Outdoors in Maine: Aroostook sportsmen take action

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To its credit, the ACCA is doing more than submitting petitions or writing letters. Last year the ACCA, in collaboration with the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club, raised close to $5,000, which was used to buy Whitetail Institute seed for creating feed plots.

It’s no secret. Deer numbers in Maine’s North Woods are going down. Former state deer biologist Gerry Lavigne has said that the whitetail deer situation in Aroostook County is a crisis that could mean the extirpation of deer in northern Maine if action of some kind isn’t taken. Sportsmen in the County, exasperated by a belief that Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department leadership has not done enough to stem the whitetail decline, has decided to take matters into their own hands. The Aroostook County Conservation Association, according to president Jerry McLaughlin, was organized as a direct response to the plummeting deer numbers, which have had a correspondingly negative impact on the North Woods economy.

Earlier this year, the ACCA, through its legislative representative, presented a petition to the governor containing 4,000 signatures. Another petition, with even more signatures, is in the works. Here is the wording on the petition:

We, the undersigned voters of Maine, DEMAND that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, institute without delay, an effective predator management program to save our dwindling Northern Whitetail Deer herd, including but not limited to, filing for an incidental take permit in order to reactivate the winter coyote snaring program.

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The ACCA is, in effect, trying to pressure the governor to give some official attention to the northern Maine deer dilemma. The ACCA also sent a letter to the state attorney general requesting that the state enforce the statute that requires the Fish and Wildlife Department to protect Maine’s natural resources (including whitetail deer). In the letter that follows, the ACCA served notice that it was prepared to pursue legal action against the state. Here is an excerpt from the ACCA’s letter to the state attorney general.

As the chief law enforcement official of the State of Maine we are appealing to you to enforce all existing statutes in an appropriate manner.

Title 12, Subpart 2 establishes the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Subchapter 10051 reads as follows: “The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is established to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the State; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; and to provide for effective management of these resources.”

Existing statute should apply to State departments as well as individuals, businesses and corporations. Clearly the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife department is in violation of the very statute that created this department as they have completely abandoned for the past several years any reasonable effort to preserve, protect and enhance the deer herd in Northern Maine.

We, and others, must now appeal to you to rectify this situation before we are forced to consider legal action.

McLaughlin said that the response from the AG’s office, which was a polite “kiss off”, was not satisfactory and that his organization was preparing another written appeal to the AG before considering legal action.

To its credit, the ACCA is doing more than submitting petitions or writing letters. Last year, the ACCA raised close to $5,000, which was used to buy Whitetail Institute seed for creating feed plots. With permission of timberland owners, the ACCA actively planted food plots on a number of winter logging roads in the County.

“We plan to seed some food plots again this year,” says McLaughlin.”We have raised about $4,500 that will be used to buy more food plot seed, and we’ll be planting more on farm ground this spring,”

A portion of the $4,500 was generated by the Save the Whitetail program, which was created by the Northwoods Sporting Journal and administered by the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club. Under this program, any sportsman may become a member for a $5 application fee ( Application forms are printed each month in the Northwoods Sporting Journal). Any current member who saves a deer by bagging two or more coyotes in a given year is entitled to wear a Save the Whitetail patch. All proceeds from membership applications are turned over to the ACCA to help underwrite the cost of seed for deer food plots. Recently, Dave Bell f rom the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club presented ACCA president McLaughlin with a check for $460.

McLaughlin, a veteran trapper, isn’t hesitant to express his organization’s frustration and anger over the inability of the Fish and Wildlife Department to secure an Incidental Take Permit from the Feds that would once again allow programmatic snaring of coyotes in deer yards. “It has been seven years since Martin (the commissioner) suspended coyote snaring,” says McLaughlin. “The suspension was only supposed to last a year. I mean, how long does it take?”

Like other Aroostook sportsmen, McLaughlin acknowledges that coyotes are just part of the deer survival equation. “Overcutting of deer yards and tough winters have taken a lot of deer,” says McLaughlin,”but coyote predation on wintering deer is a problem that we can do something about for the short term.”

Nick Archer, a member of the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club, may well speak for all Aroostook County sportsmen who refuse to lose the northern Maine deer without a fight. Says Archer,”Our very reason for being is in the tradition of the whitetail. No other form of hunting can represent or attempt to replace what the whitetail deer means to our members and those we represent. We must decide now that all other alliances, no matter what they might have meant to our previous endeavors, can stand in the way of restoring the whitetail deer herd.”

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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