November 3, 2013

New Maine deer biologist winning over a tough crowd

In his role managing Maine’s whitetail herd, Kyle Ravana has to know how to handle sportsmen as well as deer.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Kyle Ravana, left, Maine’s new head deer biologist, talks with hunter Floyd Whitmore at a moose tagging station in Solon last month. In his first seven months on the job Ravana is proving a good listener.

Photos by John Patriquin/StaffPhotographer

click image to enlarge

Kyle Ravana wants to manage “for the health of the deer, rather than how many there are per square mile.”

A hunter and contractor, McLaughlin said he found in Ravana a knowledgeable hunter and a biologist who understands sportsmen.

And even those who have yet to meet Ravana seem hopeful.

“He has a real opportunity here. It is a unique and extraordinary opportunity this young man has, and it’s up to him. Can you imagine having the opportunity to manage the whitetail deer in a state like Maine?” said Nick Archer, vice president of the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club.

For his part, Ravana believes he can do the job, and do it well.

And if the former king crab fisherman knows one thing related to being a state wildlife biologist, it’s hard work.

“I think sportsmen are very passionate. And I’m very passionate. All hunters want more opportunity. I’m happy to be in the position to help,” Ravana said.

HEALTH, NOT NUMBERS

A nontraditional student, Ravana started undergraduate school in 2006 after working as a carpenter and commercial fisherman out of high school. He is finishing a master’s in wildlife science at the University of Maine, where he received his undergraduate degree.

After working as a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Fish and Game Department, and doing a year of contract work for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Ravana got the state deer biologist job.

Ravana said his youth, energy, background and interest in the subject are strengths. He grew up hunting Sitka deer, a subspecies of mule deer, in the mountain region of Baranof Island.

“Any job has a learning curve. My philosophy on deer is to move toward a more specific density goal. I would like to use a new system of managing for the health of the deer, rather than how many there are per square mile. That number doesn’t tell you if the deer are healthy,” Ravana said.

As it turns out, the department realized after trying an aerial survey of deer during the past few winters that it yields poor results, said Wally Jakubus, mammal group leader for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Jakubus said the surveys done in helicopters have proven successful in tracking moose, but aren’t as successful with deer, and new ways to manage the statewide herd are needed.

Moreover, in 2015 a public working group will convene and give the department new objectives for managing Maine’s deer herd, and decide whether there are too many on the landscape or too few. Ravana hopes to meet these objectives by using statistics on deer health rather than density.

“When we hire a deer biologist a big part of our decision on who we hire is how well that person relates to the public in general, and how well they explain complicated problems,” Jakubus said.

“You can know all you know about whitetail deer, but if you can’t apply that to dealing with people, you only have part of what you need to do the job well,” said Archer with the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club.

Maine moose biologist Lee Kantar, whom Ravana replaced as deer biologist, said Ravana is taking the position at a good time. Kantar managed both moose and deer.

“Kyle couldn’t be coming in under better circumstances. The deer are doing well. This is not 2008,” Kantar said. “We just had four below-average winters for deer up north.”

In 2008 and 2009 Maine’s deer got hammered with long, hard winters. Since then, the numbers of deer in northern Maine dwindled, but Kantar said they appear to be coming back.

And statewide, last year’s buck harvest was the highest in years, with at least one northern Maine hunting district registering 203 bucks, the most since 1963 in wildlife management district 3, at the north end of Aroostook County.

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