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Outdoors in Maine: Round one of deer-yard protection has begun

By V. Paul Reynolds Outdoors Columnist

Reversing the precipitous decline in Maine’s traditional deer-wintering areas will help restore our North Woods deer numbers. Deer yards used to comprise about 12% of our big woods. Today, that figure is a dismal 3%.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

For a number of reasons, state regulation and cooperative protection agreements with timberland owners over the years have proved marginal at best in protecting deer yards.

Thankfully, action at the legislative level has the potential to reverse this trend. A recently enacted law, LD 404, An Act to Preserve Deer Habitat, allocates part of $40 million for the outright purchase of critical deer-wintering areas. In coordination with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) will secure matching funds and negotiate purchases of deer-yard habitat from private landowners.

The new initiative has already begun to bear fruit.

LMF has recently announced the contractual agreement to purchase 930 acres of traditional deer-wintering areas, including 170 acres of wetlands, in the Caribou Stream tract near Washburn in Aroostook County. According to LMF, the land is under contract with the seller for a purchase price of $347,000. Matching federal funds have been secured for the purchase. Although the property has many other ecological attributes, including a major trout stream, the property will become a new Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for the state. MDIF&W will manage the property primarily to protect longstanding deer-wintering areas.

This is a long-haul project that cannot be accomplished overnight. The Washburn acquisition is a beginning in the annals of deer-yard recovery.

The challenge for the various stakeholders is to properly identify significant deer-wintering habitat, negotiate a fair purchase price with timberland owners, and ultimately manage these areas, which will include coyote-control programs to reduce deer-yard predation upon weakened whitetails.

A spokesman for LMF says that more deer-yard purchase arrangements will be revealed in May.

This winter’s prolonged cold and deep snow in the North Woods reminds us that, climate change indices notwithstanding, our wintering whitetails still need all the help that they can get in order to make it to spring thaw.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an author, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network.

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