Maine wildlife biologists say they are taking precautions to protect the state’s whitetail deer herd after a harsh winter by decreasing hunting permits by 23 percent from last year.

The state announced this week that it has begun accepting applications for its annual lottery of any-deer hunting permits. Maine will allot 28,770 permits for this fall’s hunt – down from 37,185 in 2014. It’s only the fourth time fewer than 30,000 any-deer permits will be allotted since the permit system started in 1986.

State deer biologist Kyle Ravana said he wants to be conservative in managing the herd after one of the worst winters on record.

“It’s not just direct mortality (that we are reacting to). The harsh winter impacts the productivity of the doe, its ability to give birth to a fawn, and produce milk for that fawn. We want to manage for what we could lose,” said Ravana, with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Last winter proved one of the coldest on record in Maine, following a long snowy winter the year before.

Portland broke the record for the coldest February since it began keeping track at the Portland International Jetport in 1940 with an average monthly temperature of 13.8 degrees, 11.7 degrees below normal, according to the National Weather Service in Gray. Bangor, where records have been kept since 1926, also recorded its coldest February average temperature – 6.1 degrees.

March began with significant snowpack across the state, as deep as 25 to 30 inches in southern Maine and 50 to 75 inches in parts of northern Maine, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ravana said the last time Maine saw two similar back-to-back winters was in 2008 and 2009, when there was widespread mortality among the whitetail herd. He said the department reacted too slowly at the time, increasing any-deer permits by 3,000 in 2010 and then slashing them by 46 percent the following year in an emergency measure to help the decimated herd.

Last summer, IFW estimated the state’s whitetail deer population at about 220,000. Ravana said the herd was estimated at 210,000 by March. Dating back to the 1950s, the longterm annual average has been about 215,000, he said, though yearly estimates were not available from 2004 to 2013.

After trapping 18 whitetail deer for a radio-collar study he launched in January, Ravana said he feels the statewide herd fared well this winter.

“We handled a bunch of deer. Most of the deer were looking good despite there being 2 feet of snow on the ground,” Ravana said.

The radio-collar telemetry study is expected to continue over the next four years. It cost $97,000 this year and was paid for with $46,000 from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and a legislative appropriation and $130,000 in matching funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ravana said.

Hunting-license sales in Maine have remained steady over the past three decades. Since 1988, there have been 203,000 to 220,000 hunting licenses sold annually.

Maine hunters agree deer look better than after the winters of 2008 and 2009, and at least some say they’re not rattled by the large decrease in permits.

“I don’t think the deer took much of a beating. I think they were looking real healthy this spring,” said Gerry White, who runs a Rangeley deer tagging station. “But I don’t have a problem giving up the permits. They never gave out a lot of any-deer permits up here anyway.”

Deer hunter Tom Tyler of Windham said he puts in for his any-deer permit every year, and supports the cut.

A member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine board of directors, Tyler said he trusts the state deer biologist, and he knows the last two winters were hard on deer.

“As an avid hunter I’d like to see the deer come back. But by the same token, whitetail deer hunting in Maine is a valuable resource not just for us but for people from out of state. If we can show we have a viable herd all the time, we won’t lose that economic factor,” Tyler said.

 


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