With the announcement of the state’s deer plan by Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock on March 17, much appears on tap for Maine’s struggling whitetail herd.

But the reality is there is scarcely any money to help repair a complicated problem that took 10 years to develop and could take twice that to fix.

In the state’s new five-step deer recovery plan, there has been just $20,000 earmarked for the coyote-control portion of the project, and that’s only one of five areas that need to be addressed to help the herd rebound, said Maine state wildlife planner Sandy Ritchie, who worked on the plan.

And Ritchie said of the five areas that need more attention to help deer — wintering areas, population management, predator control, state planning and public outreach — none are new.

But if IFW can indeed craft a different way of protecting land around deer yards, it might find a lasting solution and facilitate quicker recovery for the herd.

“Actually, habitat is the most critical. The reason why is because deer are at the northern end of their range. If you go 100 miles north of the Maine border, you’ll run out of deer in Quebec,” Ritchie said.

This is where the problem of Maine’s hurting herd gets complicated: the big solution requires protecting habitat, lots of it.

Cooperative agreements to protect deer wintering areas where deer seek shelter have been secured by the state for decades, but there is not enough protected land to help the dwindling herd, Ritchie said.

There are 300,000 acres in cooperative agreements, but Ritchie said to grow the northern herd from a few deer per square mile to as many as 10 per square mile, the state needs 1 million acres protected.

“We have quite a long ways to go,” Ritchie said.

However, Tim Glidden, the director of the Land For Maine’s Future, which doles out bond money to conservation projects, said conserving wildlife habitat in Maine’s vast northern forestland can happen if it is approached in a different way.

He suggested the state look to the model used by nonprofit conservation groups.

In the past, the state and federal government have protected important wildlife habitat in Maine mostly by purchasing land, but Glidden said buying easements can work better if the landowner is willing to be flexible based on the needs of wildlife.

Glidden said there are at least 1.6 million acres in Maine protected under federal and state conservation holdings, but only about 500,000 acres are protected with easements. In that case, the state or federal government does not own the land outright, but drafts land management rules on it.

With land trusts and nonprofit conservation agencies, Glidden said the trend in Maine has gone the other way, with most of land holding in easements. The time has come for the state to follow suit, Glidden said.

“People thinking about how to use conservation easements for a wider range of public benefit and compensating land owners has been evolving, and it continues to evolve,” Glidden said.

Roughly 15,000 acres of habitat used by wintering deer has been protected with Land For Maine’s Future funds, Glidden said, but it’s not enough because there is so much more land that needs protection.

Buying up easement rights to aid deer would help.

“We’re talking about conserving really big pieces of timberland, and to do that in a way that will be economical to landowners, while at the same time allowing the deer herd to rebuild,” Glidden said.

Finding landowners who can be flexible for the sake of wildlife and figuring out how to offer them a profitable approach to conservation is the chief problem before the state.

But after 10 years of watching Maine’s deer herd decline — despite ongoing work to help it — Glidden sees hope.

“What I think is valuable is that there is an emerging consensus amongst all the parties that need to get on board. That puts some priority on this. That has not been the case in the past,” he said.

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

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