Maine’s deer population has shown a downward trend based on state estimates from 1999 to 2008.

But this winter state biologists hope to see a change in that trend while using a new $100,000 aerial survey that has proven highly successful in Canada.

For years the department used a complex model to get a population estimate using data from a variety of sources, such as the total hunting season harvest, the number of does taken in the hunt, the number of deer killed in the roads and the amount of habitat.

However, because does are no longer legally hunted in much of northern Maine because of low deer numbers, officials have not been able to obtain a statewide population estimate since 2008, said state deer biologist Lee Kantar.

Meanwhile, that population estimate decreased from 331,000 in 1999 to 199,000 in 2008, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

But given the success Canadian biologists have had using the aerial survey, Kantar is hopeful biologists here will get a clearer picture of Maine’s herd this winter.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to apply this type of survey to Maine and to give us a finer resolution of where deer numbers are,” Kantar said.

Biologists in Quebec and New Brunswick have been using aerial surveys the past few decades to better understand how their deer herds were growing, and they feel they now have a good read on those herds.

Head deer biologist Rod Cumberland in Fredericton, New Brunswick, said it’s important that they know. As much as a third of New Brunswick has been closed to deer hunting since 1993 because of declining deer numbers.

“Deer are at the northern limit of their range. If you look back 200 years, even 100 years ago, there were not deer here before,” Cumberland said.

“Then there was a perfect storm (of favorable conditions) and there were a lot of deer from 1960 to 1980. But it was one point in time.

“That likely won’t happen again in my lifetime, and I’m 45.”

But, Cumberland said, with the aerial survey, biologists in Canada have a good read on where deer numbers are shrinking.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” he said.

The survey is done by two biologists in a helicopter traveling about 200 feet off the ground.

In Maine, Kantar said, most of the cost of the study entails paying the Maine Forest Service for the helicopter and the pilot.

The way the survey is done, the first biologist looks through a window and counts the deer only in that window, after which a second biologist repeats the process through a different window to verify the number. Then the process is repeated until a given area is covered.

Kantar said the data gathered from as many as six hunting districts in central Maine will provide a clearer picture there, although a true statewide survey is some years away.

The department has $100,000 to spend over two years from state and federal wildlife grant money from the Pittman-Robertson Fund and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The helicopter count will begin in central Maine because, Kantar said, it’s important to have an accurate population estimate where any-deer permits are given out.

There are 29 hunting districts in Maine, and this year 13 were allotted any-deer permits.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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