The fact that there is a deer overpopulation problem in the Orono-Old Town area has never been the sticking point. It is reflected in the deer-car accident statistics.

A local police officer, who is also a town councilor, said that in the past year or so, there have been 75 deer-related car accidents in his area alone. A 1980s study put the deer population on Marsh Island at upwards of 65 per square mile. There is another concern besides car accidents, that springs from high deer densities in urban areas – ticks and the increasing risk of Lyme disease. Talk to the folks in Connecticut.

At issue, strangely enough, is what to do about the Marsh Island deer problem. Local governments and the University of Maine, which owns much of the whitetail habitat known as the University Forest, have been talking this issue to death – and making precious little headway.

Until recently.

To their credit, both Orono and Old Town councilors have passed resolutions calling on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to run a regulated deer hunt in hopes of controlling runaway deer numbers.

Why did it take so long? It should have been a no-brainer.

Guess what, though? The University of Maine is apparently still on the fence, engaged in “fact-finding.” According to the university’s public safety director, Noel March, the university’s study committee is still weighing the issue and “will be making recommendations to the university president, who will make the final decision.”

March indicated that the study committee was operating under no timetable or deadline for decision making. So far, the issue of what to do about excessive deer numbers on Marsh Island has been in the discussion mode for at least three years.

It appears that a resolution hinges on what the university elects to do. MDIF&W has said that, the Orono and Old Town resolutions notwithstanding, there is not much the state can do to conduct a regulated hunt unless the university gets on board.

What’s the university worried about? Public safety director March points out that the university has a large student body, and many students use the forest for recreation. Hello? Bow hunting for deer IS outdoor recreation when we last checked. Could it be that the foot dragging has anything to do with political correctness? Or concerns about offending some anti-hunting alumnus with deep pockets?

This cuts both ways. If you are a University of Maine graduate who respects Maine’s hunting heritage, perhaps it’s time to “educate” the policymakers at Maine’s land grant institution of higher learning.

Pardon our cynicism, but don’t be surprised if this issue – like the coyote-snaring ban – remains stuck in the in-basket for the duration. We will keep an eye on it, and hope that our cynicism is misplaced.

Go fish

It is now legal to fish through the ice for cold-water game fish on most waters. There are exceptions, though, so check your 2006 lawbook carefully. For example, on Moosehead Lake, landlocked salmon cannot be taken through the ice legally until Feb. 15. There are also new bag limit regulations. At Moosehead, Chamberlain, Round Pond, Telos Lake and Big Benson Pond, the minimum length on brook trout is now 14 inches, not 12. In other areas of the state, there have been additional changes designed to safeguard Maine’s wonderful sport fishery.

Speaking of safeguards, wise anglers know their ice thicknesses before striking out. This early in the year, expect anything – especially if ice is near any flowing water. For what it’s worth, game wardens themselves try to avoid any ice that is less than four inches thick.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. 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 [email protected]

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