RANGELEY — Three years of work to create and grow high-protein food lots to revive the area's deer herd is paying off in wildlife sustainability.
Additionally, the Deer Forage Project was the first in North America to experiment with wood ash as a sweetener and natural fertilizer of deer food plots, Marcia Baker, a member of the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen's Association, stated Sunday in a news release.
The three-year project, which ends this summer, was created to address the sharp decline of the area deer herd, Baker said.
"The whole community partnered to grow highly-productive food plots designed specifically for Rangeley’s inhospitable soil and harsh climate," she said.
This partnership serves as a model that is already being emulated by other state areas threatened with deer shortages, she said.
"There is ample evidence that deer and other wildlife are using the food plots," said Baker, who conceived and coordinated the effort.
The project grew more than 35 plots in the Rangeley region in empty log landings provided by Wagner Forest Management LTD and the Seven Islands Land Co.
"Besides deer, other wildlife such as moose, bear, turkey, grouse coveys and song birds are thriving on the landings," Baker said.
"This has been a three-year project spearheaded by the club and has proved a significant impact on the recovery of the local deer population," Kevin Sinnett, association co-vice president, said Sunday by email.
Baker said the plots produce 10 times the forage grown without wood ash or lime preparation.
"This increased tonnage adds confidence to the benefit it has for wildlife sustainability," Baker said.
"High protein food plots are known to fatten up deer, better preparing them to overcome winter starvation."
That's why efforts concentrated on growing plots near deer yards and on south-facing slopes.
Wagner and Seven Islands selected and excavated appropriate log-landings to convert into food plots.
State wildlife biologist Bob Cordes with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Strong, created the specially-designed seed mix for the project, Baker said.
Available for sale at River's Edge Sports in Oquossoc, the mix includes winter rye, buck forage oats, buckwheat, forage turnips, and white dutch, medium red and alsike clover.
The two large landowners then agreed to replace their standard "conservation mix" used to control erosion with the new seed mix.
Community businesses used their heavy equipment to spread the ash, and then the plots were seeded by Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen's Association volunteers.
"A low Ph seed mix is now being experimentally seeded on Seven Islands plots, and they have indicated a willingness to use the two new seed mixes in the future," Baker said.
The experimental seed mix is available through Easter Sales in Pownal, according to the Deer Forest Project's website. It includes chicory, cowpeas, annual winter rye, buckwheat, crimson clover, and Durana white and alsike clover.
As the Rangeley association steps down, Wagner will continue using ash to remedy the soil intended in the original project, she said.
Baker said Stratton's ReEnergy Biomass Energy donated and transported the clean wood ash to a central Rangeley depot.
M&H Logging of Rangeley "devoted many hours of free labor and equipment" hauling ash, excavating landings and providing a central ash distribution center.
Trucking was provided by Mark Beauregard, Doug Burlingame and Ron Ray.
Michael Koob, Dave Borman and Brian St. Louis of Sunrise Farms, used their Kubotas to spread ash; Rick Baker and Ron Ray of Cupsuptic Fabrication used their all-terrain vehicles to seed the plots.
More than 30 RRG&SA volunteers contributed manual labor. Baker also credited the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation Service, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service and the Maine Forest Service for their assistance.
"A special thanks goes to Senator Tom Saviello, who introduced legislation so wood ash could be streamlined as a natural soil neutralizer for use in agriculture and food plots," Baker said.
Two deer-plot workshops have been conducted with small landowners, and Baker now consults statewide to other landowners hoping to grow private deer plots.
Another educational workshop is being planned for Farmington in November. To learn more about the project, visit deerandwildlifeforageproject.blogspot.com.