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Portland Press Herald

On May 21, Gov. LePage signed L.D. 342, "An Act To Reduce Deer Predation."
The legislation provides $100,000 to pay bounty hunters to kill coyotes in deer wintering areas in northern Maine.

Killing coyotes may temporarily "save" a few deer for hunters to shoot. But the Legislature -- not coyotes -- is largely to blame for northern Maine's low deer population.

In the late 1990s, under pressure from major timberland owners, state government abandoned regulations that capped the amount of harvested wood in deer wintering areas. Without adequate mature coniferous tree cover, deer have little chance of surviving winters with deep snow. Deer populations would rebound by reinstating deer wintering area timber harvest regulations.

But that won't happen in the LePage anti-environmental regulation administration. Instead of addressing the shortage of deer wintering habitat, the governor and Sen. Tom Martin, R-Benton, chair of the Legislature's Fish and Wildlife Committee, propose to appease the deer hunting community by paying nimrods to kill coyotes with traps, rifles and hounds.

The bounty system is a farce. Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, should have advised the governor against spending public money on a coyote control program that's doomed to fail.

Had the governor and legislators done their homework, failures of previous ill-conceived fish and wildlife laws would be obvious. The Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library would have provided valuable pertinent lessons.

• In 1995, the Legislature passed "An Act to Stop The Alewives Restoration Program in the St. Croix River," sponsored by Rep. Harry Bailey, R-Township 27. The law closed fishways to alewife passage in Woodland and Grand Falls.

Passage of the law helped a small but vocal group of bass fishing guides, while economically hurting hundreds of lobstermen who depend on alewives for lobster bait. Thousands of pounds of St. Croix alewives were harvested annually.

The legislation caused the collapse of the alewife population 10 years ago and forced lobstermen to purchase alewives and more expensive substitute bait elsewhere.

The legislation caused millions of dollars in lost revenue, to say nothing of the state's mounting expense defending the law in legal battles with conservation groups and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

• In July 1989, a northern Somerset County Republican legislator spent taxpayer dollars on gallons of expensive Minnesota wolf urine. His goal -- to reduce moose-automobile collisions -- was commendable, but his method was foolish.

As the state regional wildlife biologist in Greenville, I was directed by supervisors in Augusta to spread wolf urine on Route 201 to repel moose. The project was the most inane one of my 33-year wildlife career.

For three days, I stood atop a slow-moving Maine Department of Transportation tank truck spraying wolf urine on 20 miles of pavement between Jackman and The Forks. Truth is stranger than fiction, I told myself, while watching streams of wolf urine shoot 50 feet from my hose.

It then rained for a week, transforming a legislator's harebrained wildlife idea into a complete debacle. The state had literally peed public money into the wind.

• Bears have long been a favorite target of Maine lawmakers. In 1832, the Legislature passed "An Act To Encourage The Destruction Of Bears, Wildcats and Loupcerviers (Lynx)."

The law required the state treasurer to reimburse town clerks $3 for each bear head submitted by bounty hunters and $1 for the head of each bobcat or lynx. Today, in spite of several bear bounty laws between 1832 and 1954, Maine's bear population is among the largest in the country, proving that bounties are a colossal waste of public dollars. Bobcat populations are also healthy.

• Porcupines were added to the state's bounty list by Maine legislators in 1904. A set of porcupine feet fetched 50 cents in 1954. Porcupines are as abundant now as before bounty laws. What was gained paying hunters to kill bears, bobcats and porcupines?

Coyote populations will also remain unchanged after the governor and Legislature squander $100,000 on coyote bounties in 2013.

Gov. LePage and Republican legislators preach fiscal discipline and then waste taxpayer money on logic-defying wildlife legislation. Maine politicians are destined to repeat mistakes because new eager-beaver legislators with no scientific background whatsoever ignore the history of expensive failed policies of previous senseless fish and wildlife laws.

By Ron Joseph : Retired Maine wildlife biologist.
 

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Ron is Speaking my Language

Since the early 1900s, expensive and barbaric coyote bounties have failed miserably in western states, but that knowledge carries no weight in Augusta. If one thing has been learned from LePage’s first two years in office, it is this: science is irrelevant.

Federal and state agencies have killed hundreds of thousands of coyotes with M-44 cyanide capsules, strychnine and 1080 poisons, bullets from airplanes and helicopters, and neck strangulation wires. Coyotes have been run down by snowmobiles, killed with leg hold traps, and buried alive in their dens. The only weapon not yet tried is drone strikes (memo to Maine coyotes: fear not, a drone strike costs more than $100,000).

It seems counterintuitive, but the war on coyotes has actually increased their numbers and breeding range. The Colorado Division of Wildlife reports that coyotes are more numerous today than when the state was first settled by trappers. Colorado and other western states no longer waste taxpayer money on futile coyote control programs.

But none of that matters to LePage, Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, or Sen. Tom Martin, R-Benton, chairman of the Legislature's Fish and Wildlife Committee. LePage’s preposterous bounty plan is the latest example of why politicians should leave wildlife management to professional state biologists.

I offer an audacious alternative plan. The $100,000 earmarked for killing coyotes should be used, instead, to capture several hundred deer in southern Maine and send them to deer-deprived northern Maine in early November.

The deer relocation program would accomplish four important goals.

One, it would bolster deer numbers in Aroostook County at the onset of deer hunting season.

Two, it would lower excessively high deer densities in southern Maine, thereby reducing Lyme disease rates and automobile-deer collisions. This would prevent injuries and lower insurance premiums.

Three, southern Maine’s fruit and vegetable farm yields would improve markedly with fewer deer.

Four, southern Maine deer could become goodwill ambassadors, bridging the divide separating the two ballyhooed Maines. My tongue-in-cheek plan is absurd, but no more so than the governor’s.

Killing coyotes may temporarily "save" a few deer for hunters to kill. But the Legislature — not coyotes — is largely to blame for northern Maine's low deer population.

In the late 1990s, under pressure from major timberland owners, state government abandoned regulations that capped the amount of harvested wood in deer wintering areas. Without adequate mature coniferous tree cover, deer have little chance of surviving winters with deep snow. Deer populations would rebound by reinstating deer wintering area timber harvest regulations.

But that won't happen in the LePage anti-environmental regulation administration.

Instead of addressing the shortage of deer wintering habitat — the real reason deer populations are depressed — the governor is appeasing the deer hunting community by paying bounty hunters to kill coyotes with traps, rifles and hounds. (This implies that all deer hunters want this or believe in this “science,” but that is not the case.)

Politicians have made the coyote the scapegoat to deflect attention from their poor record of regulating and protecting deer wintering areas. Commissioner Woodcock and LePage laud the virtues of voluntary cooperative landowner agreements in lieu of regulating timber harvests in deer wintering areas.

Cooperative agreements may sound great, but they are legally unenforceable and, therefore, ineffective.

If you remain unconvinced that lack of winter shelter is the primary reason northern Maine supports few deer, please consider this: Minnesota and Michigan deer herds are much healthier than Maine’s. Minnesota and Michigan winters are as difficult as Maine’s. Deer in both of those states must also avoid being eaten by coyotes and wolves.

So the logical question LePage, Woodcock, Martin and deer hunters should ask is this: What are Minnesota and Michigan doing differently to maintain healthy deer populations? The answer: Both states prioritize protecting deer wintering areas through land purchases, conservation easements and regulating excessive timber harvests.

Maine’s bounty system is a charade and an insult to all of us who hunt deer and whose livelihoods (sporting lodges and guides) depend on healthy deer herds.

Coyote populations will remain unchanged after the governor and Legislature squander $100,000 on coyote bounties in 2013. Those funds would be better spent duplicating the habitat protection success stories in Minnesota and Michigan.
 
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