Woods Road Community Forest in Falmouth will now be open to the public all winter following a request for year-round access by local residents.

Dogs will be required to be on leash from December through March so they are less likely to disturb deer in the area, said Lucky D’Ascanio, director of Falmouth Parks and Community Programs. Previously, the community forest had been closed during that time period.

A sign at Woods Road Community Forest asks walkers to pick up after their dogs. Dogs are now allowed at the forest year-round, but must be leashed December through March. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

The area has been a designated deer wintering yard since 1987, when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection ordered the property at 34 Woods Road to be closed to the public from Dec. 1 through March 31. After the DEP order was transferred to the town in 2013, there was some discussion about whether the deer wintering yard was really necessary, according to Councilor Ted Asherman, and in December 2019, residents in the area expressed interest in having the winter restrictions removed.

“We … met with a Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist at the site and he stated that while the town was in compliance with following the DEP order, having recreation on-site was not detrimental to the deer yard,” Director of Falmouth Parks and Community Programs Director Lucky D’Ascanio said at town council meeting this fall. “Fast forward through the pandemic, it was this past October that the Land Management Acquisition Committee met and wanted to move forward with removing the restrictions and placing a leash restriction during that time on the property.”

According to the Maine DIFW, “a deer wintering area is the habitat where deer go to find protection from deep snow and cold wind. When the right landform meets the right assemblage of forest stands, the majority of deer can survive a typical Maine winter.”

“Deer show the ability to navigate to DWAs over many generations. Once a DWA is gone, it appears to be difficult for them to find new cover,” DIFW Biologist Scott Lindsay said. “Wildlife habitats, such as DWA’s should be managed for long term. In addition, DWA’s provide habitat for many other wildlife species during all times of the year. If the landscape is either developed or predominantly younger hardwood stands, the needs of some wildlife species will not be met.”


The dog leash rule is important, he said.

“Deer see dogs as natural enemies as they probably perceive them to be coyotes,” Lindsay said. “Generally, recreational trails should be routed around deer wintering areas, not through them. Impact can be minimized by people staying on trail and if they do have a dog with them, the dog should be under control and leashed.”

With deep snow, the deer “nestle down,” Asherman said previously.

“Therein lies the problem with dogs. There is no such thing as a dog being under voice control if it wants to chase deer, therefore you have a problem. That’s where the state comes down on this,” he said.

Lindsay said that deer wintering areas can’t just be created “with the flip of a switch, once they are gone, thinking they were not needed” and the state should continue to maintain deer wintering areas.

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