Crisis is a strong word. It was used recently in an article written about Maine’s deer-wintering areas by Mark Latti, the press officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Latti is not given to overstatement. In fact, I don’t recall him ever using the word crisis in the context of a wildlife management issue.

Here is an excerpt from Latti’s article:

“At its peak, the department had deer wintering agreements with eight major landowners in the state, covering nearly a quarter-of-a-million acres (236,618).

“But recently in the Maine woods, millions of acres have changed hands. Owners of large tracts of land, who agreed to work with the department to protect deer wintering habitat, have sold to new owners, and many of these owners have been reluctant to enter into deer wintering area agreements.

“One could say we are in a crisis. Years of work by our department to secure wintering areas for our northern deer herd could be gone with the cut of a saw. Deer herds in northern, western, and Downeastern Maine will not recover until there is sufficient wintering habitat.”

Having walked in Latti’s shoes as a former press officer for MDIF&W, I am familiar with the lay of the land. That is to say, he must be firm but diplomatic. The noncooperating forestland owners must be taken to the woodshed in a way that won’t permanently jeopardize future negotiations. Knowing this, I suspect that the status of the department’s deer-wintering agreements are even worse than it is letting on.

Far worse.

This is worrisome for two reasons.

First, Maine’s deer-wintering areas have been in precipitous decline long before the advent of cut-and-run timber management so evident in the past decade. In the 1960s, Maine deer yards numbered about 4,000. The number was 2,800 three years ago. It is, no doubt, less today. In northern and eastern Maine, where deer recovery remains an elusive deer-management goal, deer-wintering areas comprise an appallingly meager 1-to-2 percent of the land base in a given Wildlife Management District (WMD). This is a far cry from MD&W’s long-range deer-management goal of 13 deer per square mile by 2015 and deer-wintering areas that comprise 8-9 percent of the land base.

The second reason to worry is that a new pattern of timberland ownership is coming to Maine like a runaway train. Owners, intent on temporary ownership of forestland for one-cut cycles and quick rates of return, seem to lack the concern for good corporate community relations that lead many long-term landowners to negotiate deer-yard agreements. As one MDIF&W spokesman noted, “Many of these short-term landowners talk the talk when it comes to deer-yard agreements, but they don’t walk the walk.”

Katahdin Forest Management is one landowner who walks the walk. These folks recently signed a cooperative agreement that protects more than 6,000 acres of wintering areas in the Rocabema deer yards southwest of Medway. We need more of this kind of responsible forest management.

Maine sportsmen, as well as state lawmakers and other state policymakers, need to make sure that wintering habitat doesn’t slip beneath the radar. To my surprise, SAM’s deer task force did not include deer-wintering areas among its list of concerns. The issue remains paramount and is the key to deer recovery in Maine’s northern and easternmost counties. Without question, it is an issue worthy of SAM’s attention and all sportsmen, for that matter.

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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