BANGOR, Maine — The state’s wildlife biologists, including deer specialist Kyle Ravana, tend to err on the side of caution when making management decisions. Allowing too few of a given species to be harvested in a given year is much more easily correctable than allowing hunters to take too many, after all.
But this year, Ravana, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s deer biologist, said a proposal to increase any-deer permits by 59 percent over the 2015 total, to 45,775, has caught the attention of more than a few hunters.
“I think it has created some consternation in some people,” Ravana said. “The common theme is that people may think we’re upping the number of permits too soon following the [severe] winters of 2014 and 2015.”
Hunters apply for a state-run lottery for the allocated any-deer permits, which are awarded in specific wildlife management districts. Those who don’t receive a permit via the lottery are limited to targeting deer with antlers during hunting season.
Ravana said the increase in permits is not an across-the-board bump. Instead, some wildlife management districts with thriving deer populations are receiving the bulk of the extra permits.
“I think people need to stop and take a look at where those increases are going to occur,” Ravana said. “Over 90 percent of the proposed increase in allocation — it hasn’t been approved by the [DIF&W] advisory committee or the commissioner yet — is going to occur in districts where we are already above goal in our deer population, or where we are approaching goal.”
The any-deer proposal is working its way through the wildlife department’s rulemaking process, and it won’t become official until the advisory council makes a recommendation to Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and he either approves or disapproves of that proposal. That decision should happen in August.
For those interested in applying for permits in districts where any-deer permits will likely be higher than they were a year ago, the best bets are wildlife management districts 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 29, Ravana said. In addition, a limited number of any-deer permits are scheduled to be allocated for wildlife management districts 7, 12 and 13 — areas that have had bucks-only hunting in recent years.
If the proposal passes, any-deer permits would be available in 18 of the state’s 29 wildlife management districts. An added benefit in those districts: Hunters taking part in Youth Deer Day would be permitted to shoot a deer of either sex on that day only. Youth hunters in districts where no any-deer permits are allotted must spend Youth Deer Day — Oct. 22 — looking for bucks.
“We wanted to provide some opportunity [in areas that had previously not had any-deer permits] because when we give a token number of permits, that not only allows a few hunters to have the choice of harvesting a doe, but it also opens the door for youth hunters,” Ravana said.
Ravana said that the wildlife department monitors winter weather conditions at 27 locations around the state, measuring temperature, snow depth, and how far into that snow deer sink when walking. Those numbers are combined and help establish a winter severity index that helps biologists estimate the percentage of deer likely to die during any given winter.
The most recent winter was warm, and deer fared well, leading to more deer on the landscape. Consequently, any-deer permits were raised.
“This past year was the second-mildest winter going back to the 1950s, for deer,” Ravana said. “We were looking at over-winter mortality rates from 4 to 7 percent, which is very small. That’s a minimal impact to the population. Combining that with the biological data that we collect in the fall from harvest, along with roadkill data throughout the year, and looking at population trajectories, it all said that we should [increase] our allocation of permits.”
In recent years, that “trajectory” has been on an upward track after devastating winters in 2008 and 2009, which is thought to have killed about 30 percent of the state’s deer herd each of those years.
Although the 2014 and 2015 winters also were severe, they did not take the same kind of toll on the herd, Ravana said. Add in a mild winter in 2015-16, and the herd has essentially averaged to its long-term average of more than 200,000 animals, he added.
That’s a huge increase in just eight years: After the 2008 winter, state biologists estimated the herd had dropped to just 140,000 animals.
“It was the second-lowest estimate in [history] going back to the 1950s,” Ravana said.