Old News Archive

IFW News -- Outdoor Report -- Deer, Moose and Bear

August 29, 2006 - TRC

Maine’s fall hunting seasons are now upon us. Maine’s black bear season opened on Monday, August 28, deer hunting in the expanded archery zone will commence on September 9 and the first week of the two-week split season for moose starts on September 25 in northern and eastern parts of the state.

According to a 1998 Economic Impact Study conducted by the University of Maine, Hunting as an economic impact of over $450 million in the state of Maine, provides over 6,000 full and part time jobs, and generates over $25 million in tax revenue for the state. Big game hunting accounts for approximately two thirds of that impact.

Each year, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologists publish a detailed report on white-tailed deer, moose and bear that is just part of the Department’s Wildlife Division Research and Management Report. The entire research and management report includes pieces on endangered species, birds, mammals, habitat, herptiles and invertebrates. The report is available in early October on the Department’s website at www.mefishwildlife.com. Below you will find excerpts from the deer, moose and bear reports, authored by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife experts.

When you are out hunting this year, please hunt safely. Thanks to responsible hunters, hunting has become one of the safest recreational sports in the country. Last year in Maine, there were over 200,000 licensed hunters, and there were only five hunting-related injuries. Three of those injuries were self-inflicted, and none of the five incidents were fatal.

Certainly there are several factors that have contributed to hunting’s amazing safety record, but many credit the advent of the hunter safety course. In Maine, unless you held a hunting license prior to 1976, you must successfully complete an aproved hunter safety course in order to purchase a hunting license. Each year, over 7,500 people take the hunter safety course. If you haven’t yet taken your hunter safety course, there are many courses available throughout the state, but hurry, because many have already started, and courses fill up rapidly this time of year. A complete list of hunter safety courses can be found at www.mefishwildlife.com, under the education link. New courses are added throughout the season, and the list of courses available is updated every Friday.

--Mark Latti, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

White-tailed Deer
Maine’s Deer Population and Strategic Plan
Since the early 1970s, our deer management program has been guided by a strategic plan developed with considerable public input. The strategic plan is revised every 10 to 15 years to address changes in public attitudes or changing biological factors affecting deer.

The deer plan was most recently updated in 2001; attainment of our new objectives will drive our management strategies from 2002 through 2017. The previous deer plan (1985 – 2001) called for increasing deer populations in all parts of the state that are accessible to hunting. We desired deer populations that were about one-half the maximum number of deer the habitat could support. Accomplishing these population objectives called for carefully regulating doe harvests to encourage herd growth, and also managing deer on more local scales. Consequently, we implemented the any-deer permit system to regulate doe harvests, and divided Maine initially into Wildlife Management Districts. Currently, there are 29 WMDs that are comprised of similar habitat characteristics and deer densities.

Over the last 3 decades changes in habitat conditions, hunting participation, and land ownership have provided both challenges and opportunities for deer management in Maine. By harvesting does conservatively, and by taking advantage of mild winters when they occurred, deer populations have increased since the harsh winters of the 1970’s from roughly 160,000 to nearly 220,000 wintering deer.

Regionally, there has been much variation in achieving district population objectives. Management strategies have been most successful in southern and central Maine where winters generally remained favorable, overall habitat was productive, and deer populations were highly responsive to changes in doe harvest rate.

In contrast, we have been largely unsuccessful in getting deer populations to increase in the big woods sections of northern, eastern, and western Maine during the past 20 years despite very conservative doe harvests. Reasons for our failure to turn populations around in this half of the state include a progressive loss in the quality and quantity of wintering habitat, frequent severe winters, relatively high natural losses of adult deer, and diminished recruitment of young deer.

In the current planning cycle (2002-17), we recognize that central and southern Maine deer populations are capable of increasing well above levels tolerated by people who share the land with deer and other wildlife. When deer populations exceed 25 deer per square mile, deer impact plant diversity, farm crops and ornamental plantings, and they increase the risk of motor vehicle collisions and the incidences of human Lyme disease. Therefore, we have set population objectives of 15 or 20 deer per square mile for each central and southern Maine WMD. Currently, deer populations range between 13 and 22 deer per square mile in central and southern Maine WMDs that are open to hunting. In those parts of towns that are closed to hunting due to widespread land posting, residential sprawl, and/or firearms discharge bans, deer densities range between 30 and > 100 deer per square mile.

Attaining our new population objectives in central and southern Maine will require substantial deer harvests, often involving innovative deer hunting strategies. Where hunting access is restricted, we will need to work closely with landowners and municipalities to resolve perceived landowner/hunter conflicts. This will lead to greater reliance upon special deer seasons and intensive deer reduction efforts in some of our more heavily developed towns.

In northern and eastern Maine, our ability to increase the abundance of deer populations must involve increasing and restoring some of the deer wintering habitat that was lost during the past 3 decades. To that end, the Department has set a long-term objective to increase the amount and quality of deer wintering habitat in northern and eastern WMDs. We will accomplish this by intensifying current efforts to safeguard wintering habitat by negotiating long-term management plans, conservation easements, and possibly other measures, with large and small landowners. Cumulatively, we intend to increase wintering habitat from its current 2 to 5% of the land base to 8 to 9% over the next 30 years. With improved wintering habitat to increase productivity this will hopefully enable us to maintain deer populations at 10 to 15 deer per square mile compared to the 2 to 8 deer per square mile at present.

Until we succeed at increasing the wintering habitat base, we must avoid overpopulating existing winter deeryards. With that in mind, we have set a short-term objective to always maintain deer in northern and eastern Maine at no more than 50% of the capacity of the existing deer wintering habitat. All things considered, antlerless deer harvests in eastern, Western Mountain, and northern Maine WMDs will have to remain rather limited for the foreseeable future.

Over time, if we succeed at reducing and stabilizing central and southern Maine’s deer herd while simultaneously improving wintering habitat in eastern and northern Maine, we’ll have succeeded at increasing hunting opportunity, while minimizing conflicts between deer and the people who share the habitat. When all objectives are accomplished, there will be 380,000 wintering deer (more in the north, less in the south) vs. <250,000 currently. In addition, maintaining this population would require deer harvests in the neighborhood of 50,000 deer annually vs. 30,000 today.

By influencing mortality and fawn production, winter severity exerts a powerful influence on deer populations in Maine. A severe winter in 2001 caused the statewide herd to plummet 18% from 292,000 to 241,000 deer. From 2002-2005 we have seen fluctuations in winter severity from one year to the next with severe winters followed by mild winters. In northern, western and eastern WMDs where important wintering areas have been degraded even a moderate winter can pose limitations to herd increases and potential recruitment. In southern and central WMDs liberal any-deer permit allotments to meet population objectives appear to be bringing us closer to our short-term goals. The end result is that our wintering deer population has probably remained fairly stable at 7.5-8 deer per square mile statewide over the last 5 years.

Prospects for the 2006 Deer Season
This year, we will offer 5 separate deer hunting seasons in Maine. The expanded archery season will open September 9th and run until to December 9 (79 days). This season is limited to WMDs 24 and 29 (formerly WMD 30 Northeast to Vinalhaven), as well as 9 other locations, primarily in residential-suburban sprawl areas with firearm discharge ordinances. Hunters with a valid archery license may purchase multiple antlerless permits for $13.00 each and one buck permit for $33.00. This amount of bowhunting opportunity is aimed at increasing the harvest of does and fawns in order to meet population density objectives for areas that are difficult to access for hunting. In the expanded archery zone, deer populations can only be reduced if the limited number of archers that can gain access to huntable land are each able to harvest substantial numbers of deer.

The regular (statewide) archery season will run from September 28 - October 27 (26 days). Youth day will be Saturday, October 21st, and is reserved for hunters between 10 and 15 years old, who are accompanied by a licensed adult (who is not allowed to carry a hunting weapon). The 25-day regular firearms season opens for Maine residents on Saturday, October 28th, and for nonresidents the following Monday. This season ends the Saturday following Thanksgiving (November 25th). Finally, the muzzleloader season will begin in all WMDs on November 27th, but will end on December 2nd (6 days) in WMDs 1 – 11, 14, 19, 27 and 28. Elsewhere, the muzzleloader season will continue until December 9th (12 days).

New this year will be the Crossbow Archery season. To be eligible to purchase a crossbow hunting license, the customer must hold a valid license to hunt big game (either a big game hunting license or an archery license). Customers must submit proof of having successfully completed an archery hunting education course and a crossbow hunting course or satisfactory evidence of having previously held adult archery and crossbow hunting licenses in this State or any other state, province or country in any year after 1979. When proof or evidence cannot be provided, the applicant may substitute a signed affidavit. A resident or nonresident 10 years of age or older and under 16 years of age may hunt with a crossbow if that person holds a valid junior hunting license (no crossbow license required). With a valid crossbow hunting license, a person may hunt bear with a crossbow during the open season on bear and may hunt deer with a crossbow during the open firearm season on deer. The crossbow hunting license may not be used to hunt deer during the archery season, muzzleloading season, or expanded archery season.

Availability of any-deer permits among our 29 WMDs is directly related to our deer management objectives. Very conservative doe harvests are required in eastern and northern WMDs where we are trying to increase deer densities. In contrast, does must be more heavily harvested in WMDs where current objectives are to stabilize deer populations to the 15 or 20 deer per sq. mi. abundance targets we set in the strategic plan. A total of 67,725 any-deer permits will be issued statewide ranging from 25 permits in WMD 2 to 13,725 in WMD 17. WMDs 1, 3, 19, 27 (new WMD-coastal downeast region) and 28 (newly configured WMD includes old 29) will not have any permits allocated.

The allocation of 67,725 any-deer permits, along with the archery and youth seasons, should result in the statewide harvest of roughly 8,433 does and an additional 4,877 fawns in 2006. Antlered buck harvests should approximate 15,950 slightly higher than the buck kill of 15,165 in 2005. If normal hunting conditions and hunter effort prevail, the statewide deer harvest in Maine should be in the vicinity of 29,400 deer. This would be slightly higher than the 20-year average harvest since the any-deer permit regulations were put into effect (28,704) and would be an improvement over the 28,148 deer harvested in 2005.

--Lee Kantar, Wildlife Biologist, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

2005 Moose Season
The 2005 season was very similar to the 2004 season. The same number and type of permits were issued for the same 19 Wildlife Management Districts. Like last year, the first season was held the last week of September (September 26 –October 1) and the second season was held the second week of October (October 10-15). The only notable change in season structure was that, in addition to the 7 WMDs that had split seasons in 2004, WMD 4 also had a split season. A total of 43 possible hunting combinations were available for moose hunting, with permit holders assigned to 1 of 19 open WMDs, 1 of 2 permit types, and 1 of 2 hunting weeks (Figure 4, Table 7). A hunter with a bull-only permit (BOP) could shoot 1 male moose of any age. A hunter with an antlerless-only permit (AOP) could shoot a cow, a calf, or a bull with antlers shorter than its ears. All of the 19 WMDs were open to hunting during the October season. In the WMDs that also had a September season, an individual hunter could hunt during only one of the weeks.

Overall, 77% of the permittees were successful in killing a moose in 2005, with hunting success ranging from 20% for October Antlerless Only hunters in WMD 29 to 100% for Bull Only hunters in WMDs 2, 4 and 9; and October Antlerless Only hunters in WMD 18.

2006 Moose Season
Both the number of permits and the area open to hunting will change in this year. What was WMDs 28 and 29 will have boundary changes and be renamed WMDs 27 and 28. This will result in a slight increase in the area open to moose hunting in eastern Maine and 15 permits will be added to WMD 28. There will be a few other boundary changes in the Bangor area, but because the area is virtually unhunted for moose, no adjustments in permit numbers will be needed. From 2002 to 2004, WMDs 8, 9, and 13 had low numbers of mature bulls (based on a combination of the sex ratio of moose sightings by deer hunter and age structure of the harvest). The number of Bull Only will be reduced from 290 to 235 in WMD 8 and from 80 to 50 in WMD 9 in 2006. Because mature bulls were only slightly lower than the management objective in WMD 13, no reduction in the bull harvest was initiated there.

Future prospects
Most of the Wildlife Management Districts that are open to moose hunting are in the recreation management area. In 1999, a public working group proposed a population objective for the recreation management area, which stated that the moose population should be maintained near 60% of the carrying capacity of the habitat. Moose densities in the recreation management areas are currently below this objective. When moose sighting rates in the mid to late 1990’s indicated that the moose population was declining the number of moose hunting permits was reduced in recreation management WMDs and Antlerless Only permits were replaced with Bull Only permits to reduce the cow harvest without having to reduce the number of permits by a greater amount. Although a harvest skewed toward bulls should allow the population to grow with less reduction in hunting opportunity, the skewed harvest could result in a population with relatively few bulls in the age classes likely to produce large antlers. This would be unacceptable to both hunters and moose watchers.

--Karen Morris, Wildlife Biologist, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Black Bear
Prospects for the 2006 season
The Department uses a bear season framework to maintain consistent hunting periods, unless management concerns require changes to the lengths of hunting or trapping periods. In 2006, the season will remain similar to those in recent years. Under our current bear season framework, the season begins on the last Monday in August and closes on the last Saturday in November, generally a 13-week period. In 2006, the general bear hunting season opened on August 28 and will close on November 25.

Maine’s spring 2006 bear population estimate remains near 23,000 bears. In accordance with our management goal, the harvest levels experienced since 1999 appears to have stabilized the bear population. We are monitoring the survival of adult female bears closely; if survival of adult females declines, restrictions to harvests may be required. Given the recent changes in annual beechnut production, it is difficult to know whether beechnuts will be scarce or abundant this fall. If beechnuts are scarce, bears should enter their dens early, which would result in another low late season harvest. The current bear season framework should result in harvest between 3,500 and 4,000 bears in 2006.

Research and Management
Since 1975, the Department has been intensively studying black bears to gather information on the status of Maine’s black bear population. This information is a key element in insuring that Maine’s bear population is effectively managed. Our management strives to balance the biological needs of the species with the needs of society by maintaining bear populations at levels that minimize conflicts between bears and people and provides both hunting and viewing opportunities while assuring future conservation of bears.

Since 1975, we’ve researched black bears just west of Ashland and in the Stacyville area. In 1982, we opened a third study area just north of Bangor. Our study areas were selected to represent the range of bear habitats and human use patterns in Maine, allowing us to gauge the status of Maine’s bear population in similar habitats. Over the last 15 years, we have been phasing out the Stacyville study area in favor of opening a study area in downeast Maine that better represents today’s range of bear habitat and human use patterns. In 2003, we officially closed the Stacyville study area and in 2004 we initiated a long-term study in downeast Maine. The other 2 study sites remain open.

In each study area, we maintain a sample of 20-30 radio-collared bears to document reproductive and survival rates of Maine’s bears. By tracking radio-collared females to their winter dens, we can learn about the productivity of Maine’s bear population based on the number of females that produced a litter in a given year and the number of cubs being born. We can also document what percentage of cubs from the previous year survived, since yearling bears remain with their mother the following winter. This information, in conjunction with harvest rates and an assessment of the amount of suitable habitat for bears in Maine, is used to estimate Maine’s bear population -- conservatively estimated at around 23,000 bears.

In addition to our research and monitoring efforts, we solicit input from the public to help direct our bear management program. In 1999, a public working group was convened to develop recommendations for future bear management based on the Department’s reassessment of the past, present, and future status of bears, their habitat, and demands on the bear resource. This assessment provided the scientific basis for the public working group’s deliberation of bear management goals and objectives. A bear management goal of providing continued hunting, trapping, and viewing opportunity for bears in nearly all of the State’s bear range was established. Associated with this goal were 3 objectives: 1) stabilizing the bear population’s growth by 2005 at no less than current (1999: 23,000 bears) levels, 2) creating information and education programs to promote traditional hunting and trapping methods as preferred and valid tools to manage the State’s black bear population, and 3) creating information and education programs to promote public tolerance of bears.

We have a large and productive bear population; as a result a variety of hunting methods and a liberal hunting season are needed to maintain our bear population at desirable levels. However, if the bear population does not remain at biologically and socially acceptable levels, we can modify the bear hunting regulations (e.g. adjust season length, harvest methods, and bag limits).

Current Issues
We are reviewing the feasibility of new techniques and technologies to improve our statewide bear density estimate and evaluate the importance of beech trees (nut production) and other food sources to bears. One promising technology is global positioning system (GPS) collars. Last year, we tested this technology in one of our study areas and the technique shows promise, however additional funding sources are needed to incorporate GPS collars into our current research program. As a result, we will be looking at alternate options, as well as, the possibility of outside funding sources to meet this research need. Public outreach continues to be a management priority, with the black bear hunting referendum in the fall of 2004 illustrating the need for educational and outreach efforts.

--Jennifer Vashon, Wildlife Biologist, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.