Deer yards, or deer wintering areas, are a critical component of deer survival in Maine.
Nearly 15 years ago, in an article about the status of Maine’s deer yards, I wrote this:
As state biologists prepare Maine’s next 15-year plan for deer management, which is due to be approved early this year, deer wintering habitat (deer yards) has become the focal point. Over the past decade, there has been a marked decline in deer wintering areas, especially in Northern and Eastern Maine where deer populations are down.
That was then.
This year, state wildlife managers are preparing yet another 15-year wildlife management plan. So, if you are concerned about Maine’s slowly recovering deer numbers, the question begs to be asked: How are we doing? Have we made any progress in protecting and preserving Maine’s deer wintering areas? Fifteen years ago, the game management plan set a goal of bringing Maine deer numbers in Western and Downeast Maine to 15 deer per square mile. The statewide goal was a total deer herd of 384,000 or an average of 13 deer per square mile. Northern Maine today has an estimated 3 to 4 deer per square mile.
How have we done?
Honestly, not very well. Ryan Robicheau, a state wildlife biologist who oversees and monitors Maine’s deer yard situation, concedes, when pressed, that the earlier 15-year plan was far too optimistic. Back then, deer biologist Gerry Lavigne said that the plan called for 1.7 million acres of protected deer yards, or about 9.1 percent of state timberland.
According to Robicheau , this is the breakdown for today’s protected deer yards:
There are: 1) 173,740 acres zoned as LUPC “PF-W’s” (protected fish and wildlife zones) 2) 178,964 acres managed under cooperative agreements with large landowners 3) There are many more DWAs (deer wintering areas)that are managed using our DWA Guidelines, but no reports back on how many and where.
There is some good news. There are some large timberland owners who, according to Robicheau, have signed formal agreements with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to protect some deer wintering areas in their logging practices. Irving Woodlands, which holds 1.25 million acres of Maine timberlands, is protecting known deer wintering areas within an area of 122,000 acres. Other landowners who have agreed to formally agree to protect deer yards in their holdings are Katahdin Timberlands, W.T. Gardner and Sons, and Weyerhaeuser.
Some other timberland managers, who Robicheau credits with at least working with the Department in voluntarily including some deer yard protection into their cutting plans, include Seven Islands, Wagner, Huber Resources and a few others.
There is an ongoing collaborative effort called the Northeast Deer Research Partnership that is looking at this issue of deer wintering mortality. Stakeholders include Maine and New Brunswick.
Robicheau says that there is “a new normal” in Maine’s deer wintering areas. He believes that coyote predation pressure and more and more voluntary winter feeding programs by citizens is having an impact on deer wintering habits. ( They are staying closer to town near the feed and away from coyotes)
Maine will soon begin to prepare another game management plan to take us through the next 15 years. It will be interesting to see how this compares with the previous plan.
Meanwhile, Maine’s hungry deer are about to enter the toughest phase of their winter survival. Low on fat reserves, their survival is a race against the early spring green up. May it come early this year.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books.Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.