Can We Save Deer Hunting in Maine?|
By Steven Michaud
ďWhat am I going to tell my kidsĒ? Thatís what my 23 year old son said to me the other day as we discussed the continuing and rapid decline of Maineís whitetail deer and along with it our hunting heritage. He asked that because heís seen me do back flips for most of his life doing everything I can to find my 3 sons deer to hunt and a place to hunt them. He asked it because heís now seeing it all slip away. Itís been like a mad scramble to give them the opportunities that I had growing up pursuing the whitetail in the North woods. I gladly do it because I so desperately want them to have the rich experiences that I had and being part of something that goes far beyond shooting deer. To this point Iíve been successful in keeping them interested but I have to say, his question has been haunting me.
He is articulating what clearly is a serious crossroads for deer hunting in Maine. Weíve watched the decline of the whitetail and hunting in Maine for 30 years. Itís been like watching what was once a robust, crackling campfire slowly dwindle to only embers. Now we question whether the glow of the few embers that are left may be extinguished for good.
Photo by Jim Bernardin
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We as hunters know what the issues are but they seem so large and intractable and beyond our ability to address as individuals we can resort to just pining for the good old days, complaining about the lack of hunting opportunities and throwing our hands up at the impossibility of the task. I know Iíve been guilty of that.
Our deer have been experiencing the perfect storm havenít they? Iíve always said they are so adaptable and capable of rapidly reproducing if they were only given a chance. But they keep getting hit on all sides. The systematic destruction of deer yards, coyote and bear predation, and now two harsh winters in a row. Some of us knew we were treading on thin ice and that a bad winter or two could wipe them out. We knew that theyíve seen tough winters before and bounced back, but that was then. That was when they had winter cover and predators werenít as prevalent.
Now many people have resigned themselves to the fact that deer hunting is on the decline and weíll never get it back. I read it in the press and the blogs and hear it from outdoorsmen frequently. I hear maybe we should just let the north woods be home to the moose and coyote. Well maybe Iím naÔve, stubborn, living in the past pining away for the good old days, not recognizing that times have changed, or some combination of all. But Iím just not ready to throw in the towel. Not yet. I canít.
I canít because I know what an amazing life Iíve had in the woods pursuing the whitetail and all that goes with it. The relationships with my father, brother-in-law, friends and now my 3 hunting-buddy sons. The importance of hunting and the hunting culture to rural Maine towns and people. I know the deep joy. I read articles written by outdoorsmen in our Maine outdoor publications and theyíre always about the experience with friends and family and the importance of relationships and their love for the outdoors and almost never about just killing animals. Iím convinced this is just too important to lose and I am convinced itís worth the fight.
Now I know the daunting task. I know there arenít easy answers. And importantly, I know thereís a lot of anger out there and itís been burning in me too. I was figuratively patted on the head and told ďitís their propertyĒ when I talked to an outdoor leader 20 years ago about the destruction of deer yards. I was told ďhunt in the lower part of Maine where the deer areĒ when I said I was a big woods hunter and I wanted to stay that way but the deer were disappearing. I watched 25 years ago an outdoorsman at a hearing in Presque Isle explain to the then Commissioner of IFW that ďtheyíre tearing the woods downĒ and a doe permit system isnít the answer to that and watched him dismissed out of hand. Iíve listened to justifications and excuse after excuse as to why it all had to be this way. And now I read a wildlife official publicly saying we may need to close the season in northern Maine to jump start the deer herd. Are you kidding me?! The whole thing happened on YOUR watch! And now you want to take away the opportunity to hunt because of your failure? I donít think so. So as you can see, Iím angry too but Iím convinced that I need to put that unproductive anger away and focus on saving our way of life. So Iím ready to move on after that one last rant.
I believe what is missing is leadership, focus, awareness and political will by the powers that be in Augusta to solve this problem. It has to be. Weíve had task force after task force and idea after idea emerge out of Augusta and yet we are staring into the abyss when it comes to the future of hunting. The problem is all of the proposed solutions go nowhere because thereís no one in power that either cares, has the interest or will to implement what needs to be done. That needs to change or deer hunting in Maine will die along with the whitetail.
Our elected and appointed leaders in Augusta need to see this as a critical problem or nothing will be done. They need to own it. How do we make that happen? Through education and facts yes, but more importantly through focused, aggressive political action. Our leaders need to be made to understand that this problem needs to be at the top of their priority list and a plan needs to be implemented now. There are enough of us to make a difference if weíre united, focused, aggressive and clear. Thereís also an election in 2010 that provides opportunity.
We know that any solution must be both short and long term. It will take decades to get deer yards back. Weíre not doing it for us. Weíre doing it for our grandkids. But even they wonít benefit if we donít start. But think about it. With the ability of deer to reproduce rapidly, aggressive efforts now can and will lead to more opportunities for us too. Not like it used to be but even small gains that would lead hunters to believe they may actually see a deer occasionally in the north woods will bring them back. I know this because Iím one of them.
I know the task is daunting and the problem huge, but how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I say itís time to start eating. Do me a favor and let me know if youíre with me. Iíve got some ideas on how we do all this together.
You know what? I donít know what my son is going to tell his kids. But I do know it isnít going to be ďwe canít hunt deer in Maine because your grandfather didnít do anything to help save itĒ.
Steven R. Michaud is a native of Caribou and now resides in Topsham. Heís been a passionate deer hunter and outdoorsman for almost 40 years. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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