AUGUSTA — Maine is known for its big deer, and Chandler Woodcock wants everybody to know that they’re out there. Just not everywhere. But he’s attending to that.

As the head custodian of all wild things that live on Maine’s land and in its fresh waters, Woodcock is leading efforts to restore the state’s cherished big-game animal, which once roamed in greater abundance. Those efforts include some drastic measures, including limited night hunting of coyotes.

During an interview, Woodcock pointed to a map of the state to illustrate where the problem lies. Envision a huge arc sweeping from the western edge of Maine to the east. Roughly along that curved rim, and to the north, the deer numbers have fallen off sharply due to a number of factors, including severe weather, less natural protection and predators. Woodcock calls it the “umbrella effect.”

While there are no clear estimates of Maine’s deer population at present, Woodcock said the number is believed to be down from its all-time peak by 50 percent. The severity of the decline is reflected in the deer-harvest totals, which dropped from 29,918 in 2006 to 20,063 in 2010.

For Woodcock, job No. 1 is rebuilding the deer herd, a priority often mentioned by his boss, Gov. Paul LePage. It also prompted a major study and action by the Legislature, which passed a bill calling for a number of moves, including identification and management of more deer yards, updating deer population goals and controlling predators, particularly coyotes.

On the third point, Woodcock said, a working group that includes biologists and hunting experts will devise plans to control coyotes and choose participants in a limited night-hunting program this fall in targeted areas where the predators are a serious problem.

The department has already slashed any-sex deer permits to rebuild the herd by 46 percent to 26,390 for this coming fall.

Regaining the numbers will be a long-term project, the commissioner of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department said.

“You don’t replenish the deer herd in a year,” he said. “There has to be some patience, so we’re looking at a 10-year project.”

Beyond rebuilding sheer numbers, the idea is to bolster Maine’s reputation, which has long been “big woods, big deer,” said Woodcock. The big deer are still out there, he said, citing one hunting camp where four big deer – each over 200 pounds and one of them 260 pounds – were taken last fall.

“Maine’s hunting heritage is significant, and perception drives outdoor activities,” Woodcock said. “If you think it’s going to rain, you’re not going to go canoeing. If you think we don’t have a whole lot of deer, you’re not going to go hunting.”

Maine has 146,000 resident, licensed hunters, and about 30,000 non-residents come to the state for big game. Together, they represent $280 million to the state’s economy and account for 4,500 jobs.


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