The deer population is down statewide as hunting season begins today for residents and Monday for non-residents, according to Lee Kantar, state deer and moose biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. To cope with lower deer numbers, the state has issued fewer deer permits to hunters this year.

“We issued 22,435 permits,” Kantar said, “which is a 46 percent decrease in 2011.”

In 2010, Maine issued 48,825 permits. In 2009, 43,385 permits were issued.

“This year we’ve reduced our amount of any-deer permits pretty severely in order to ensure we’re meeting our population objectives,” he said. “When you manage a species, you need to have a plan in place and you need to do things consistently over time.

“We have a management system for deer, and a methodology for allocating those permits that we do every year based on new data that comes in.”

The data, Kantar said, comes from aerial surveys of deer, harvest numbers from previous hunts and the severity of previous winters.

“If you’re (below) your population objective, you want to build the deer numbers in that district. Therefore, you’re going to reduce the number of any-deer permits,” he said.

The major factor for the decline in population can be traced to the winters of 2008 and 2009, Kantar said.

“Those two consecutive winters were two of the worst winters we’ve had in 60 years,” he said. “It put quite a damper on the deer population.”

The severity of winter is based on two factors. “Snow depth, and how long that snow stays on the ground,” Kantar said. “When it snows — and, for deer it doesn’t need to be a lot — it starts to put an energy squeeze on them. So, if you’re talking 12 to 14 inches of snow, it starts to really tax deer.

“If that lasts more than three months, you’re going to start losing your fawn crop. And your fawn crop is going to be your yearlings in the harvest for next year, and that makes up about 50 percent of the buck harvest.”

Kantar had one word to describe the projected harvest for 2011.

“Low,” he said. “When you add everything up, we think we’re going to fall below 17,00 deer statewide this year.”

In 2010, the statewide harvest was 20,063. In 2009, the harvest was 18,092. A low harvest for 2011 would show the permitting system is working, Kantar said.

“This harvest is going to look low to a lot of people, but it’s being done by design,” he said. “We need to make sure we have a lot of adult does that can continue to produce young.”