors in Maine: Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is a leader in protecting wildlife enclosures

On August 23, David Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, was a guest speaker at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer at a Deer Yard Forum hosted by some Republican Legislative candidates from the Bangor area.

Gerry Lavigne, a retired state deer biologist and wildlife consultant for SAM, joined Trahan on the panel to share the story of Maine’s declining deer population in Maine’s North Woods and what can be done to turn things around.

V. Paul Reynolds, outdoor columnist

Trahan said that “Predation and habitat loss have led to deer population collapses in northern, eastern and western Maine. At one time, 10 percent of the landscape was a wintering ground for deer. Now it is only 3 percent.”

To end this “death spiral of suitable deer habitat,” Trahan said, SAM has spearheaded three initiatives to restore deer wintering habitat:

• A change in law requiring the Land for Maine Future Program to prioritize its funding and land conservation purchases for the acquisition of known game preserves.

• Purchased deer wintering sites are held in trust for and managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

• Assisted in the negotiation of a $40 million federal grant, matched three-to-one by federal funds, to be used to purchase strategically important deer wintering grounds in Maine.

The Sportsman’s Alliance also played a role in the new deer permitting system. Hunters are paying $12 for their deer permits this season. This “new” money is also used exclusively for game reserve protection programs. This fall, for the first time, licensed hunters will be able to take both a buck and a deer.

Trahan said that buying wild farms has already started. SAM will shortly announce the state’s acquisition of a major deer wintering site in southern Aroostook County.

During a question-and-answer session, Lavigne, the biologist, pointed out that predation on healthy wintering deer in the northern forests by both coyotes and bears had been a major cause of deer population declines. Lavigne said predators also eat about 50% of spring fawns that don’t survive.

When asked whether coyotes kill indiscriminately even when not hungry, Lavigne explained that all predators, including coyotes, have no qualms about killing prey whenever the opportunity arises. The professional deer biologist said this is called “excess killing” and is by no means uncommon.

Another piece of positive news in terms of wildlife conservation, Trahan said, is the formation of the Aroostook County White-tailed Deer Collaborative. The cooperative’s mission is to raise private funds to support the protection and management of game reserves in the county. With the support and guidance of Aroostook athlete Jerry McLaughlin, local athletes have already raised $20,000. That money, along with the hours spent by volunteers tending forage plots at the county’s deer farms, will generate additional matching money from the Fed at a three-to-one ratio. Other members of the White-tailed Deer Collaborative include Andrew Ketch, Rob Keiffer and Bruce Frost.

Those interested in donating to this private fund to improve Aroostook County’s Deer Farm should contact David Trahan at 207-623-489 ([email protected]) or Jerry Mclaughlin at 207-592-2516 ([email protected]).

At the end of the forum, both Lavigne and Trahan received enthusiastic applause from those present. I publicly thanked both speakers for “their leadership and hard work.” I said that in all my years of writing about the outdoors in Maine, this Wildlife Conservation Package was the most historic wildlife management initiative I can remember.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of Northwoods Sporting Journal, author, travel guide to Maine, and host of the weekly radio show “Maine Outdoors” aired Sundays at 7:00 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]

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