A cow moose shakes water and a swarm of insects from its fur while feeding in Lobster Township on Aug. 13, 2020. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty, / AP

The effects of chemical contamination of Maine’s fish and wildlife, the impact of the revamped antlerless deer permit system and winter tick mortality among moose are three of the key areas outdoor enthusiasts should follow as we head into 2023.

Many important questions remain unanswered from 2022 concerning each of those issues, which will have long-term implications for people who recreate in the state’s woods and waters.

The impact of so-called forever chemicals on game animals and fish is on the minds of many Maine hunters and anglers after PFAS was found in late 2021 in deer harvested in and around Fairfield, in Somerset County.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and are found in food packaging, nonstick pans and other everyday items. PFAS entered Maine’s ecosystem through sludge spread on farmland as fertilizer starting in the 1970s, and can have harmful effects on humans, including developmental delays in children.

The state, trying to protect hunters and their families, issued a “do not eat” advisory for all venison harvested in the Fairfield region. That guidance remained in effect for the 2022 deer hunting season while the state awaited results of more extensive testing.

Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s studies last summer of deer, wild turkeys and other animals should provide important data to help the state figure out how to proceed as it considers what level of consumption of wild game, if any, is safe. The state also plans to expand its testing to other sites where there is known PFAS contamination.

In May 2022, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a scientific brief that effectively reduced what is considered a safe level of consumption of Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid — commonly called PFOS — which is one type of the larger class of chemicals known as PFAS. Only more widespread and detailed testing is likely to clarify where potential dangers may lie in eating fish.

Mainers are still coming to grips with the news that there are chemicals in the meat of some game animals and fish. In 2023, more information is likely to emerge about how far-reaching the problem is and what can be done to minimize human exposure moving forward.

While DIF&W biologists digest information from a record-breaking 2022 deer hunting season, one thing appears clear: the revamped antlerless deer permit system was a resounding success.

While there were some technical issues that postponed the first stage of the permit lottery, and even though some tweaks could make the availability and distribution system more fair, it is likely the state saw a considerable increase in the number of female deer harvested.

The preliminary harvest total of 43,788 represents the most deer taken in a single year since the state began keeping records. It surpassed the previous high of 41,735 deer killed in 1959.  

This year’s take is 12 percent higher than 2021, when the harvest was the largest since 1968.

DIF&W statistics should demonstrate that the new rules, which allowed antlerless deer permit holders to shoot both an antlerless deer and a buck, helped pave the way for the record season. Previously, the so-called any-deer permit could be used to harvest either a buck or a doe, but not both.

The updated system may be the ticket to help the state better achieve its harvest goals, especially in areas of southern and central Maine where its management efforts have failed to achieve the desired number of harvested deer in recent years.

The fate of Maine’s moose population, especially as affected by winter ticks thriving during climate change, remains one of the state’s most critical game management issues.

DIF&W is spending considerable time and resources studying the effect of winter ticks on moose with its adaptive hunt. That effort, underway in the western half of Wildlife Management District 4, aims to significantly reduce the population in the region, via a special hunt, to see whether a lower density of moose might improve the animals’ long-term chance of survival.

This year, the second for the adaptive hunt, 550 hunting permits were again distributed for cows and calves in the zone. The harvest numbers are not yet available.

In January, biologists will locate, capture and place collars on approximately 70 moose calves in the area, which encompasses parts of Somerset and Piscataquis counties. The number of animals that survive the winter will help the state better gauge the impact winter ticks have on young moose.

Last year, a startling 86 percent of the calves collared in the study — a record number — did not survive until the beginning of May. The 2023 findings will either confirm that the disturbing trend is continuing, or perhaps demonstrate that things are looking up.

Also, for the second straight year, moose hunters in 2022 had a more difficult time filling their permits during the statewide hunt. DIF&W data show that 2,339 moose were harvested this year, which represents approximately 66 percent of the permits issued.

If those numbers hold in the state’s final calculations, they will represent a slight decline compared to 2021, when 68 percent of hunters were successful during the statewide hunt.

The results from the last two years come on the heels of a 2020 season during which more than 76 percent of permits were filled, the most since 2012.

Also on the radar for 2023 is the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on Sunday hunting. The plaintiffs claim the right-to-food amendment endorsed by voters in 2021 should give them the right to hunt on Sunday.

Superior Court Justice Deborah Cashman recently ruled that the suit be dismissed, but the case is expected to be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...